I Have 99 Non-Problems…

It was a very simple issue. Sarah did not like Jane. She, Sarah, would not admit this, but it was evident to everyone in the department. Sarah did not like Jane. According to Sarah, Jane was not a good worker and, despite all that Sarah had done to ‘remedy’ the problem, nothing worked.

As time went on, Sarah received a promotion, partially based on Jane’s work. Jane no longer reported to Sarah directly, but to Tim, who reported to Sarah.

Under Tim, Jane blossomed. Tim encountered some issues with Jane, which they worked together to solve. He saw the Jane that her previous managers, except for Sarah, saw in her. Eventually he was able to expand her skill set with new duties that grew her professionally.

This, however, was not good enough for Sarah. She would not let go of her original opinion of Jane, despite the evidence to the contrary. She would seize on any mistake that Jane made, no matter how minor, as evidence that she was right all along. When one of Jane’s triumphs was pointed out to Sarah, she would dismiss it with a cursory acknowledgement and move on to another topic of conversation.

Sarah grew increasingly frustrated with Tim. Why couldn’t he see how bad Jane was! There was only one reason that Sarah could think of. Tim must be a poor manager. With the same resolve she demonstrated towards Jane, Sarah now went after Tim. Nothing he did was good enough. His reviews took a decided downturn. He was ‘called in’ for discussions with Sarah and then with Sarah and the Employee Relations representative.

As Tim saw he had one foot on the banana peel, he decided he had little to lose. He had candid conversations with Sarah and the Employee Relations representative, saying that this was all about Jane and his refusal to grant Sarah’s wish of firing her. He stated all the good things that Jane had done while under his supervision, and stating that Jane could do 99 good things and Sarah would point out the one thing that Jane did wrong.

Sarah’s response? “Now you just sound like Jane!” No denial. No argument. It was simply Tim’s poor management skills that caused this, not her unreasonable expectations. It didn’t matter that the rest of Sarah’s employees were also struggling under the burden of work she was assigning. It was simply their fault for not being efficient enough.

Eventually Jane was transferred from Tim and placed under a more ‘compliant’ manger who would agree with whatever Sarah wanted. Jane was eventually dismissed for the one reason while the 99 were ignored. Tim was punished for his ‘insubordinate talk’, and Sarah was happy. For Sarah, that was all that mattered.

When you work in an office, you encounter many different personalities and many different work styles. You really have no control over other people, though some do try. When you become a manager, that equation changes. You have a greater degree of control over your employee’s lives.

That control means you have a set of work to accomplish and have the resources to get that work done. It does not mean you have the only way of getting that work done. It does not mean anyone else’s way of getting work done is wrong. A good manager knows that they need to work with an employee’s style to get the best results, not dictate that the manager’s style is the only way.

It’s not about you when you are a manager. It’s about your team. If you spend your time trying to prove yourself right and ignoring the signs that you may need to adjust your ways, then you are not focusing on the team. You may get the work done, but at the cost of every other person working for you. That isn’t managing. That’s dictating. Dictating works for a while, but eventually fails.

Manage to your people, not the other way around. That way you won’t have to find 99 reasons to ignore the good and use a magnifying glass to prove your point.