8 Keys to Keeping Senior Leaders in the Loop Without Stepping on Toes

These techniques can empower senior leaders and their direct reports and strengthen confidence and trust in one another

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“But guys, you’ve got to keep me in the loop on this sort of thing. Jerry called me and wanted to know when we were going to get back out to the site and finish up the last phase of our construction.”

This experience was shared with me from one of my clients, but it has been repeated millions of times by most contractors and their leaders. As most construction leaders, especially those at the senior level, will admit, “I’ve got to trust my direct reports with taking over some of the tasks and responsibilities I once completed, BUT, they need to keep me ‘in the loop’ so I don’t get blind-sided by a client.”

Staying in the loop, without stepping on toes, is sometimes both a science and an art. Leaders need to know what’s going on and the latest developments, yet, direct reports may not always provide that information as quickly as their senior leader needs or wants the information. So, how do we narrow the gap for both the direct report and their leader?  

Let’s look at a few techniques that can empower both parties and strengthen the confidence and trust in one another.

Senior leader must communicate what the “loop” is

Call me stupid, but the direct report needs to know what the senior leader considers to be the “loop.”  The “loop” might be related to any information that pertains to a client, a project, other contractors, etc. In some situations, the “loop” may be of a confidential manner that only the senior leader and direct report are to exchange.

Beyond the reason for the “loop,” the senior leader also needs to communicate who is included inside and outside the “loop.” This effort is especially important for the direct report to know, keeping them from exchanging information with others “outside” the “loop.”

The senior leader must be crystal clear on what he or she expects

This must always be the action of the senior leader whenever he or she hands off responsibilities they once completed and now have included the direct report to execute. This step makes the understanding of the delegated tasks, the clarity of the “loop,” all works to empower the direct report to maximize their performance.

“Crystal clear” suggests that the senior leader present what they need from their direct report, when they need some completion, what meetings they may be attending that the information will support, and how they might assist the direct report. Let me be clear, “crystal clear,” must be completed by the senior leader.

The direct report must be given push-back freedom

The senior leader, when handing over tasks and responsibilities, must allow his or her direct report to ask questions to gain greater insight and understanding.  I would even recommend that the senior leader allow the direct report to “push back” on anything they might question, be concerned over or even completely disagree.

Pushing back isn’t a sign of dissent or sabotage but more, it’s the opportunity for the direct report to improve a process, a decision even a policy. Obviously, depending on the situation, the senior leader may need to over-rule the push back, but even this can produce greater understanding.

Both the senior leader and direct report need to meet regularly

This is almost a no brainer, yet it is amazing how often I have found that such a meeting is irregular. There may have been a sincere effort made early, but soon the senior leader is off doing other “senior stuff,” and the direct report is left holding the bag, making decisions without the assistance, insights, much less the update opportunity of their senior leader. 

This technique must be a discipline that both individuals hold, too. Yes, the direct report can be the reason a meeting is not held, but as a matter of fact, I’ve found that the senior leader is more often the absent attendee. If this trend continues, the meetings just end and the two individuals move more to just update on the fly.  The senior leader and direct report will do a lot of this anyway, but you must work hard to set in place some regular face-to-face meetings.

Senior leaders needs to remember it’s not personal

I’ve never experienced any direct report purposely withholding any information from their senior leader.  I’m sure this has happened before, but I have never witnessed it. Therefore, senior leaders must remind themselves that failing to receive an update on a situation, a client or a needed decision isn’t done to make the senior leader look bad.  In the vast majority of the cases, the direct report is just busy and hooking up with their senior leader may be too challenging The two individuals are literally like “two ships passing in the night.”

There must be mutual benefit to knowing high priorities

This effort must be embraced and exercised by the senior leader and the direct report. If the two are really on the same team, then both parts of the relationship will benefit from each other updating and reminding one another on high priority issues, needs, dates, etc. There may be several items the direct report is working to complete but they need to know what the highest priorities are for the senior leader.

Success, failures and completions need to be confirmed ASAP

Any successes, failures and completions that happen need to be shared between the senior leader and the direct report. This almost sounds too common sense, but it is amazing to witness a senior leader finding out late about a success that the direct report knew about but had not shared.

It is this exchange of successes, failures,and completions that keeps the “loop” live and moving forward. It’s the common sharing and updating that reinforces the trust between the senior leader and direct report. 

Trust must respect boundaries…even in the loop

One of the more sensitive experiences is when a Direct Report may be working on something for their senior leader but the effort involves their maintaining some confidentially with others. The senior leader needs to be sensitive to their direct reports’ relationships and networks, not needing to know every single detail that the direct report may have discussed with others. Certainly, this same example goes the other way as well, the direct report must respect the confidentiality that their senior leader must maintain in their efforts and communication with others.

In the end, staying in the loop is a relationship building experience between senior leaders and their direct reports. For the senior leader who is purposely delegating tasks and responsibilities, they must engage their direct reports through using the eight efforts presented in this article.

Remember, define the “loop” clearly, and you will have less chance of stepping on the toes of those whom you want to take on greater responsibilities.