In all my years of consulting and coaching, perhaps the biggest problem I see in the workplace is people who don’t want to accommodate other people’s styles. It happens at all levels, but nowhere is it more devastating than in management and leadership ranks. This is because the negative ripple-effect is larger when this attitude comes from those closer to the top.
What I’m talking about here is blatant arrogance, ignorance, or both.
Even worse, these same offenders often complain about other coworkers who are doing the same thing as them.
Take Jack M., a senior manager at a large textile mill. To listen to Jack you’d think that the mill’s owner and a few other key people were causing all the mill’s problems.
But after a few conversations with Jack’s subordinates (most of the 400+ workers are in his department) we find that it’s Jack who’s twice as guilty as anyone he’s pointing to. Typical comments from his employees include, “he’s the worst person I’ve ever worked for,” and “the only time he talks to me is when he wants to chew me out in public.”
Most folks are bothered by the arrogance, but it’s the intentional ignorance that’s the real killer. Approach Jack about his coworker’s perceptions and he gives you a litany of examples of how he’s been complimented over the years for his management style and how it’s helped the company move ahead. Essentially he says, “This is who I am – deal with it.” It’s professional deflection at it’s best.
The problem multiples when good employees quit because they’re tired of top managers treating them like dirt. Ironically, when this happens the offending parties quickly jump up and point fingers at – you guessed it – the others around them.
Although this problem is more easily seen in one or two behavioral styles (the more flamboyant tend to stick out), it occurs across the board. And, as I mentioned earlier, the higher up one sits in the organization, the greater the negative impact, as well as the visibility of the problem.
Such attitudes arise out of insecurities, fears, and an inability to “connect the dots,” among other reasons. But regardless of their source, these attitudes rarely change without some form of direct confronting, usually from a higher-up. As the saying goes, sometimes the sugar cubes go only so far, and then you’ve got to pull out the hammer.
Of course, this can be a real problem when it’s the very top person in an organization who’s doing the offending – there’s no one above him or her to do the confronting. But that’s fodder for an entirely different column.
Regardless, resolving these problems at any level is never easy. Self-defensive measures that have “protected” these people over the years may show themselves even more. Relationships can get quite ugly as the offending parties struggle to maintain positional dignity and power. Besides, their thinking is, “these methods got me here – why should I let them go now?” They never consider that they may have gotten to where they are in spite of having these detrimental attitudes.
Sending the person to a training class on interpersonal skills is a good start, but it’s not the cure. The same protective tendencies show their ugly heads: “This is for other people, not me.”
The best approach is professional and one-on-one. Specifics have to be addressed and solutions have to be considered head on. Avoidance tactics need to be called for what they are, and accountability for improvement must be established. Without someone trained to confront, old habits will not go away (especially if the guilty party is way up the chain of command – remember, they firmly believe these methods got them to where they are).
An additional benefit of one-on-one help is that it helps the offending parties “save face” by dealing with their issues in private.
Luckily, thousands and thousands of trained professional and executive coaches are out there as a resource. The help is there!
Unfortunately, it’s usually not until the offending parties start getting passed over for promotion before they are willing to look at what they might need to change within themselves. Sadly, some refuse to acknowledge it even then.
For this reason, we need to open our minds to the idea that there’s always room for improvement, and that it’s a fundamental truth that we should look inside first. Yes, top managers, this means you, too.