An employee suffered from alcoholism. The signs were there: irritability, other employees having to cover for his erratic performance, etc. Dealing with the issue ended up creating a personal nightmare that taught a lesson that was very well learned.
My partner and I talked and decided to break protocol and bring him in for a discussion since the employee, I’ll call “John,” was a team lead and we lacked a backup in his position. (We broke protocol by bypassing the manager to whom John reported –a telling first sign.) John was contrite. But that wasn’t the problem. I and my partner were; but here, I am going to keep the focus on myself. The desire to be “the understanding boss” swept over me. At the time, it felt adult, the right thing to do. What wasn’t so obvious was wanting to be seen as “the understanding boss.” In short, the situation ended up being a focus on me rather than on the team lead position needing responsible performance. Consequently, I felt all warm inside having shown magnanimous behavior from my ownership position.
What is needed in such situations is analysis of what is required for the position to succeed and then determining if the right person is occupying. Sounds simple. It isn’t…unless a different focus is established. That focus is one of humility.
In retrospect, I believe John picked up on how the ownership position was abandoned for the sake of personal gratification. It created a blind spot within which John quickly ran to and stood. He promised to rehabilitate, do better, blah, blah, blah. What ended up happening was quite the opposite. Later we found out he had gone back to work and became worse. People couldn’t stand working with him. He let people know he had talked with the owners and we were okay with him and his performance.
This all came to the surface only when we saw costs go up and performance drop off in John’s area. This is when the reality hit – the hammer was dropped squarely on my head. Having used John and the situation for personal aggrandizement the company was hurt. The lesson was learned. Branded into my prefrontal cortex was:
“Before others can be evaluated, I must evaluate myself.”
Looking squarely at the situation the action plan showed itself quickly:
- Admit to my mistakes
- Decide what served the organization and employees best
- Confront John
- Accept that he will feel being treated unfairly
John was called in and the above bullet points were covered. It was difficult and felt good all at the same time. By sticking to the principles relevant to the situation things became simple.
John’s alcoholism came to the surface and he engaged in a series of manipulative behaviors that kept the focus on my partner and I and avoided any ownership of responsibility on his part. When pressed for what he owned, free and clear of anyone to blame, he only got frustrated and angry. The decision to terminate him became easy when he responded to us saying the situation had only gotten worse, “Well, you are the one’s who gave me the extra room.” (If only all dealings with substance abuse were this direct.)
At that point the principles pushed my ego aside and spoke, “John, the position requires X performance. You are consistently choosing Y. We need to respect your desire to do something different and need to let you pursue that path.”
My pulse was at 72. Humility. It works.
Over the years, remembering this situation has helped immensely and a lesson has been learned worth passing along. When dealing with someone I deem difficult and either fly into confusion/anger or feel euphoric with my decisions around him or her, the first, best question to ask is, “Where am I bullsh_ting myself?” My path is inside that question.
—Through his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at email@example.com or through Twitter at @garymonti