Manager Poker – the quick way to destroy ownership and accountability.

Prefer to watch on video than read?  Click here, 4 mins with captions.

When playing poker, or more importantly in my life with my three kids, when playing Uno, it’s important to hold your cards close to your chest.

We see the same in organisations – managers holding their cards close.  I call it playing Manager Poker.

It’s no good.

It’s In The Cards

The managerial cards are information that, if you were in the team, you’d like to know.

Things like:

  • Financial information
  • Any other measures of performance
  • What others think of the team (customers of course, but other areas too)
  • What you think of the team

That last one is particularly important because in a standard managerial-hierarchy, managers have the authority to review the work of the team and individuals, and ultimately decide if they continue in the team.  So, what managers think matters.

Cards Out? It’s Emotional

Play with your cards facing out.  And ideally you can build enough trust so everyone else has their cards out too. 

Seem obvious right?  So why doesn’t it happen?

The reason is what Peter Block describes as the emotional work of leadership.  In particular, the concepts of dominance and dependence.  And both of these come from our very human need for security, and we all have both of these in us.

Dominance means the ability to control.  While this can be stereotypical ‘power’ type dominance, it also appears in caretaking behaviour…’stick with me and you’ll be OK’.  What we get is the security of knowing that people will do what we want. 

Dependence means that your safety, security and wellbeing is seen to be in the hands of others.  Which means we get to be disappointed in them, angry at them…a whole range of emotions.  And what we get is the security of knowing that our predicament is not our fault.

So here’s the thing – managers not showing their people their cards is an act of dominance, and it’s coming from a decent spot – the need to protect people, to shield them.   Seems strange that an act of care can actually be damaging, but the thing to ask is whether you are really caring more for yourself by ensuring control.

People look to their managers to be their saviours, and in some uncommon situations such as emergencies, this can be entirely appropriate.  But as a normal way of operating, this will not create a situation of adults that take ownership and accountability for their work.

All the Cards?

Let’s not go over the top.  This is not about saying “here’s reality, now COP THIS”.  This would be unfair.  Not because you’re a boss…but because this is no way to treat your fellow human beings. 

What we need to be doing instead is “this is the full information about what’s going on.  You haven’t been getting that in the past, and I’m sorry for that.  I know this could be difficult, and I’m here to be alongside you as a person here at work who can support you through this”.

It’s completely sensible to ask whether you must show every single card you have.  The answer is no.  The rule of thumb is simple:

“What would I tell my team if we were all partners in business”. 

For most, this leads to most cards being turned around. 

In the case of someone’s performance not being as needed, this rule covers it – issues with one other person are covered with that person in private.  Just like with a group of partners.  It just happens that it’s the manager’s role to raise those issues with the person.

Information about the business or unit being shut down or sold?  That’s an ‘it depends’ situation.  If you were willing to bet the farm that your group can keep a secret…then yes.  If not, then no, but at the first opportunity, you would tell them.   

The one reason that should not stop you sharing is ‘they might be sad’.  These aren’t your kids.  But there’s no need to be distant and unsupportive after you share it. Just like if you had to share bad news with a group of partners.

Bringing it Home

Playing with your cards facing out is not about abdicating the crucial managerial role of maintaining connection.   It’s about supporting your colleagues as you all face reality together as full adults.

Manager Poker is a quick way to steal ownership and accountability from your people.  Turn your cards around, it will make a massive difference.

Now, over to you.

Comments are closed.