“I answered all her questions, but then she wanted me to show her, to prove that I’d done what I’d said I’d done. I was really annoyed because it seemed like she didn’t trust me, and I think my frustration showed,” said Sally, referring to an interaction with her coworker.
“Well, you said that you and Vicki work together very closely, right? And you said that you guys get along pretty well? And you said that she’s been pretty supportive, right?”
“Yes,” Sally said.
“Well then I think you’ve got to bite the bullet and deal with it. I think maybe that’s one of her quirks, or maybe she just has to get to know your work and trust you and then she won’t check up on everything anymore. Or maybe she just had a bad day. I think that, based on what you’ve told me about the setup over there, you simply must get along with Vicki, and if that means being micromanaged sometimes and doing nothing about it but smiling, then that is what you have to do,” I said.
And I certainly meant it. We have all heard of companies that are “too big to fail” (think of the financial services crash of 2009), well, in our personal and work lives there are relationships that warrant the same designation. This “just deal with it” attitude comes easily when we are dealing with a superior — everyone knows sometimes they have to accept the boss being the boss because he or she is the boss, but it comes a little less naturally when we are dealing with a co-worker, and especially when we face “issues” with those whom we lead.
But getting along in the workplace is not a “nice to have,” it’s a must, and there are those people with whom we have such close daily contact that our jobs would be impossible if the interactions were not harmonious. We must go along sometimes to get along.
As far as leading difficult personas go, there is no better example than Abraham Lincoln and his interactions with General George B. McClellan. No matter the urgings, Lincoln simply could not get McClellan to move his army — there was always one excuse and delay after another. In fact, Lincoln could not even get McClellan to show him a decent level of respect. In one famous incident, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and Lincoln arrived at McClellan’s home for a meeting, only to find the general not there. Sitting in a waiting room, they idled for hours before hearing the general walk in the door. Then, amazingly, they saw him walk by the room in which they were seated and go upstairs.
After another half hour, they asked the housekeeper when the general was coming down to see them, to which she responded.
“The general has gone to bed.”
Walking back to their offices, Stanton fumed, but Lincoln kept calm. Lincoln, you see, didn’t care a whit about being shown courtesies — he simply wanted a general who would fight. It wasn’t about him, it was about the war. And to the degree that McClellan helped him win the war, he would be useful, and to the degree he did not, he would have to go.
You, as a leader, should have the same attitude. It is not a popularity contest, and it is not about you. It is not about whether your folks genuflect when you walk in the room, but whether they do great work. You, of course, are being evaluated on how the organization produces, not how deferentially your staff treats you.
This, of course, is all about getting pride and ego out of the way and letting folks shine. None of us want to be treated shabbily but, as a general rule, put this on the back burner and stay focused on what folks can do for you, not how they act towards you.
Thought being a leader meant being worshipped? Not quite. It’s about being a servant, and sometimes, unfortunately, being treated like one.
And when Lincoln finally found his general, one of his most famous statements says all you need to know about determining what really matters. When someone wanted him to fire Ulysses S. Grant after a defeat, Lincoln replied: “I can’t spare Grant. He fights.”