One thing they don’t teach you in management training is what to do when someone at work does something completely unexpected. People are unpredictable and as someone who has others in your charge, you will come across a time where someone says or does something that leaves you standing flat-footed and mouth agape.
Wouldn’t it be nice if people shared their Holy Crap stories so we could all learn? I have a few myself, but I thought it would be a good idea to reach out to some of my colleagues and ask them to share their stories. You may or may not come across the same situations, but hey, the more lessons we can all learn from the better off we will all be, right?
Missing in March Madness
Susan Fennema had a gentleman on her team that was very charming and smart. Everyone liked him, he had that kind of personality that just made you like him. One Friday afternoon he and a few other people on the team left for lunch. When everyone returned from lunch but him, Susan asked where he was. The team admitted that he had stayed behind to watch March Madness.
To add insult to injury, he didn’t return to work until the following Wednesday.
When Susan confronted him, all he had to say for himself was “caught”. Obviously, he was terminated immediately. When I asked Susan what the lesson was for her in this situation she stated that no matter how much you like someone you can’t let them get away with this kind of behavior. That it sets the tone for all the other employees. It was a weird situation, losing a job just to watch March Madness, but that was his choice and it was her choice to not let it stand.
Rhonda Delaney had a situation where assumptions caused her some pain. She was working for a company that had been sold and the new owners ran things very differently. The previous owner was one of the most generous people she had ever worked for and their year-end bonuses were exceptional. In the new environment, things weren’t as rosy and the bonuses were a fraction of what they had been.
Rhonda spent time addressing why things were different with her team, as any good manager would. However, she had one person on the team that had been out on maternity leave and when she returned she didn’t think anything was amiss until the review process had begun. The employee began to tell Rhonda that she didn’t feel valued by her or the company. Rhonda said she immediately checked in and tried to find out why she felt that way, even asking if another manager gave her that feeling.
The employee responded with “No, it’s you, Rhonda!”.
Needless to say, she was caught off guard. Rhonda had worked directly with her for over 5 years and thought they had a great working relationship. She encouraged the employee to share why she felt the way she did and it all boiled down to her small bonus. She believed that Rhonda decided how much her bonus should be and because it was a fraction of the past ones, that meant she wasn’t valued. At that moment, Rhonda realized that she did not have a clarifying conversation with her because she wasn’t in the building, she had been on maternity leave.
Rhonda’s lesson learned was that she felt awful thinking that someone on her team went for weeks feeling believing she wasn’t valued. Her take away was to ensure that in the future she disseminates information to everyone whether they are on vacation, a business trip or on maternity leave.
In the case with Lauren, she had a young woman working as an IT technician on her campus that had a dotted line report to her. This employee’s attire was inappropriate and unprofessional. She wore short shorts and plunging necklines or very tight-fitting jeans. Keep in mind this person was often crawling around under people’s desks to repair computers or pull cables.
Lauren had several conversations with the employee to no avail. It escalated when several male faculty members indicated to Lauren that they were uncomfortable with her working in their offices. Lauren reported the problem to the woman’s immediate supervisor since she felt she wasn’t making any progress. This supervisor invited the two to lunch to “mediate” the situation, to which the employee indicated that Lauren was just picking on her because she was jealous of how she looked in the problematic apparel.
The supervisor supported the employee stating she needed to be comfortable in her attire.
Lauren attempted to explain what appropriate attire should be for her duties that still allowed freedom of movement. Essentially, the conversation went nowhere. She felt the supervisor was uncomfortable with being direct in stating what was and was not appropriate. A very frustrating situation to be stuck in the middle of. When I asked Lauren what she learned from this situation, she stated that it is very difficult to make “dotted line” reporting structures work in most organizational structures. She also learned that she needed to understand what motivated both parties before attempting to have a conversation. She feels that would have helped her to navigate the discussion and possibly arrive at a more positive outcome.
Karima worked at an organization where the CEO arrived earlier than usual one morning. He accused the entire team of malfeasance, doing all manner of things that amounted to gross dishonesty and could, under most circumstances, get each individual fired. He used foul language and was very loud when delivering his message.
Most of the team was in shock, some cried.
No one felt courageous enough to defend themselves, though. They felt the CEO was too powerful a force to confront. The thing was though, he was wrong about most of those he accused. One person did muster up the gumption to have that tough conversation with him and explained that he was wrong and inappropriate. Believe it or not, after having that conversation the CEO apologized to the individual and they become great friends. It also changed the professional trajectory for that individual and empowered them to speak the truth. It changed their life. Karima’s thoughts on the lesson learned was that courage lies within all of us and that we should call on it when we need it most. It will guide and support you even when it feels uncomfortable.
Lastly, I thought I would share one of my own. I was leading a very large program of work that involved several projects. We had a wall that displayed the entire program’s timeline. Yes, I’m old school and believe the visual is important. It was on display for everyone to see, not only for the project teams but for anyone who walks by so they understand the depths of what we are doing. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a mess with all of the changes and post-it notes.
Ok, to be honest, it was becoming an eye-sore.
Sometimes in meetings, it would cause confusion and the messiness was a giant frustration of mine and the team knew it. But to recreate it would take too much time and of course, we were worried we would completely botch it up, so we decided to leave it well enough alone.
One Monday morning I arrived at work, got myself situated at my desk and went to the wall to stand in silence and see where we were headed for the week. To my surprise, the entire wall had been re-done. Completely. MONTHS worth of tracking were displayed neatly, lines were straight and the multitude of overlapping post-it notes were gone. I cried. (I’m a sap.) Someone or several people either stayed super late on a Friday or they came in over the weekend to fix the monstrosity. As people started to file in, everyone was stoked about the new display. Despite my accolades and enthusiasm in our morning stand up, no one took credit for the work. My take away, sometimes people are just good human beings. They do right for the happiness of others and don’t need to take credit for it.
While you may never come across these exact same situations, you will have your moments that will catch you off guard. Just remember the only thing you can control is your reaction to the situation. Then maybe you can share your experience with other new or emerging leaders. Learning what to do and what not to do from other’s experiences is the best education going.
Do you have a story to share where you were caught off guard? Share it with us, so we can all learn something new.
Be a Connected Leader.