“Stop touching him, Parker,” I said in a rage-suppressed voice. “Move back. Move two steps back. Give him some space.”
I had been watching Parker be a pesky fly to his 1st grade rec basketball teammates when Elaine — the mother of one of those poor souls — sat down next to me. As we watched the team practice, and Parker continued to be a nudge (one of my grandmother’s favorite words), our conversation turned to work.
“How’s that woman you work with? The one you told me about who’s so dramatic,” I asked, remembering Elaine’s hysterical impression.
“Oh, her. Yeah – I actually transferred departments in August so I don’t work with her anymore,” she said.
“Ahh. Very cool. I assume it was a good opportunity or a promotion?” I asked.
“Well, kind of. Unfortunately the department I’m working in now is a bit dysfunctional,” she said.
“Do tell,” I inquired further, as is my way.
“First off, it’s a lot of pressure. I’m in a group of 12 people who support over 100 financial analysts. They come to us when they want some research and we have to turn it around for them quickly. There isn’t a great system for prioritizing requests, for getting them assigned to people who have the most closely aligned experience. Things like that,” Elaine said.
“It sounds like the stuff we cover in our publication around hospitals and IT governance — you have a limited resource (IT) and lots of requests coming at it. There has to be a sensible, comprehensive and fair way to decide what’s going to get done and in what order,” I offered.
“Exactly, but that’s not even the worst part of it. My boss is the worst part of it. I told him when I interviewed for the job that I needed to leave every day at 4 so I could get home for the kids, and now when I’m getting ready to leave he come by and asks me if I can stay late. I say no every time and he says, ‘Well, I’m going to keep asking you every day,’ so it’s just become really unpleasant.”
“Sounds pretty stressful,” I said.
“Well that’s another thing — he actually said that he thinks everyone in this department should be stressed out, as if it’s a requirement for doing a good job.”
“It’s amazing how some people who may be good at doing a particular job are promoted to be in charge of others — those two things have nothing in common really. Just because you know how to make a widget doesn’t mean you have any idea how to create an environment where others want to make them too,” I said. “What about your boss’s boss?”
“Oh, he’s never around — totally absentee,” Elaine said.
“So your boss has no mentor,” I said.
“Absolutely not. But when that guy does poke his head in, he turns into a micromanager and sometimes changes things he didn’t bother paying attention to when they were first proposed,” she said.
“So what are you going to do? You said your boss is young — maybe he’d take some suggestions from you. It sounds like he basically needs to do the opposite of everything he’s been doing,” I joked.
“I’m trying, but I’m already looking to get out. It’s just not working,” Elaine said.
“Parker. Just pass the ball like you’re supposed to and stop being a CLOWN!” I yelled.
We all know what good leaders are supposed to do, but sometimes it’s even more helpful to hear what bad leaders are actually doing. The interesting thing about leadership is it really needs to be studied by those who wish to be good at it. I do not believe it comes naturally to most. In fact, I think those not educated in leadership will go in the opposite direction from which they should.
I have written about how this was exactly the case with me when I got my first leadership position. I thought running the show was all about controlling the actors — telling them what to do and brooking no disagreement. When, in fact (and of course) it’s about trust, empowerment, delegation and connection.
Rather than Elaine’s boss harassing her every day about leaving in some misguided attempt to increase her output, he should be the one reminding her when she’s supposed to be heading out the door. And rather than thinking that stress in the workplace means he’s creating an environment for success, he should see any unnecessary stress as a weed whose roots need to be ripped out before they ruin everything.
The bad news here for Elaine is she will likely have to leave in search of greener pastures, but the good news for you, especially if you’re leading from the dark side, is that all it takes some study to effect a change of heart and, like turning on a light, everything becomes clear. The even more wonderful thing is it isn’t that complicated.