The Middle Manager

Surviving & Thriving as a Leader


In the overall scheme of things, my business and work life has been fairly uneventful.  Its had its ups and downs, of course, and there have been times in my career when I was unhappy, but all in all I shouldn’t complain.

How do I know that?  Well, I’ve spent the last 18 months working with a volunteer committee to put on a large hobby conference.  It was an eye-opening experience, because it exposed me to some of the most dysfunctional leadership I’ve ever experienced.  There were times when, if it had been a business instead of something I was doing as a volunteer, I believe I could have made a good case for a hostile work environment.  The leader of this team hit all the wrong buttons – dictatorial leadership, personal agendas, poor organization, ineffective meetings, no collaboration, and backstabbing.  It was exacerbated by the fact that the national leadership of the organization would not listen to anyone but the chairman of the committee, so they remained ignorant of the problems due to their own unwillingness to hear them.  This had the not-unexpected result of a highly stressful working environment leading to serious morale issues with the members of the team.  The ultimate result was a significant loss of potential revenue because the team lost all motivation to excel.

In the volunteer environment, there was little I could do to effect change.  I kept at it because I was motivated to help out my local club.

But it made me wonder, how would I deal with something like this if I encountered it at work?

Whether something can be done is likely dependent upon the level where the dysfunction occurs.  As in the case of my volunteer committee, there would be little I could do to effect change because of the level at which the dysfunction occurred.  When it occurs at a leadership level it results in discouragement and frustration.  The primary difference In a business environment, of course, is that there is always the recourse of going to HR.

If the dysfunction happens under you in the organization, then there are some things you can do to try and improve the situation.  Have a frank conversation with the offending personality, and let them know that they need to improve their relationship with coworkers.  Identify the improper conduct and counsel them on what they can do to improve.  You may have to move to a written warning if the behavior doesn’t change.  While the goal of this counsel is to help the person improve, the ultimate solution of termination of employment has to remain on the table for consideration.

When one person on a team is causing problems, it really doesn’t matter how well they know their job.  There’s a saying that one rotten apple can spoil the whole bunch, and that’s true for teams as well.  Even if someone knows the job inside and out, if they’re bringing down the rest of the team the situation needs to be resolved quickly.  The health of the organization trumps the problems from one individual.

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