What You See

A. Two technicians, who have similar jobs, have been in conflict for the past six months. One feels that the other isn't doing her share. The other feels that her co-worker is a demanding know-it-all. The manager has heard the angry accusations of each of them. He's talked to each person individually but it just seems to get worse. The owner throws up his hands and complains about how women are "so catty."

B. A manager of a business unit made a presentation to the corporate executives. When he was finished, the CEO and all the executives sitting around the table complimented him with big smiles and assured him that he was doing a fine job. A month later he was fired.

C. A do-nothing manager has felt threatened ever since a new manager joined the company. The new manager has been trying to get her peer to take action on some important new initiatives that will help the company to be more competitive. She is frustrated and so are her employees. It seems as if every one of their requests for changes goes into a black hole.

What You Don't See

What's going on here? What you don't see is often at the heart of the problem. If you were a fly on the wall in the corner office, this is what you would learn:

In situation A, it turns out that the manager in charge has brought on most of the problem himself. He hasn't had the courage to confront one of the women and tell her that she needs to improve. Instead, he has overloaded the better employee with the work of two people. Then to make it worse, when they complain about each other, he agrees and commiserates about the other person's shortcomings.

In situation B, the CEO waited until the manager left the room and then turned to the rest of the executives and said, "Get rid of him." The manager never knew what hit him when, a month later, he was "reorganized" right out of his position. No one had ever told him about issues he should be working on or expectations that hadn't been met.

In situation C, the do-nothing manager is an "untouchable." Everyone knows from past experience that he is protected because the president feels some special alliance to him. It turns out that this manager was one of the first people to join the company when it was a start-up enterprise. Because the president believes in rewarding that kind of loyalty, he has never confronted his employee even though he knows firsthand how ineffective he has become.

The Real Truth

These leaders don't have the courage or the conviction to do the right thing and speak the truth to the person who needs to hear it. Tremendous workplace angst and anger has been created because of this single weakness. The tendency to agree when you secretly disagree and go around someone rather than deal directly with them is one of the most damaging and dangerous mistakes leaders make.

In situation A, an honest discussion with the weaker employee and a clear action plan to improve her skills would let her know exactly what was expected of her and what she had to do to keep her job. Training and coaching would be provided. The excellent employee wouldn't be "punished" with the extra work because the weak employee would have to do her fair share or face a career move.

In situation B, the manager would know the corporate goals for his business unit and the consequences if the goals weren't met. He wouldn't waste precious productivity covering his backside and guessing about expectations.

In situation C, the owner would do everyone a favor, including the do-nothing manager, if he would constantly challenge his loyal employee and set him up for success instead of universal resentment among his peers and employees. If the manager didn't perform up to expectations and change with the times, in spite of ample assistance, the owner would do the right thing and help his employee find another position where he could be successful--even if that meant an outside opportunity. In the end, his company would be stronger and so would both managers.

How about you? Are you honest with your employees? Are you stepping up to deal with nagging issues that demand a decision? Do you make balanced decisions that keep in mind all three components: the individual, the rest of the employees and the organization?

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