The One Week Leadership Lesson

Shoe on the other foot

My apologies, first off, as this blog will do some repeating of a theme that I have stated before.  However, the story delivered was too good to pass up.

You may recall that Sarah was famous for saying one thing and doing another.  An example of this would be what she expected of other people versus what she expected of herself.  As illustrated in this post, Sarah was famous for imposing standards on others that she didn’t follow herself.

Sarah was famous for giving incredibly short deadlines or huge assignments and expecting them to be done in miraculous time.  Within that time, she would pester, micromanage, and constantly harass the employee who had the task, asking for progress reports and how things were coming along.  If the progress was not to her satisfaction, she would make mention of it, as ‘everyone loves my honesty.’

During those times when an employee would say to her that they were swamped with work, and thus couldn’t meet her deadline, Sarah’s famous phrase was, “You’re not busy; you’re just not efficient enough”.  The office was filled with stories of how mailboxes had to be empty and replies had to be given within a day, or the department, meaning Sarah’s ego, would suffer.  At times these excuses were used as fodder to get rid of an employee Sarah didn’t like, but other times they were used by her just to bolster her opinion of the employee’s laziness or inefficiency.  She couldn’t figure out why she wasn’t liked.  After all, didn’t she tell the people that they were inefficient, thus putting them on the path to greater things?

With Sarah’s ascent to the top of the ladder, the demands on her time became greater.  The old tricks for efficiency didn’t seem to work as well anymore, and she found that her inbox was filling up, she had more items to do than time, and still the work was piling up.  However, being Sarah, she failed to see the irony that this presented, or in the words she had spoken so many times.

So, when she was approached by one of her direct reports regarding some items that needed her signature, she didn’t blink twice at her response.  The items, needing her signature, were for sensitive projects across the enterprise. Without her approval, they were stuck in the queue, and they were keeping the folks who wanted to get these projects started waiting.  She was holding up the course of business at the company.

What was Sarah’s response?  “My inbox is filled to capacity, I am swamped in my work, and you only handed these to me three days ago.  I will need at least a week to process things, and that will be my timeline going forward.”

For anyone who had been on the receiving end of Sarah’s efficiency speech.  For anyone who was taken to task because they had three unanswered e-mails at the end of the day. For anyone who had to suffer Sarah’s one hour visits to show her people exactly what they were doing wrong, whether or not she truly understood the problem, it was a moment to smile.  Sarah now gave herself a week to respond to things, even when she expected her people to do so in milliseconds.

And, while they smiled, it was also tinged with sadness.  They knew the irony, or the sheer hypocrisy, would never dawn on Sarah, who would go right along telling people how inefficient they were.  The only consolation?  It might take a week for her to notice now.

The Lesson Escapes Me

hole in wall

The staff filed into the conference room, books under their arms, ready to spend the next three hours learning how to be better employees.  Sarah had informed them a little over a month before that they needed to read this book and come prepared to fully participate in the discussion and lesson that would be taught.  No one was really surprised that the book dealt with how to stop all the whining and complaining that is in a typical office, and they had dutifully read the book and sat down in their seats.

To Sarah’s credit, she was also in the room, ready to join them for this three hour session.  That was until, a short time into the session, Maxine came up to her and informed her of an ‘urgent’ issue that required both her and Maxine’s immediate attention.  They both left the meeting, never returning.  Over the next few days, staff looked for announcements of some momentous company happening that would have required Sarah’s attention that day. None had happened..  There was no explanation from Sarah and no apologies for leaving a meeting she had deemed so important for staff to attend.  There was no appreciation for the staff taking time to read or discuss the book, and there was no understanding that the staff might be a bit put off by her actions, justified or not.  Sadly, it was not the first time that Sarah had done this type of disappearing act, either.

One of the items that a staff is always impressed with is when their manager shows there are no barriers between them and their staff.  A manager who jumps in and goes through the same situation or treatment as their staff is one who begins to gain the respect of the staff.  They don’t find an escape hatch, leaving staff to go through something alone.  This is not to say that a manager should always do the staff’s work.  That is not managing.  However, every once in a while, when needed, it is a wonderful show of solidarity and a fantastic symbol to the staff.

By leaving during the session, never to come back, Sarah (and Maxine) told the staff that it is fine for them to not have to go through this training, but everyone else did.  By not mentioning it or apologizing for having to leave, they built the barrier between ‘management’ and ‘staff’ that much higher, separating themselves from those they manage.  The message they sent was loud and clear, and it was one of divisiveness.  The staff had problems.  Sarah?  She didn’t need to stay.  She had no problems.  It was everyone else that needed ‘fixing’.

That escape hatch was also one from reality.

The Idea Thief

Idea Thief

The new hire in the department had arrived, much to the relief of the existing staff.  He would be a welcome addition and help distribute the workload a bit more evenly.  As Mitch went to shake hands with him, a wry smile came to his face.  It wasn’t anything to do with the new hire, as he seemed like a nice guy.  It was, strangely enough, the new hire’s title, and what it represented.

The title, and job description, had been proposed by Mitch over a year ago as a possible lateral move for himself.  His immediate manager had encouraged him to explore it, even to the point of writing a job description for the position.  He took the challenge, handed it in, and after a bit of revision by his manager, was assured that the job description was handed into Sarah.  That was the last anyone heard of it until, magically, six months later, when the department needed to bring on a new hire, Sarah suggested that the new person should had the same title and responsibilities in the job description that Mitch had submitted.  Mitch was informed, however, that he would not be put into contention for the new spot.

It was not the first time this had happened to Mitch in his years long association with Sarah.  He recalled proposing new programs for the department when Sarah was his direct supervisor.  She methodically knocked each one down when he proposed them to her, leaving him dejected, and later castigating him on his review for not coming to her with any new or innovative ideas.  Six months later, Sarah had some ‘brilliant’ ideas for programs that she gave to another member of the department.  Those ideas?  Mitch’s, down to the names of the programs he had come up with.

To Mitch’s point of view, even Sarah’s current meteoric rise in the department can be partially attributed to him.  At her request, he wrote a business case detailing the benefits of an encompassing health, finance, and other life area wellness program within the company.   Sarah had accepted it with thanks, and nothing more was ever heard about it.  Six months later, she called Mitch into her office, announced she had received a promotion to a newly created position.  Three guesses as to what that position was to encompass.  Sarah graciously accepted Mitch’s congratulations on the position and announced to him he was getting a great deal more work to do, all with no raise or promotion.  It would be a pattern repeated with many others in the department as Sarah’s reporting relationships grew.

Thus, as he shook hands with the new hire, a wry smile came to Mitch’s lips.  He had learned his lesson, as had others in the department.  Keep your mouth shut, at least when it came to proposing new ideas to Sarah.  It would be taken by her as quickly as it came out of the person’s mouth, rebranded, and no appreciation given.

Mitch knew the silence came with a price.  It would be used as an excuse for no promotions or lateral moves.  He had come to peace with that a long time ago.  He only hoped soon he would be able to impress a new employer with some creative and innovative ideas.

Ooopsie!

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“Is it posted yet?!”, was the plaintive cry of Joanne.  She was asking this of John, who had already called in several favors to make sure that the process for reviewing and posting web content was expedited.  This was on top of the favors he had called in to get the form created that was necessary to stay in compliance with the state regulations.  Joanne was so frantic because the company was already out of compliance with the regulation, having missed the deadline for posting by over a week.   Joanne offered any help she could to get this task done, but there really wasn’t anything anyone could do.  Happily, the form was posted, and there were no regulatory fines assessed for not making the deadline.

The saddest thing in all of this was it didn’t have to be this way.  It wasn’t Joanne’s fault, nor was it John’s.  It was actually Valerie’s fault.  Valerie, who received the notice from the state several weeks ago, had let the notice languish on her desk.  When she finally got around to reviewing her mail, she saw her mistake.  Once she had realized the error, she sprang into action…and handed the letter off to Joanne, claiming it was her department’s responsibility, and then happily trotted back to her office where she could ignore more mail. She offered no assistance, no apologies, or took any responsibility for this debacle.  It was now someone else’s issue, and she was happy to have it off her desk.

This was not the first time Valerie had accomplished this particular feat.  When she changed jobs, instead of following company policy that stated she needed to do both jobs until someone new was hired, she took her work off her desk, went to a former subordinate, and informed the subordinate that she was now responsible for this work.  And, you guessed it, walked away.

The most ironic thing about this whole situation? Valerie is the person in the company who is in charge of recommending remedial action for employees when they are deemed not doing their work to their manager’s satisfaction.

Want a sure way of making sure your employees look out only for themselves?  Do it yourself.  Don’t hold yourself accountable for anything more than you have to.  Don’t apologize when you make an error.  Dump work on someone else and make sure the only feeling you have is relief that you don’t have to do it.   You are teaching them the lessons of the workplace.

Oh, but make sure you register surprise when they act on these lessons.  After all, you can do this, but they must be held accountable.

 

Following Up? What’s That?

It was the move that Employee Relations had told every employee they needed to do.  If there was an issue, the employee needed to report it to Employee Relations so something could be done about it.  Little heed was given to the comment by many employees that, if ER did not do its job well, the employee might be subject to some kind of retaliation.  While this issue was brought up many times, it never was properly addressed by Employee Relations.  The following story illustrates just this concern.

Two employees from a department had the same complaint about their supervisor.  The supervisor wasn’t doing her job.  Since this job affected the welfare of the company, it was a big concern for the employees.  Since the employees worked diligently, and often past their usual hours, to get the data into the system that was needed by the company, they were understandably upset that the supervisor never reviewed or approved the data transfer when it needed to be done.  Instead, she would just tell one of the employees to approve the data, without review, and let it go at that.  The employees, who would then be responsible if the data was incorrect, were reluctant to do this.  The supervisor didn’t care.  She didn’t want to do her job.

The employees brought their complaint to the employee relations department of their company.   The ER department, to its credit, handled the complaint with professionalism and courtesy to the employees.  The supervisor’s manager was contacted, provided the details, and together they worked out an action plan for this supervisor to do the job she was being paid to do.  The employees were thanked.  ER checked this off of their collective To Do list and moved on.

Except, there was one problem.  The supervisor didn’t follow this plan of rectification.  The supervisor’s manager didn’t put the plan into place.  The problem persisted until one day when it truly did cause a major problem for the company.  THEN something happened.

There are many areas to ask questions here.  Why didn’t the supervisor’s manager implement the plan, or keep a better eye on the supervisor?  Why wasn’t the plan followed?  Most prominently, why didn’t ER do any follow up?

Here, we have a case where employees did the right thing, endangering themselves so they could put forth a complaint.  Didn’t it deserve a one month, six week, or eight week follow-up to see how the solution was working?  If ER had done this, they would have found out nothing had been done and the supervisor continued her errant ways.  Moreover, if they had followed up, maybe an embarrassment for the company might have been averted.  Now, with a certain organic substance hitting the fan, what once was a small problem is now coming to the attention of people higher up on the organization chart.

Fortunately, these two employees were not subjected to retaliation by their supervisor, and didn’t endure any additional stress beyond having to deal with this supervisor’s actions, or lack of them.  However, that can’t always be said to be the outcome.  How can employees trust their ER department when the ER department itself can’t even do the most basic of follow-up with the employees?  A simple phone call would have ascertained that nothing had changed, which could have prompted actions, which could have prevented a major issue down the road.   If the ER department wants the trust of their employees, then then have to prove they are worthy of that trust.

Or, more simply put, you want employees to trust Employee Relations enough to report incidents that will keep the company out of trouble, then those same employees deserve more than to be abandoned by ER for sticking out their necks.

The Pink Tie Addendum

grey-jacket-with-pink-tie

Remember the Pink Tie Matter?  The situation where a male was constantly the target by remarks from his female co-workers in what was a majority female department?  There’s an addendum to the story.

Shortly after Serena’s meeting, the entire department gathered for its monthly staff meeting.  In reporting that the department had snagged a very well known book author to address its latest leadership conference, the following was said.

“Not only will he inspire our leaders, but he is so damn good looking”

and

“I think we should be able to expense our makeup and hair styling so we can look our best when we meet him”

Needless to say, Mitch and Vernon were not amused.  However, this time, Mitch spoke up saying, “If I had said such a thing about a woman’s looks, I would have been called a sexist pig and had every woman in this meeting yelling at me for being so inappropriate”.

Were the women in the meeting silenced into shame?  Was there a pause to contemplate what Mitch had said?  No and no.  Instead, he was told he was too sensitive and that he should just get over it.

On the way out, Vernon thanked Mitch for saying what needed to be said.  They both agreed that it would not matter at all, but still, he had spoken up against what he perceived as rank hypocrisy.

Too bad none of his management bothered to see it that way.

The Pink Tie Matter

In The Crowning Glory, we discussed the concept of employee privacy and how one leader in a department decided to approve an idea of discarding employee privacy for a few laughs.  The prize for the ‘best’ story would be a crown.  This particular choice of prize brought up another interesting issue, one that had been around under this leader for years.

It was a department of around 20 people.  Of those 20 people, 16 were female, 4 were male.  Of those 4 men, only 2 of them were permanent employees — Vernon and Mitch.  The other two males, a temp and an intern, would soon be gone.  Vernon and Mitch were used to this.  Mitch had been the last male hired in the department, and all subsequent hires had been female, with all but one of the hiring managers being female.  They never saw anything wrong with this, though Vernon and Mitch shared the thought that, if males had tried this, there would have been many complaints of sexism in the hiring process.

Over the years, the unit leader had often mocked Mitch and Vernon, making uncomfortable comments about them, passing it off as a joke.  This particular situation was typical of most.  At the beginning of the meeting, the unit leader, Serena, decided she had to make a comment about the pink tie that Vernon was wearing.  She mentioned that how ‘unVernon’ it was and how it was probably his wife that had picked it out.  She had commented many times regarding the clothes that Vernon especially had worn, but nothing ever mentioned about the dress of any of the female employees.  All the females laughed at this.

Later on, when the crown had been decided as the prize for the ‘best’ story, Vernon and Mitch looked at each other.  Serena, having seen this, asked inquisitively, was there a problem with this?  As usual, Mitch and Vernon said nothing, knowing it would not change anything in Serena’s mind, save for branding Vernon and Mitch as never wanting to have any fun.

Later on, walking back from the meeting, another female manager said with a smile, “I look forward to seeing the crown on one of your heads!”  Vernon and Mitch smiled, with Mitch making a comment to Vernon that the female manager could go do something anatomically impossible.

Years ago, I worked in a building that was very old.  So old, as a matter of fact, that they only had men’s rooms on each floor, as women were not expected to be in the workforce.  It was a very pointed reminder of how the workforce has changed, and changed for the better.  Diverse views and different perspectives help enrich the workforce experience, allowing new ideas to flourish.

Yes, many things have changed, but one thing that doesn’t seem to have changed, at least with some managers, is inappropriate behavior towards the opposite sex.  Years ago, it was women’s complaints against their male bosses.  Today it still is true that some male bosses act in inappropriate fashion, with the mayor of San Diego is a prime example.  However, we can now add in women bosses and their inappropriate comments and actions towards their male employees.  No matter the sex, it is laughed off and dismissed by the superior.  What makes it ironic is that women fought so long to be treated as equals, and now a minority of them are acting the way their foremothers fought so hard to correct.

No matter which side of the gender divide they happen to fall on, a good manager knows what to say and what not to say.  Yes, there are cases where something they may utter is misconstrued or should not have been said.  At those points, a good manager knows when to own up to those comments and apologize.   By repeatedly singling out someone of the opposite sex, and a minority in the department as well, managers open themselves up to disrespect, accusations, and possibly even lawsuits.  Sensitivity training is not a male or female issue, it is a manager and employee issue.  Stories like the one related show that it is still in sore need today.

Let’s elevate the workplace humor to more mundane topics and get it out of the clique mentality.  Male or female, it is simply good business.