Friday, January 27, 2012

Settle the Score

Have you ever found yourself working with someone who you didn’t get along with? I don’t mean someone who is a bit annoying; I mean someone that you knew in your heart would never be someone you could trust? That’s a difficult place to be. When that person is a high level leader it makes the relationship that much more complicated.

Stay Strong
The absolute first step in managing this relationship is to stay focused on you. Do not get caught up in a battle against the other person. Keeping yourself, and your team, focused on your priorities is essential. The moment you start jumping every time your colleague snaps their fingers you’ve lost. These difficult personalities often use manipulation as a vehicle to gain more power. Do not play along…sophomoric gamesmanship is easily avoided if you are willing to stay strong. It’s not easy, but necessary.

Keep Track of the Drama
Although working with these folks is often quite challenging, it is important to make sure you keep a simple set of notes of the examples of behavior as it occurs. This strategy is used regularly with front line employees, but is often underutilized at the executive level. I’m not advocating for a witch-hunt mentality, but I would suggest that unless you have a photographic memory, over time you will feel incredibly frustrated with the other person but not have the details available to reference.

CYA is No Way to Work
Sadly, one of the results of these situations is that those around the difficult leader spend an inordinate amount of time checking and rechecking work, projects, and action items just to be ready for the eventual criticism/manipulation. That simply means time is being wasted preparing for the person instead of doing our work. Covering one’s backside is just not productive. Instead, align yourself with honest people who have a strong reputation inside your company. Build your personal equity with them to prepare for the manipulation soap opera that is sure to come.

How About You
There are no easy solutions for dealing with these leaders. One priority for us all is to ensure we shield our employees from their influence. Be clear that you are their leader and will support them. Do not allow them to become quasi staff members of the disruptor’s group. They need to know you will be there for them when situations get tense. You won’t always be able to remove these people from your organization, but with the right attitude and actions, you and your team can be successful in spite of it all. I should know, I’ve been through it before.

I’d love to hear from you.

No Excuses.

pics courtesy of maskofsanity and aegroups


  1. Hey Jay - I like the way you're thinking.

    This is a useful read, one of those to keep for the time at work you hope never happens and sadly too often does.

    I recall having to position a series of change activities with a divisional MD. He was new in and we didn't know one another. I opened the conversation setting out the difficulties ahead and how we might deal with them. I stressed that as we agreed plans, how important his backing was in making sure stuff happened. 'And what if I don't give it?' was his question.

    I replied, 'If you choose not to support me that's your choice. Two things will happen. My ability to deliver this will immediately finish and your ability to champion future change will be severely damaged.' I left him saying 'once plans are agreed, we must persist, and resist the temptation to give up when the early signs aren't good.'

    A few days later I overheard him talking with one of his direct reports, saying something like, 'oh that's just people stuff, give it to that guy in HR'. I resigned from the project immediately and the divisional MD was sacked a few months later.

    So what? Well your blog reminded me of my experience largely because people around the MD got drawn into precisely the kind of games you have highlighted here. This stuff does happen - take Jay's advice and reduce the chances of it happening to you.

  2. Doug - thanks so much for sharing this experience. The fallout from these behaviors can be so severe: your resignation from the project and the MD being released. That must have had a big impact on the other team members, and surely slowed down any progress the company hoped to achieve. Great comment...and thanks for the support!

    1. It's a pleasure Jay - you write stuff that makes me think, supporting you is just natural ;)