Leadership lessons from a musical legend

If you haven’t heard the name Berry Gordy, you have surely heard of the monumental musical acts he developed and launched as the head of Motown Records. Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Martha Reeves and the list literally goes on and on. There is a great documentary out about him called “Hitsville, The Making of Motown” and it’s worth a look as much for the musical exploration as it is to get inside the head of visionary.

Image result for hitsville the making of motown

There were three things that impressed me most about Berry that I think are great lessons for any leader:

  1. Berry applied what he learned – Berry worked on the assembly line at Ford in Detroit, and realized he could use that concept to make hit records.  Find the talent, write the songs, produce the record, train the talent to represent the brand, repeat. You can argue the “artistry” of this method (as my wife and I did), but it proved to be a winning formula to make records people wanted to listen to and buy. What have you experienced that could be tweaked or modified to help you fix a current situation?  There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
  2. Berry didn’t have to be the best – Berry knew he had assembled a very talented team of writers, arrangers and musicians. And despite Berry’s own musical talent, he recognized that a lot of the people on the Motown team were more talented than he was. There were many stories in the film where Berry was outvoted on something or he stepped aside to let others shine. That’s why you may not have heard of Berry Gordy, but you HAVE heard of the Jackson 5. Who on your team is more talented than you are?  When was the last time you got out of the way so they could shine?
  3. Berry recognized when things had to change – as they gained popularity, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder both started to balk at the Motown “system”.  They were writing different types of songs and addressing different subjects (politics, Vietnam war). Berry had originally stated that Motown would not deal with those topics to keep the music accessible to all, but what he found was that times were changing and that meant that HE had to change, Motown Records had to change.  He recognized that even if you have a great system, people are still going to be people and do what they want. When what they are doing is working, don’t fight it! What change or new direction have you been fighting? Is anyone being held back because of the “system”?

Honestly, that last one can get a little sticky, because it’s a judgment call. There is no absolute right or wrong, and a leader has to know how to balance sticking with the system and letting someone express themselves. Sometimes that comes from experience, sometimes it comes from the gut.

If you’ve seen this movie, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  It also talks about a pretty amazing culture that was developed at Motown, and I think it developed through the things mentioned above… high standards and a shared goal, willingness to listen and let others shine and the ability to be agile when needed.

Sounds like a big hit to me!

Thanks for reading!

Want to support a great organization AND learn some important leadership concepts at the same time??  Now you can!  A portion of all book sales in 2019 will be donated to Give Kids The World!

 

 

Diligence, Persistence and Stick-to-it-iv-ness

A recent trip to work with the amazing leaders at Carowinds yields a lesson in diligence.

What do YOU do when employees don’t listen the first time? What is YOUR plan B?

I’d love to hear your success stories, too!  Leave a comment below or email me at matt@performanceoptimist.com.

Thanks for watching!

Want to support a great organization AND learn some important leadership concepts at the same time??  Now you can!  I will be donating a portion of the proceeds from all book sales in 2019 to Give Kids The World!

You’re going to drop something

We’ve all heard it. That cringe-worthy sound of dishes crashing on a tile floor. It’s the sound of some poor server who hasn’t quite learned the finer points of tray balance and capacity, or what happens when you go in through the out door.

My wife and I heard this a few weeks ago while out to dinner, and we commented that it probably happens to all new (and even some experienced) servers at some point.

Then I started thinking… in one way or another, it happens to ALL of us.  We’re all going to drop something… i.e. perform an unintentional act that will require clean up.  What does that look like in your world?

As much as the clean up (and your attitude about the clean up) is critical, I also think understanding that you ARE going to drop something (or mess up) is an important part of development.  I know I have struggled with wanting things to be “perfect” before hitting the publish button, but that’s just not a reality. Get it as good as you can, sure, but perfection is rarely obtainable.

When I was writing my first book, my publisher, Julie Ann James of The Peppertree Press, gave me some amazing advice.  She said, “there is no such thing as a perfect book. At some point you have to let it go so that it can be published.”

As many times as you can proofread, double check and edit, there will ALWAYS be something you can change – but is that change really for the better?  At the end of writing “The Myth of Employee Burnout” I felt that I was a better writer than when I started.  That realization made me want to go back and re-write the beginning of the book.  Had I done that, it’s likely that that book never would have seen the light of day.

And to be sure, I “dropped things” in regards to that book.  There are mistakes. But knowing there would be mistakes – and still proceeding with the understanding that I could correct those mistakes not in this project, but in the next – helped me button up the book and send it off to be published.

And now, I keep that in mind with everything I do … there is no such thing as a perfect ___________ (fill in the blank to fit your circumstances).

  • There is no such thing as a perfect coaching conversation
  • There is no such thing as a perfect team
  • There is no such thing as a perfect hiring candidate
  • There is no such thing as a perfect meeting
  • There is no such thing as a perfect project plan
  • There is no such thing as a perfect blog post…

I added that last one in there because inevitably after I hit publish I will find a typo or think of a better way to teach the lesson.  But guess what?  I’ll fix it in the next blog post… or book… or podcast… or video… or coaching/training session.  There are plenty of opportunities in life to work on getting it right.  Not necessarily perfect, but right.

So here is your assignment: Write down a list of things that you are shying away from doing because you feel they aren’t perfect enough.  Then, like we did above, insert the phrase: “there is no such thing as a perfect ____________ .”  Then go do that thing, knowing that if it’s not perfect, it’s okay.  You’ll drop something.  You’ll screw up.  But you’ll survive and have a chance to make it better next time.

Thanks for reading!

Speaking of developing, learning, and not having to be perfect... if you are looking for ways to build your network and grow exponentially as a leader, a group coaching or “Mastermind” program might be just the ticket!  New groups forming!  Check it out!

 

 

Talking blog posts

It’s true.  I’ve been writing fewer blog posts over the last year or so, but it’s not because I haven’t experienced any blog-worthy thoughts.

To the contrary, I’ve had a lot, but many of them have taken a new form!  A podcast!

Some of you know that Josh Liebman and I have joined forced to create the AttractionPros podcast, a weekly show dedicated to helping leaders and operators in the attractions industry.  Sometimes, we feature amazing guests like Jeffrey Siebert, John Anderson, Ben Story, Jennifer Berthiaume, Bill Lupfer, John Hallenbeck, Katie Bruno, Steve Amos, Shaun McKeogh, Christine Buhr, Tim Morrow and many more!

AP Podcast – Episode 80: Seamus Fitzgerald talks about aloha, kokua, kapu, ohana and lot of other Hawaiian words!

Sometimes we take a deep dive into a recent or hot topic:

AP Podcast – Episode 82: Matt and Josh dissect a delicate leadership situation that could have been avoided

Sometimes we record an episode LIVE with a studio audience:

AP Podcast Episode 64: AttractionPros LIVE from Orlando, FL!

If you want to find out more about the podcast, check us out on AttractionPros.com.  We’re also on Facebook, Twitter, iTunes and LinkedIn. Feel free to send us questions for an upcoming mailbag episode or suggestions for guests you would like us to profile.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

 

 

 

PS – In case you haven’t heard, I will be donating a portion of my book sales in 2019 to Give Kids the World. Either title, paperback or kindle, they all count!  If you’ve been waiting for a reason to pick up a few more copies, now is the time! Click here for the bookstore!

 

Slow or fast to hire? Fast or slow to fire?

If you are someone who hires people at your facility, you may have heard the following, diametrically opposed philosophies:

Slow to hire, quick to fire – OR – Quick to hire, slow to fire.

If you do a search for either phrase, you will find just as much competing evidence for which one is best and which one is nonsense.  It can be quite confusing.

For those who have hired the wrong person (and who among us hasn’t?), slow to hire – meaning taking your time to REALLY evaluate the candidate for strategic and cultural fit – makes the most sense.  The rational is that a little extra time upfront can save you headaches down the road. In fact, so many of us have made bad hiring decisions that a new industry was created, providing a bevy of tools and resources to evaluate talent – even calculators to tell you how much a bad hire will cost you.  Makes anyone afraid to utter those words, “you’re hired”.

On the other hand, quick to hire gets people in the door but gives them a chance to find their way and fit in.  And lets be honest, it feels like sometimes with our depleted applicant pool, we’ll hire anyone interested and sort ’em out later.

Sometimes, though, they don’t ever fit into your culture, or they create a negative subculture that undermines everything you do. Or, you are so desperate to keep people so you can open the funnel cake stand that you bend rules and lower your standards just to keep them “happy”. (Spoiler alert – that doesn’t work.)  I would argue that this is a function of a weak and unstructured culture, not a bad hiring practice, but we’ll explore that a little more in a minute.

The problem with both of these philosophies or tactics is that they oversimplify the applicant/employee experience.  And this ain’t a simple proposition.

I shared this graphic in my book ALL CLEAR! A Practical Guide for First Time Leaders and The People Who Support Them:

In essence, it shows my findings regarding what truly impacts employee performance and behavior, and the relative importance of the various processes.  It comes largely from discussions I’ve had over the years with operational managers who complain about the “quality of employee” and insist that hiring and training processes be improved.  What they don’t consider is the time these employees have spent out in the field.  Do they really expect that spending a day or two in a training class is MORE influential on their behavior than the three months they have been working in their role?  I don’t think so.

But this revisits the concept of a weak or unstructured culture.  When managers are blaming HR for bad employee performance, or you are lowering your standards just to keep people around, or you justify poor performance in one area because an employee is really good at something else, your hiring practices are likely not in question. Your culture is.

What if, and I’m just spit-ballin’ here, what if there was such a strong sense of what to do and what not to do among their managers and co-workers that a new hire never had to question the standard or what they could get away with?  You’re supposed to wear white shoes? EVERYONE is wearing white shoes ALL THE TIME! You’re supposed to not use your cell phone at work? No one EVER reaches for their phone “just to check the time”. And why is this? Not solely because the “right” people were hired or that HR said “don’t use your cell phone” during orientation… it’s because those standards were enforced on a regular basis and managers took the opportunity to coach and develop their employees.

So, getting back to hire or fire slow or fast? What about this…

  • Hire smart – don’t regulate to a timeframe, but use your company standards to evaluate cultural fit and make the best decision you can in the moment. Yes, sometimes you have to go with your gut.
  • Coach often – Don’t let them get away with negative or substandard performance, but also don’t let outstanding effort or performance go unnoticed.  Make it a priority (which means building the skill and taking the time) to communicate to your employees how they are doing, what impact they are making and what strides that can take to improve.
  • Fire when people demonstrate they can’t or are unwilling to meet your standards – Give them a chance, coach them to higher performance, but don’t keep people around who regularly demonstrate an inability or unwillingness to meet your standards. They may be a good person, but if they aren’t upholding your standards, they aren’t doing you any favors.

That doesn’t sound as pithy or hip, but it’s what WORKS!

Thanks for reading!

Speaking of ALL CLEAR – check out what some people (who didn’t write the book) have to say about it! 

“I just finished your book “All Clear!” WOW!!! What a great tool! It is so timely and practical. I am going to have my leadership team read it and use it to help us grow our team. I have been stressing to our leaders the importance of relationship building and how that is really the first step in growing the team. Your book is going to be a great reinforcement. I really think this is a must read for anyone in the service industry but absolutely if you are in the entertainment industry.”

Chris Camp – Owner Fun Fore All

“All Clear is a fantastic read for leaders with zero to fifty years of experience! After eight years in management at my current company, this book was a refreshing reminder of what it was like stepping into a leadership role for the first time. It also gave me new ideas and motivation to equip both my leadership and frontline staff with all the tools they need to succeed. This book is easy to stay engaged with and inspired me to completely reevaluate an approach to one of my current projects. My team will be grateful for this project’s otherwise uninteresting results thanks to All Clear! I highly recommend this book to any leader and even those who are looking to evolve into a leader in the future.”

Steven Camacho – Canobie Lake Park

 

 

 

Proactive service isn’t just for customers

If you have worked in any sort of retail operation with a receipt printer, you have undoubtedly seen this…

And you know what those pink stripes mean… you are about to run out of receipt paper.  In this case, they also sparked a leadership lesson!

After a glorious week at the IAAPA Attractions Expo, it was time to return my rental car and come home. I had rented from Alamo at the Sanford, FL (SFB) airport, and had noticed an “upping of their game” when it came to service lately.

Not only in Sanford, but in other locations, consistently getting friendly, genuine service when being checked in at the counter and equally hospitable attention when being shown to the car. Twice recently I rented cars that might have needed some explaining… a convertible and a hybrid. While I probably could have figured things out on my own, it was very helpful to have the finer points of operation explained to me by a knowledgeable employee.

Upon returning the car(s), not only was the process quick, I consistently heard these two phrases (or some variations thereof):

  • “How was your service with us?”
  • “Was there anything else we could have done to make the experience better?”

In my last few cases, the answers were, “Great”, and “Nothing I can think of”.  Really, short of driving the car for me, I don’t know that there is anything else I expect from a rental car company.

And this brings us to the receipt tape.

On my most recent return, I pulled up and got out of the car.  I was immediately greeted by a young lady who appeared to be a supervisor (based on her appearance and demeanor). Her greeting was enthusiastic and welcoming.  She then asked the two questions above.

And my answers were the same.

She proceeded to walk around the car looking for damage while telling me that Ruben was just finishing up with the car ahead of me and would be right over to print out the receipt.

Her inspection complete, she then called to Ruben “this car is all set”.

With a smile, Ruben walked up to my car, scanned the bar code and asked me how everything was.  I didn’t mind telling him that everything had been great.

Just as Ruben hit the print button on his portable printer, the supervisor came back over with a new roll of receipt paper.

“How did you know I needed paper?” Ruben asked.

“I noticed the pink stripe on your last printout”, she said.

“Thanks so much!” Ruben responded.

So is this really about receipt paper? Partially. But more importantly its about a leader who is setting the example, supporting her employee and proactively serving them at the same time.

  • This supervisor set the example with her enthusiastic greeting.  Ruben followed suit.
  • The supervisor helped Ruben more efficiently check in the cars as she took care of the walk around inspection for him.
  • The supervisor anticipated and filled a need (receipt paper) so that Ruben wouldn’t have to stop what he was doing to go find a fresh roll.

To me this all started with an observation. The supervisor observed that there were ways she could help, so she did.  She observed that he was running low on paper, so she proactively went to get a replacement.  We talk all the time about anticipating our guests needs… how often are we applying those same thoughts and actions to our employees?

Being realistic, do we think this supervisor is out there all the time performing these actions?  I honestly hope not, otherwise you might as well just have two attendants. I would think she was out there checking on her team and decided to help out a bit while she was there.

We all know that our employees are watching everything we do.  They notice when we help out, they notice when we just “stand around”, they notice when we aren’t there. This supervisor has taken it upon herself to make sure that her employees are noticing the right things, and that she is proactively serving and providing value to her teams at every opportunity.

This is not only important in the moment, but as a long term investment into the relationships you have with your employees. Fast froward 3 months from now, and this supervisor has to have a conversation with Ruben about performance or cost cutting or whatever. He will likely remember times like I’ve described above and have a feeling that at least she has his back. He may not like what she has to tell him, but he will likely believe that it’s coming from a good place.

Counter that with an employee who never sees their supervisor or when they do, they “stand around”, don’t contribute or only spend time criticizing.  Now when bad news comes down the pike, and it’s delivered by someone who they don’t respect, they will more likely feel attacked and get defensive.  Those conversations rarely go well.

So maybe it’s time to “Alamo” your leadership game?  Maybe its time to not only proactively serve your employees, but also to proactively illicit their feedback and input about their experience?  After all, isn’t your job as a leader to ensure your employees have the best experience possible so they will carry out your companies mission?

Let’s tweak these two questions a little bit to fit the leader/employee scenario:

  • “How is your experience with us, and with me as a leader?”
  • “Is there anything else we can do to make the experience better?”

Of course the follow-up to these questions is to A. LISTEN, and B. do something with the information. If you don’t do either, your employees won’t believe you are sincere.

Thanks for reading!

Did you miss AttractionPros Live in Orlando? Listen in as we tap into the collective wisdom of 30 attractions professionals!

 

 

No, no, no, no, no, no!

Maybe I am just different, but I get REALLY annoyed when I see very smart people do, what I consider to be, very short-sighted things.

This morning I saw a well-known and highly respected leadership authority talking about how to teach leadership to young people.  (First strike was calling them millennials, but I’ll let that slide this time.) His contention: put it on their phone, give them an app and let them text each other.

This is when I shook my head and said, “no, no, no, no, no, no, no!”  Just like Lego Batman.

If you want employees to get their eyes away from the screen, you don’t give them MORE REASONS TO LOOK AT THE SCREEN!!!  This is especially true when it comes to leadership. Want to build someone’s ability to deal with conflict?  Put them in a conflict situation and coach them through it. Want to build up someone’s skill in providing real, effective and genuine feedback? Put them in that situation and coach them through it.  Want to help develop a new leaders decision making skills?  Give them decisions to make and coach them through the outcome. Are you seeing a trend here?

I get this guys desire to jump on the app bandwagon, but that doesn’t mean its right for every situation.  Got an app to track your steps?  Sure! Got an app to help keep your travel plans organized? Absolutely? But an app to teach people how to interact with another human being? I’m a little skeptical.

Why the skepticism from an optimist?  Because I have seen first hand the difference between how people act and interact in person versus online.  It’s quite literally night and day in many cases.  And leadership is about communication and relationships, which are built and sustained in person (or phone, Skype, etc. – someplace where you are interacting with another human in real time).  Just look at how many people feel alone even though they have a bazillion friends and followers on social media.

I’ve said it before… leadership is a full contact sport.  You’ve got to get in there, mess things up, make some mistakes, get humbled, have some success and LEARN from every experience.  It’s a journey that takes a long time, and is never really finished (if you are doing it right). And in my opinion, cannot be learned by looking at your phone.

Related: If you’ll be at IAAPA’s IAE18 in November, I’ll be talking about how to create a supervisor training program that fits any budget.

Whether you will be at the expo or not, if you are looking for an non-app based ready-to-go Supervisor Training Program, check out The Myth of Employee Burnout Supervisor Training Program. 

Hoping to see many of you at the Expo! It’s going to be a great week!

Thanks for reading!!

Matt’s IAAPA Don’t Miss list:

My Mean Joe Greene moment

I recently had what I can only describe as a “Mean Joe Greene” moment. If you weren’t watching football in 1979, you might not know what that means.  Here is the historical document that will put that phrase into perspective:

Very much like the kid in that stadium tunnel, my MJG moment included me receiving an unexpected gift from an unexpected source.

Here’s the story… I was brought in to work with a client recently who had some people who were not playing well with one another.  It’s not a huge company, so any disruption in the work-life harmony was noticed by many and it spread quickly.

One individual, we’ll call him “Jim”, was a guy I was particularly warned about. “He’s gruff, grumpy, and is really unhappy outside of work.”

This should be fun.

So I met with Jim and we started talking. We first spoke about the job, the company, and his work-related challenges.  Somewhere along the line the conversation turned to what he did outside of work, and football came up. He mentioned he was a Browns fan and our conversation detoured from work for a bit. Growing up in Cleveland myself, we had a lot to discuss from the Kardiac Kids to Bernie Kosar, Jim Brown, and the early days of Bill Belichick.

We then started talking about music… he was also a drummer, worked with lots of bands and even ran sound and lights for many years.  So the conversation went down THAT rabbit hole for a bit.

We steered it back to work and finished up. I thanked Jim for his time and he went back to his department.

A few hours later, I was leaving for the day and I was about 1/2 way to my car in the parking lot when I heard someone calling after me. I turned to see Jim walking toward me with something in his hand.  As he got closer, he revealed this Browns lighter.

When we were speaking earlier in the day, he mentioned getting this from someone in the Browns organization, and that he actually had two.  Not being a smoker, he doesn’t really have a need for one, let alone two.  I’m not a smoker either, but he wanted this to go to a fan, even if I would never use it.  “Better to go to a fan than in the trash”, he said.

As I walked to my car, I totally felt like that kid in the Coke commercial. Jim was a guy that was supposed to be gruff, tough and didn’t like anyone, yet here he is giving me something that meant something to him, because he figured it would mean something to me.

And it does mean something to me.

So how did this happen? Like the kid in the commercial offering Joe his Coke, I offered Jim somethings without expecting anything in return… my time, a listening ear and my genuine interest.  I was also careful NOT treat him like he was the gruff and tough so and so that I was warned about. It’s AMAZING the barriers you can break down when you listen to people without judgement.

To be fair, I do also think it helped that we had no history, meaning that there wasn’t any bad blood or muddy water under the bridge to clutter our conversation.  We all know that kind of baggage can prevent us from seeing things clearly, or it can even stop us from attempting to foster a solution.  But that doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless.

If you have a team member like Jim, don’t write them off just yet.  Be the leader you know you need to be and bury the hatchet, let bygones be bygones and wipe the slate clean.  Whatever cliche you choose to adopt, it’s up to you to take the first step, to listen, and to invest the time to build the bonds you know you need to build.

And who knows, you may end up with a Mean Joe Greene story of your own to tell!

Thanks for reading!

Mastermind (group/peer coaching) groups forming NOW! Programs start in January 2019!

To apply: http://www.performanceoptimist.com/mastermindapplication.html

Gotta keep ’em calibrated

During a recent trip, I had a very interesting conversation with a friend who works in telecom.  He used to work in the attractions world, so he is still one of “us”!

He told me about something they do called a calibration meeting.  He works in quality control, and during the calibration meeting, everyone who works in quality control gets together to ensure that their interpretation of the rules and standards are the same. I thought this was brilliant.

Especially for a quality control department, if the view of quality is different, you have no control! In some ways, we ALL work in the quality control department.

We may call it something else, of course.  You may be an Operations Manager, or a Retail Supervisor, or an Accounting Lead, but our goals are all the same: produce a HIGH QUALITY product.

That product could be service to an employee or guest, a tasty funnel cake or accurate accounting methods.  In any case, you are responsible for QUALITY!

So it only makes sense that your vision of quality and your team’s vision of quality be the same. Calibrated, even.

Like you have heard me talk about before, that starts with your company values and goals.  But it’s not enough to know what they are, you also have to have a shared vision of what they mean, what they look like, and how they will be enforced.

And yes, I have encouraged many individuals and companies to define their values, determine what specific, observable behaviors indicate that those values are being “lived” (or not lived) and the steps to coach or discipline as appropriate.  In a way, this is a method of calibration, but I think we can take it a step further.

What this conversation with my friend taught me is that there is also an opportunity for those in charge (us) to more deeply examine the values and calibrate OUR vision of quality based on those values.  And not just our vision, but again, how we will enforce them.

How often, during a leadership meeting, for example, do we talk specifically about our company values, especially in the context of the leadership team being on the same page regarding what they look like and how they will be enforced?  If the answer is never or not much, you have the opportunity to be a little bit better calibrated.

And why would you care? If you have ever wondered why one department “gets away” with certain things that you vigorously enforce, a lack of calibration is why. Not only is it frustrating for you, but it’s also frustrating and confusing for your employees.  They see the result of the lack of calibration (and thus, consistency), and wonder why things are not the same between departments.

A “calibrated” leadership team shares a vision of the quality product they are producing and acts consistently while either recognizing or correcting value-based behaviors.

Let’s pause. Do you think your leadership teams are calibrated?

With all this talk of calibration it can be easy to think I am advocating for an almost-robotic approach to leadership.  I am not.  Any of these calibration discussions have to balanced with compassion and judgement.  That said, I think where the calibration discussion is a true benefit is that requires your actions be justified.  If you feel that a situation warrants an approach that is outside of the agreed upon calibration, fine.  But you better be able to make your case.  And your argument should not begin with, “we’ve always done it that way…”

If you can truly explain WHY your situation is different, I am sure the leaders around you will buy in.  It’s when we have no rhyme or reason, or we are acting out of insecurity rather than compassion that our actions could be questioned… and rightly so.

If you have a set of values or guiding principles, you CAN calibrate your teams to ensure those values or principles are being adhered to. Ultimately, calibration leads to consistency, and don’t all of your guests deserve a consistently HIGH QUALITY experience?

I thought so.

Thanks for reading!

www.performanceoptimist.com

matt@performanceoptimist.com

407-435-8084

If you are trying to calibrate your own leadership skills, might I suggest joining a mastermind group? I think it’s a pretty cool program, but don’t take my word for it, here is a recent graduate talking about the experience.

A failure of leadership

I’m not even sure where to begin.  Maybe, like my friend did with the story below, I will start at the end, with the lesson.

Good employees don’t just leave bad managers. Good employees leave when ineffective managers can’t handle or resolve conflict, nor stop an employee when their destructive behavior impacts the team.

Here we go…

A good friend recently took a new job.  I knew he wasn’t entirely happy at his old job, but I had no idea how miserable the work environment had become until tonight.  After a 2-1/2 hour Skype call, I had a better idea.

As my friend (we’ll call him Peter) started relaying the story, he said, “I’m going to give you the last page of the book first.  My boss failed me.  I actually think she failed the company as well.  There were things going on that she had the authority and responsibility to fix, but she didn’t.”

So I asked, “what was going on?”

Peter had hired a new person (we’ll call him Daniel) for his team who was highly intelligent and articulate, but came with some “communication issues” according to his old boss.  Peter was impressed by Daniel’s desire and drive, so he hired him.

Not too long after, Daniel’s communication issues came to light.  What Daniel’s old boss really meant to say was that Daniel was a manipulator and tended to pit people against each other for his own gain.  Not good.

About a year after Daniel was hired, a position opened up that would be a promotion for Daniel and would make him a peer with Peter.  Daniel and Peter talked about it, and Peter didn’t feel Daniel was ready and told him so. Peter explained that to be ready for the promotion, Daniel would need more experience in certain areas of the job, but Peter was committed to putting Daniel on a path to get there. Daniel was okay with that.  Or so it seemed.

Then, Daniel gets the promotion anyway without Peter’s knowledge. Peter later learned that Daniel had an offer letter for a job from another company, and while he can’t prove this beyond a reasonable doubt, he believed Daniel used that letter as leverage with Alicia (Peter’s boss) to force the issue. No other explanation was given, so that’s where it sat.

And this was just the beginning.

Daniel then started complaining to Peter (and everyone else) about the way Peter’s staff was treating him. His accusations were just believable enough at first that Peter took action and addressed his employees.  After a few (too many) times of this, Peter saw the pattern and stopped believing Daniel.  Daniel would also talk poorly about Peter to Peter’s staff and others, while continuing to play on people’s perception of what he said.  He would slightly alter his delivery or the emphasis of a message so that it left a lot open to interpretation.  When confronted about causing tension due to mixed messages he would skirt responsibility by saying, “that’s their perception, but it’s not what I intended.”

Then he would shrug his shoulders as if to say, “sorry, not sorry.”

And so it went on.  The trouble, Peter said, was that neither he nor Alicia saw Daniel for what he was right away.  It wasn’t until they started connecting the dots of various conversations and accounts that they realized just how much trouble and drama Daniel was causing.

Peter and Alicia both agreed something had to be done.  Peter didn’t shy away from the fact that he likely contributed to the situation by not recognizing what Daniel was doing and also by playing into it to some extent.  But the fix had to come from Alicia.  She oversaw both of them and it was time for her to make things right.

But she didn’t.  She allowed Daniel to continue with his antics to the point that Peter just couldn’t take it anymore, so he found another job.  Daniel still works there.

And this is what we mean when we say that good employees leave because of the inability of leaders to manage conflict, or to stop destructive behavior.  Alicia chose to look the other way and NOT address Daniel’s manipulation.

If we dig a little deeper, we might not be too surprised by Alicia’s actions.  According to Peter, she consistently avoided conflict and even reacted with nervous laughter anytime situations got remotely tense.  She also seemed to lack the confidence to stand her ground which led to waffling of opinions.  She would also then get defensive when questioned or challenged.

And by Alicia’s own admission, she rarely saw her boss.  Their biweekly one-on-one meeting was often cancelled and when it wasn’t, her boss was “on his phone” during a majority of the meeting.  To me, this is another failure of leadership, as he wasn’t engaged enough in Alicia’s performance to address her weaknesses and help her develop.

And because of that, Peter left.  But Peter wasn’t the only one.  Out of a 7 person team, 6 people have left or are leaving. Daniel is still there.

Should we be worried when good people leave?  Of course.  What this also shows us is that this can be a double whammy.  Ignore the bad behavior, and that’s all you’ll be left with.

If there is conflict on your team, you have to deal with it.  You might not resolve it 100% the first time you address it, but you have to take the first step.

If you don’t know how to deal with the conflict, the first step is to get help.  I’d be happy to assist, so contact me anytime so we can make sure this blog post doesn’t turn into your biography.

Thanks for reading!

Performance Optimist Consulting

matt@performanceoptimist.com

407-435-8084

I know you REALLY don’t want your employees to burnout this season.  If only there was something that could be done… oh wait…