“The best part of leadership development is growth.”
I was in a leadership development seminar not long ago, and one of the challenges for the students in the class was to reflect on an occasion when a boss directed staff to do something that I thought was silly and ridiculous but then later realized there was a good reason for it and was for my benefit. I initially was resistant to that assignment and had trouble thinking of anything. It’s always easy to point at your boss and find fault. But after a short while, I thought of something.
Several years ago, I had a boss who required everyone to complete what she called a WAR, or Weekly Activity Report. She was the first boss I had when I began with my current employer in 2006. We were expected to submit a WAR via a SharePoint submission form, which included key achievements from the previous work week. At the time, the team was overtaxed and overburdened, and I thought it took up a lot of time when the work we did should have spoken for itself. I felt doubly annoyed by this tasking when I learned my boss didn’t always read those weekly WARs. Honestly, looking at it from the broadest vantage point, it didn’t really take up too much time at all. I also should confess that I was only annoyed by this tasking because other team members expressed their frustration about it. Peer pressure isn’t just for kids. Adults can be peer-pressured too.
I later learned why she had us do that WAR: to help us remember the work we performed more easily. It was crucial because at the end of the performance period, employees were expected to submit to their supervisor their accomplishments from the previous year. It wasn’t mandatory, but employees were highly encouraged to do so. They called it a Self-Assessment. Let me tell you how hard it is to recall all the things achieved over the past 12 months. It’s nearly impossible. Heck, I might even struggle to remember all the things I did this morning.
Those weekly WARs were critical in helping to jog my memory. I didn’t need to write a book in those WAR entries, but rather, merely note a list of key things – bullets – outlining broad points. They were important because, the Self-Assessment was key evidence if you didn’t agree with the performance rating you received at the end of the year. Your grievance/appeal of your rating would often not be taken as seriously if you hadn’t submitted that Self-Assessment. I’m thankful she had us complete that WAR. I soon realized it wasn’t just busywork. There was an essential purpose to it. That boss left and went on to greater things, but that was one of the key kudos I have for her leadership.
If you think it’s hard remembering all the things you did the past year, just imagine how hard it must be for your boss to remember everything you did and to remember everything each person on the team achieved over the previous year. They obviously can’t remember every little thing. Not only that, there also may be some tasks people accomplished that the boss might not even realize people accomplished. Those Self Assessments, fed by those WARs, were a key part of the performance review process.
So, the exercise in that seminar served two purposes for me. Number one, it helped me to take a step back and realize that sometimes, our bosses may have a reason for doing the things they do, even if we can’t see the reason. Number two, being I’m a boss myself, it helps me to pay attention to tasks that I give and has incentivized me to provide clarity to the assignments I task them, letting them know why it should be done. I know firsthand that when people understand why you ask them to do something, even if they think they shouldn’t be doing it, they tend to approach it more favorably and with a more positive attitude. I only wish I had taken the opportunity to thank that boss and to let her know how much I appreciated her for giving us that WAR tasking, even if I didn’t initially feel that way. It really saved my neck.