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09.09.11

Managing the Unmanageable

Leadership
If we truly want to deal with a difficult or unmanageable person, we have to get at the thinking behind the behavior. Why do they do that? Why are they that way?

Instead of going deeper, it’s easier to just label them and avoid the issue. He’s rude. She’s unreliable. He’s an egomaniac. She’s self-absorbed. Anne Loehr and Jezra Kaye, authors of Managing the Unmanageable, say that these “unmanageable” people are costing companies a fortune. Loehr estimates that her clients lose, on average, 30% of their productivity because of issues related to unmanageable employees.

The fact is, “there’s a world of difference between someone who’s acting unmanageable, and someone who can’t [won’t] act any other way. There’s a world of difference between someone who’s become unmanageable in response to a particular set of circumstances (that can, at least theoretically, be changed) and someone who’s just like that.” Perceiving the difference is the task of leaders, managers, and coaches. Most of the time we deal with people at the symptom level.

Managing the Unmanageable is written to help you do just that. They begin with an appropriate caution: If you find yourself being convinced that someone could never have the slightest redeeming good quality, find a way to deal with your own feelings before you try to manage theirs. Good advice.

There are some early warning signs that it is time to look deeper than the behaviors you see:

Diminished Motivation: “Frustration with a job can grow out of unmet or unrealistic expectations, company-wide uncertainty or relationship problems on a team or with a manager.” You’ll hear comments like:
“I’m just not into it anymore.”
“This job isn’t what I expected.”
“I can’t stand the people on my team.”
Unclear Expectations: Misunderstandings are common. We don’t always communicate as clearly as we think. Too much often goes unsaid. Sadly, too, “managers and executives sometimes purposely lead employees astray, confuse them, or keep them in the dark to avoid unpleasant issues or consolidate power in their own hands.” It sounds like this:
“I have no idea what she wants.”
“It’s impossible to satisfy him.”
“She thinks everything I do is wrong.”
Lack of Confidence or Self-Esteem: “It’s natural to wonder if you have what it takes when the stakes go up or your job becomes more complex. But if that lack of self-confidence persists, an employee can become resistant, defensive, and ultimately unmanageable. They will say things such as:
“I don’t know why they thought I could do this.”
“It’s just never going to get done.”
“Maybe I should switch careers.”
Personal Issues: “When your employee is distracted, self-absorbed, or unable to focus, her problem may stem from conditions outside of work. It might be expressed as:
“I haven’t slept through the night in weeks.”
“I just can’t seem to concentrate.”
“Life is too damned hard these days.”
“A radical shift in behavior,” say Loehr and Kaye, “may be your first indication that a good employee is morphing into an unmanageable employee.”

In short, other people have many of the same problems we have, it’s just that they haven’t learned how to deal with it or are not in a position to do anything about it in the same way that we would as leaders.

The book specifically deals with the excuse-maker, the grumbler, the egomaniac, the loose cannon, the joker, the do-gooder, the wallflower, the gossip, the slacker, the rude-nik, and the AWOL.

Each “salvage” operation follows the 5-C Model: Commit or Quit, Communicate, Clarify Goals and Roles, Coach, and Create Accountability. The focus of each chapter is to get behind the behavior of each type and understand it. You will find helpful composite cases, practical tips and dialogues for dealing with each type.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:41 AM
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