A great play written by Victor Hugo in the 19th Century, depicting the social scene in France at that time. You know it. In case you haven’t seen it, trust me, it is very likely you will at one point. A masterpiece, once we’ve turned into musicals, popcorn movies, and even prom themes. One that we’ve all heard about, at least through Susan Boyle’s version of “I dreamed a dream”.
Alas, we are not here to discuss the play, or my use of the word “alas” (I’ve been dying to use it for the past +180 posts, I confess). This post is related to management. I would say leadership and use capital letters, but that would be too presumptuous. I am assuming the “manager” persona we who manage know so well.
For the purposes of this article, I should also clarify that I do not speak or write in French at all and that Spanish is my mother language. Having said that and in case you do not know any Spanish at all, you should also know that “miserable” can be used as an insult in Spanish. It is an adjective and as such, a synonym of petty. One who is “miserable” (in Spanish) is one who is small-minded and cheap, one whose attitude is questionable at best.
As a manager (especially but not necessarily if you’ve been at it for some time) you’ve encountered occasions and people that when put together challenged not just your skills but your perceptions, your ways of dealing with your emotions and eventually with leading a team. You know what I mean: those people who can get in your hair really fast and, even if they never intended to, challenge you. Those who did what others didn’t, couldn’t or wouldn’t: breached the limits of the manager and affected you, the person beyond the manager.
If this was a leadership post, I would say that every one of those people you meet poses a challenge, an opportunity to help them better themselves and yourself. This is not that post though and sometimes you can’t just “elevate” them. The reason (and this is the big WHY this is not a leadership post) is that sometimes you just can’t. It is about them, not you and you can’t affect them…yet they can affect you.
These are two simple examples of “Miserables” I have found in my career as a manager.
I was taught to say “thank you” right after someone did something for me. It didn’t matter what it was, I was told repeatedly that this was “good form” or “good manners”. After some time I was able to corroborate and see it for myself: if you said “thank you” to someone after they did something for you, they would probably smile and answer back “you are welcome“. The answer says it all: you gave your thanks and in return, you are welcomed.
Those who don’t thank are never welcomed.
Have you ever had an employee who, after you did something for them just walks away without a word? “That’s ok, it’s just the way she/he is”. What about the time that person claims that a certain idea came out of her/his mind, omitting the fact that you coached that person all the way? “I don’t need the credit” you might say…and what about the time that person, after ignoring your advice decides to do the opposite? “I can’t make them do what I want” you may say…until they finally leave and never look back. “Progress lies ahead, not behind” your leader’s mind will respond. And yet, something hurts, something is off. You know what it is: an absence, something that’s missing. Two simple words you’ve never heard of them and suddenly see reflected in their attitude: “Thank you”.
And yet, something hurts, something is off. You know what it is: an absence, something that’s missing. Two simple words you’ve never heard of them and suddenly see reflected in their attitude: “Thank you”.
To thank is to acknolwedge.
One of my biggest mistakes as a manager was thinking I could make everyone happy. Of course, I couldn’t, I can’t. I enabled bad forms or manners and thus I have welcomed those who shouldn’t be welcomed: the ones that never thank, the ones that never acknowledge, the ones that simply do not care.
It is an ongoing challenge.
Sometimes confused with “the bold ones”, those who fear nothing. The end justifies the means: go get what’s yours by right. You can see what’s wrong right there…can you? The problem with these ones is that most companies enable this type of behavior by creating a “results-oriented” culture with no limits. There are compliance manuals, ethics training, and the likes and yet…”go get what’s yours”, which some interpret as “do what you have to do to get it”.
I drive teams as I drive a car: trusting that it w I give a lot of space and seek constant feedback. Discipline is not enforced with a whip but rather with a clear setting of goals and rules of engagement to achieve those goals. I am far from perfect and even far from the best manager I can be, but yet I try not to create “pockets” where misconduct or misbehavior can happen.
Why is it then that every now and then someone that works for me decides to force a boundary or cross a limit? I used to think it was me and would exaggerate my management style, my rule-setting, etc. I would try really hard to accommodate all styles and reinforce dialogue.
Draw a line and see who crosses it. Is it the Hero, or the Villain?
It took me some time until I realized that in doing so I was, again, enabling those who just don’t care. They believe rules don’t apply to them, they confuse the “Hero’s journey” with the path to the dark side and of course. Heroes don’t know they are walking it…villains just don’t care, which of course leads to the conclusion that those who rape the limits, the unscrupulous ones, are villains.
As a manager, I’ve dealt with these types over and over. It’s made me wonder, maybe I’m just not hiring the right people, maybe I need more training…but the leader I want to become tells me something far easier to understand: you just never know, but you have to try. It is my job to try, not to know, but to manage through the lack of knowledge and the very solid pressence of pettiness, small-mindness and egolatry some people bring in. It is your job as well
You just need to go watch Les Misérables and you’ll see the truth for what it is: no happy ending is still and ending. You need to deal with it.