How to clip a Seagull's wings

Most people already know about managers who fly in when there’s a fire to put out, they make a lot of noise and some rash decisions, and then disappear just as quickly.

You’ll be left with a half-baked solution with the occasional fervent rant to go with it.

Seagull managers’ rapid-fire instructions are wrapped up as “sage advice” as they have little time to get into detail. In fact, the mantra of many seagulls is "nobody can do that job as well as I can. That's why I need to fly in to save the day." Yeah right.

What I see is something deeper, something that speaks to an impulsive leadership style:

  • They thrive on a power rush

  • Their individual success is more important than team success

  • They've built a culture of dependency (on them)

  • They are focused on short term goals, constantly in survival mode and reactive

  • Only communicate when they are rescuing someone or some situation

Q: Navigating a Seagull Manager? 🥺

A: Here’s two “managing up” options:

Firstly, you won't be alone. What’s the team doing to acknowledge their collective reality and genuinely support each other? It can’t be easy. By being on the same page with each other you’ll find some comfort in a shared existence.

Secondly, seagulls thrive on half-baked solutions as they are too busy (and important) to think things through. So when Seagulls fly in to give their rapid, thoughtless advice try to slow things down a bit. Use exploratory and reconfirming questions (notice the use of "we" or "our" to covertly share the responsibility which is what is really needed):

  • You’ve just told me to do XYZ, which will fix A, how do you suggest we fix B?

  • How will we know this has worked?

  • I feel I am missing something. What might have we missed here?

  • What might get in our way and how will you help me overcome those?

Having team support makes asking these slow-down questions much easier because it takes courage to speak truth to power. Seagulls are repeat offenders. You generally know a visit is coming. So prepare your questions in advance and rehearse with a team member. Phrasing questions openly (without assigning blame, adding emotion or making a point) helps influence someone else through increasing their understanding of the situation, their contribution to it and some self-reflection.

The managing-up goal is to move managers toward desired behaviours by slowing things down a bit and, most importantly, re-balancing the share of responsibility. Sometimes seagulls are seagulls because they are allowed to be. Powerful open questions enable you to assert what you want in a practical, non-threatening and human way. I call it ruthless compassion. After all, you are only asking a good question. No-one can blame you for that.

Squawk to the Seagull...

  • What’s interfering and preventing you from being fully present and accessible to your team?

  • How can you create a work environment centred on intent instead of directives?

Your people matter. What can you change in your behaviour, so your people can put their own fires out? 🔥

As always, I hope life's great! Bruce

About Bruce Mullan

I am a Performance Coach nurturing leadership excellence in the public, health and community sectors. I integrate leadership strengths, agile disciplines and a coaching mindset to help leaders successfully navigate the growing complexity of our external world.