Series on Dealing with Difficult People – Good vs. bad bosses

As a manager, one goes through a lot of stress and has a lot of responsibilities. None greater than the responsibility of handling people. The company expects leaders to get results. So, more often than not managers end up focusing on results neglecting their people and becoming difficult bosses that people don’t enjoy to work with. It is very important that you do not become someone who does not intimidate your colleagues.

Jim Clifton, the CEO of the Gallup organization, found that 60% of employees working for the U.S. federal government are miserable — not because of low pay, poor workplace benefits, or insufficient vacation days — but because they have bad bosses. He goes so far as to report a silver-bullet fix to this situation: “Just name the right manager. No amount of pay and benefits will solve the problems created by a manager who has no talent for the task at hand.”

This matters so much for two very basic reasons. Bad Bosses Negate Other Investments: As Clifton points out, none of the other expensive programs a company institutes to increase employee engagement — excellent rewards, well-thought-out career paths, stimulating work environments, EAP programs, health insurance, and other perks — will make much difference to the people stuck with bad bosses.

Good Bosses Lead Employees to Increase Revenue: And, as many other studies have shown, there’s a strong correlation between employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and revenue. To take just one example, in the first of many such studies, published more than 15 years ago in the Harvard Business Review, Anthony Rucci, Steven Kirn, and Richard Quinn identified “the employee-customer-profit chain” at Sears. This was a straightforward dynamic in which employee behavior affected customer behavior, which in turn affected company financial performance. Specifically, in Sears’ case, when employee satisfaction improved by 5%, customer satisfaction improved by 1.3%, which led to a .05% improvement in revenue. That might not sound significant, but for $50 billion Sears, that that came to an extra $250 million in sales revenue.

This study has since been replicated by J.C. Penny, Best Buy, and Marriott. And for all of them the results held true — effective leaders led to satisfied employees, which led to satisfied customers, which led to a direct and measurable increase in sales revenue. Put all of these studies together, and to us the implications are clear. Being a better and friendlier boss helps.


Categorized as Media

Series on Dealing with Difficult People – Self regulation

We meet all kinds of people in and outside the workplace. It is very difficult for us to predict how they would behave in various circumstances. We cannot control them, we can however control ourselves. It is very important for us to know how we should behave when we deal with difficult people.

Barbara is an assistant professor in biochemistry working in signal transduction. Six months ago, she had an idea about a way to use a green fluorescent protein (GFP)-SMAD construct to monitor changes in the intracellular location of a particular SMAD during cell signaling. She discussed the idea with Mohan, an assistant professor of physiology with experience using GFP constructs.

Later that year, Barbara sat in on a seminar about SMADs given by Astrid, a faculty member from another institution. Astrid discussed some preliminary work in which she used a SMAD-GFP construct in almost precisely the same way that Barbara had planned. Moreover, she indicated that this work was being done in collaboration with Mohan.

Barbara felt herself getting red in the face during the seminar. She believed that Mohan had stolen her idea and she was furious. At the end of the seminar, hardly able to contain her anger, she approached Mohan and pulled him aside. “I told you that I was planning to do almost exactly that experiment six months ago. Now I find that you did the same experiment with Astrid. This is infuriating and amounts to theft of my work.” During this recitation, Barbara became increasingly agitated and shouted loud enough for everyone leaving the seminar to hear, “How can you possibly justify what you did?”

Mohan was stunned and embarrassed. People were looking at the two of them. In desperation, he said, “Look, you’re way off base here. I never talked about your work. Why don’t you calm down? You have completely misunderstood this situation and now you are making a mountain out of a molehill.”

To Barbara, this felt like an attempt to brush her off and she became even more furious. “You’re an outright liar, Mohan, and I’m taking this to the committee on scientific misconduct,” she shouted. After hearing Barbara call him a liar, Mohan became furious and said, “Go ahead. You’re paranoid and everyone knows that.” In this case, we have the advantage of knowing that Barbara did in fact talk to Mohan about her idea. But we do not know whether Mohan knowingly misappropriated it or whether something else happened. Whatever the case, Mohan’s reaction simply fanned the flames of Barbara’s anger and resulted in her filing a formal charge of misconduct against him.

Mohan did everything wrong when confronted by Barbara. He denied her anger, or that she had any reason to be angry, by telling her to calm down. Telling an angry person to calm down is probably the least effective way to get them to do that. In fact, it is likely to increase their anger. Then Mohan told Barbara that what she is furious about is not a big deal. It was clearly a big deal to Barbara, and hearing Mohan deny that she had something to be angry about did not help. What could Mohan have done differently?

Let us rerun the scenario with a new and different Mohan. Mohan: “Barbara, I can see that you are really angry. I see how this looks to you, and I’d be angry too if I thought that someone did that to me. Frankly, it should have occurred to me how this would look, and I apologize for not speaking with you sooner. Can we go somewhere and talk about this? I’d really like to explain how this situation came about. The last thing I want is for our relationship to be damaged because of this.”

Principles used:

• Empathize: Mohan acknowledges Barbara’s anger and shows that he understands why she is angry.

• Agree: Mohan has agreed that Barbara has the right to be angry based on what she thinks happened. In doing this, Mohan has not agreed that he has done anything wrong. It’s important to note that telling Barbara that he can understand her anger is not the same as admitting that he did anything wrong. In fact, in this case, Mohan did not do anything wrong. But he needs to create a climate that enables him to explain this.

• Apologize: Next Mohan apologizes, not for doing anything wrong, but for failing to anticipate how Barbara would perceive the situation. Apologies work wonders with angry people, even if you are not apologizing for precisely what they are angry about. It shows Barbara that Mohan cares about her feelings and is willing to accept some responsibility.

• Inquire: Mohan tells Barbara that he would like to hear more about what she believes happened, further showing that he is interested in her perception.

• Assure: Finally, he assures her that it is important to him to maintain their relationship. All of this will allow Mohan to explain the situation from his perspective in a calm setting.

Source: Lab Dynamics (2nd edition), by Carl M. Cohen and Suzanne L. Cohen

Categorized as Media

Series on Dealing with Difficult People – Handling Employee Challenges

Handling difficult people at work is one of the most challenging tasks that a manager faces from day to day. An organization cannot work well if there is a disturbing element that keeps distracting everyone else from their work. More and more of the manager’s time is spent on people issues rather than productivity if difficult people are not handled efficiently.

Over the course of a management career, you will deal with many employee challenges. One especially difficult challenge faced by Mike Sisco, founder and director of a top IT company in the US, makes an interesting “case study”. The employee in question was abusing others, both teammates and clients, and was not producing at a level expected for the position.

Mike’s approach has always been to deal with issues as they come up and deal with them as fairly and consistently as possible. The bottom line is that each individual on your team is expected to produce positive results and do so in a healthy way. Building a team that is highly responsive to client needs and successful in delivering value to your company requires everyone to make a positive contribution. Here is a brief description of how Mike handled the situation:

1. Mike coached the employee about the problems on two separate occasions and made it clear that he expected improvement. He was very specific and gave him examples of the unacceptable behavior. On the 2nd coaching session, he told him that if it happened again he would be put on a formal improvement plan and that if the issue occurred during the improvement plan time frame, he would be terminated.

2. The issue occurred again so Mike sat down with the employee and delivered a formal “work improvement” discussion. In this discussion, he gave the employee specific critique with examples that reinforced his concerns and handed him a written document stating the problem and specific resolution steps he must take to continue employment. Finally, the employee was notified directly that continued unacceptable performance that led to this discussion would result in dismissal.

3. In two weeks, Mike fired the employee because the performance improvements were not being met and another serious event demanded action.

The formal improvement session included the attendance of the senior Human Resources Manager because Mike wanted to be sure in this case that he covered all the bases since it was his belief the employee would simply “not get it”.

This was exactly the observation the HR Manager gave him after the session when he said, “You addressed all the issues well: what’s wrong, what you need to do to fix the problem, and clear understanding that continued poor performance would not be allowed. Even so, the employee doesn’t understand the problem; but you could not have explained the situation more clearly.”

In most situations, you won’t have to actually get to the point of firing an employee. Over 90% of the, when you address poor performance directly or conduct a “needs improvement” session with a poor performer, the employee does one of two things: he either improves the situation quickly or leaves on his own accord.

One of the most important responsibilities a manager has, is to do the right thing by your employees. That means stepping up to bad situations and taking appropriate action to improve performance of your organization. It is the right thing to do for your company, your clients and your staff.

More importantly, it’s the right thing to do for the poor performing employee. If you have an employee not performing, there are reasons as to why. Your job is to address the issue and to help each of your employees succeed, but there may be exceptions who just won’t make it. If so, your job is to help the employee move on to something that he can be successful in. To avoid this responsibility is unfair to the problem employee more than anyone. If you approach it in a light of “doing the right thing for the problem employee and your company”, it makes the tough work a little easier.


Categorized as Media

Series on Dealing with Difficult People – Conflict resolution

Difficult people do exist at work. They come in every variety and no workplace is without them. They are often involved in various conflicts at the workplace (both major and minor). A good leader is someone who is capable of diffusing these conflicts and one who can lead all the people to work harmoniously with one another.

Annette Innella is the new senior VP for Knowledge Management at Concord Machines. She knows her proposal to establish a cross functional knowledge management committee is progressive thinking for this old-line manufacturer.

Bob Dunn is a senior and respected member of the organization. He is the general manager of the Services Group, which has in the time since he joined brought in half the revenue for the entire company. He’s just returned from a two week trip around the globe to gear up his troops to beat revenue targets again, despite shrinking budgets and hiring freezes. He has been handling a lot of assignments and has gathered up a huge workload with very little help from anyone else. He has also had a problem recently in his family wherein his son was arrested for drunk driving and possession of alcohol as a minor. All this has led to a lot of stress for him. And what does he see when he gets back? An email from Annette requesting that two of his best people devote half their time to what he calls her “idiotic” Knowledge Protocols Group. ‘He’s carrying the company on his back, and she’s throwing nonsense at him’, he feels.

Bob finally breaks down and as he sees Annette coming into the lunchroom with one of her high profile consultants, he starts screaming at her. He throws his lunch tray against the wall and stomps out, leaving Annette stunned.

Bob is a gruff and has a hot temper, but his staff loves him. He is one of the only big shots who ever sits down with the common staff and talks to them. The HR director however is incensed; Bob’s never been a team player, he complains, and it’s time he learned a lesson.

CEO Jay Nguyen is in a bind. Bob is his top manager; he brings in all the money. And even though future revenues are going to have to come from somewhere else, Jay is not totally behind Annette’s initiative in the current business climate. He can’t afford to lose Bob, who is the company’s highest revenue getter. He has been assigning more and more workload to Bob in order to meet the company’s profit margins. But if he reins in Annette, it will look like he’s condoning Bob’s outburst.

The big problem at this company is not Bob Dunn’s behavior; it’s Jay Nguyen’s. Jay has clearly been for some time busy with fundamental issues about the company and its future. But, equally clear, he has failed to share his thoughts and concerns with the rest of his top management team. No wonder Bob finally broke down, he’s been put in a untenable position. His CEO is pushing him to focus relentlessly on the near term even as other executives are being urged to look out toward the horizon.

So, while Jay deals with the immediate mess, he needs to do some deep-and fast-thinking about where he is taking the company and what he wants from each member of his executive team. And when he needs to meet the team and lay all his cards on the table. CEOs can’t have secret agendas.

As for the current situation, healing the wounds is going to take careful listening and straight talk. Jay needs to sit down with Annette Inella, apologize for his own miscommunication, and then let her speak her mind, no matter how long it takes. She needs to know that he empathizes with her and shares her shock and disappointment at Bob’s tantrum. But once she’s had her say, Jay needs to deliver a hard message.

Assuming that Annette knew about the financial pressures facing the company, her decision to suddenly launch an initiative that would distract the business unit was unconscionable. It may also have been that Annette, who is rather new in the corporate world, may be the wrong person for the job at hand. If Jay truly has serious doubts about her capabilities, as he seems to, he is going to have to bite the bullet and guide her toward a decision to be reassigned or to leave the company. It may be possible to have a B-list person manage an effort that is already up and running, but when it comes to spearheading a new, critical initiative, you need nothing less than top tier talent. Jay may need to cut his losses with Annette.

As for Bob, Jay needs to reinforce the message that what he did was a big mistake and that he needs to apologize to Annette- in person. More important, though, Jay needs to tell Bob how valuable he is to the company. Bob is too important to be allowed to feel alienated by this incident- or even to be distracted by it. And then Jay needs to change Bob’s marching orders. He needs Bob to delegate day-to-day decisions and firefights to his lieutenants; Bob cannot, and should not, continue to do everything himself. Moreover he should be given some time off to deal with the personal issues he is facing at home.

Categorized as Media

Different Personalities at Work: Perseverance

Perseverance is not giving up. It is persistence and tenacity, the effort required to do something and keep doing it till the end, even if it’s hard. Perseverance originally comes from the Latin perseverantia and means to abide by something strictly. This makes sense, because if you’re doing something in spite of all the difficulty, you’re being strict on yourself. Sailing around the world and climbing Mt. Everest are acts requiring perseverance. Even things like learning a new language require perseverance and daily practice.

Prem Ganapathy was stranded at the Bandra station when the person accompanying him left him and ran away. Prem had no local acquaintances or knowledge of the language. Out of pity, a fellow Tamilian guided him to a temple and appealed worshipers to contribute money for his return ticket to Chennai.

Prem refused to go back and decided to work in Mumbai and started cleaning utensils in a restaurant. He appealed to his owner to let him become a waiter as he was class 10 pass. The owner refused, because of regional politics and Prem bided his time till a neighborhood dosa restaurant opened and offered him a job from a dishwasher to a tea boy.

Prem became a huge hit with the customers because of his excellent customer service, initiatives and relationship and brought business Rs. 1000 daily which was almost 3 times as compared to other tea boys. Life was good.

A customer made him an offer. He was planning to open a tea shop in Vashi in Mumbai. He wanted Prem to be his 50 – 50 partner where the owner would invest the money while Prem would run the shop. The shop started doing brisk business when the owner became greedy. It hurt him to share 50 % of the profit with Prem and he threw Prem out replacing him with an employee.

Prem was made of a different material and he was never going to be defeated. He took a small loan from his uncle and with his brother, opened his own tea stall. Unfortunately the neighborhood residents objected. He then started a hand cart but that also did not work out. He found a spot and set up a south Indian stall. He did not know a thing about dosas and idli but learnt by observation, trial and error. The dosa stall was a huge hit and flourished during the 5 years from 1992-1997.

He saved a couple of lakhs of Rupees and instead of heading home he took the biggest risk of his life and opened a new shop near Vashi station and named it as Dosa Plaza. His Chinese plaza next to the Dosa Plaza flopped miserably and was shut down in 3 months. Undaunted, Prem realized some lessons from it. He applied those lessons in making Chinese cuisine in his dosas which worked very well.

He got passionate and invented a variety of dosas with Chinese style like American Chopsuey, Schezwan Dosa, Paneer chilly, Spring roll dosa etc. The 108 types of Dosas in his menu gets him a lot of publicity. A chance encounter with a customer who was part of the team setting up a food court in a mall in New Bombay advised him to take a stall at the food court and again Prem was ready and willing to grow and expand. His vision was to grow by better offerings and better customer service. He also went to ad agencies to create the brand identity including the logo, brands, menu card, waiters dress etc.

He started getting a lot of offers for franchising and had to find out the meaning of franchising and its modus operandi. Dosa Plaza currently has 26 outlets and 5 of them are company owned. It has 150 employees and a turnover of 5 crore.

Categorized as Media

Different Personalities at Work: Psychopathy

Psychopathy, (sometimes used synonymously with sociopathy), is traditionally defined as a personality disorder characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, lack of empathy and remorse, and bold, uninhibited, egotistical traits.

The term is often employed in common usage along with the related but distinct “crazy”, “insane” and “mentally ill”, criminal psychology researcher Robert Hare stresses that a clear distinction is known among clinicians and researchers between psychopathic and psychotic individuals. Hare claims that psychopaths “are not disoriented or out of touch with reality, nor do they experience the delusions, hallucinations, or intense subjective distress that characterize most other mental disorders. Unlike psychotic individuals, psychopaths are rational and aware of what they are doing and why. Their behavior is the result of choice, freely exercised.”

If you are convinced your CEO is a psychopath, you might probably be right. Let’s take for instance, Martin Shkreli, the Pharma CEO who raised the price of an AIDS drug by almost 5,000%. His actions are despicable, but he comes across as friendly and charming. The public impression of him did not fit his action. One of the conclusions is that Shkreli may be a psychopath. That conclusion might sound extreme, but it isn’t. It turns out CEOs are way more likely to be psychopaths than any other job title.

Studies say that 1 in 5 CEOs are psychopaths. An Australian study has found that about one in five corporate executives are psychopaths – roughly the same rate as among prisoners. The study of 261 senior professionals in the United States found that 21 per cent had clinically significant levels of psychopathic traits. CEOs are four times more likely to be psychopaths than the average person, according to journalist Jon Ronson, who spent two years researching this, and published a book titled “The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry.”

We can think of a bunch of CEOs who have demonstrated psychopathic traits. Apple CEO Steve Jobs was famous for yelling at his employees, and he denied paternity of his daughter for years.

Donald Trump has built a brand – and presidential campaign – around his brash insults, hard-nosed reasoning, and egocentric behavior. Ronson argues that we shouldn’t be surprised that there are so many psychopathic CEOs. After all, capitalism rewards psychopathic traits: ruthless and driven attitudes that rule out kindness, remorse, and empathy.

But psychopaths also have other traits that help them succeed.

They’re chameleons who can be charming while reveling in manipulating others and ravaging the lives of anyone in their path, Ronson said in an interview. Psychopaths also tend to be cool under pressure and can be extremely intelligent with a single-minded drive to succeed. But it’s often their hubris and confidence that leads to their downfall. Ronson argues that a psychopath’s lack of empathy leaves a kind of hole in the psyche. That space gets filled with a pleasure of manipulating others — and a lack of remorse or guilt about it.

Categorized as Media

Different Personalities at Work: Machiavellianism

Machiavellianism is “the employment of cunning and duplicity in statecraft or in general conduct”. The word comes from the Italian Renaissance diplomat and writer Niccolò Machiavelli, born in 1469, who wrote Il Principe (The Prince), among other works. Machiavellian leaders often tend to be awe-inspiring- CEOs and corporate executives who are incredibly intelligent and intuitive, motivated and manipulative, diplomatic yet devious, congenial yet cunning.

In African business circles, very few businessmen embody more Machiavellian traits than Africa’s richest man, Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote. To the general public, he is the unassuming, refined and civil businessman. In business circles he is viewed as cynical, eccentric, tactical and manipulative.

Over the years, Dangote has skillfully devised creative and unorthodox means of thwarting his competitors. A favorite tactic of his is price crashing. Dangote has thrived sufficiently through dropping prices of major commodities like sugar, cement, salt and flour, leaving competitors struggling to keep up. By and large, he has created a near monopoly in several key commodities in Nigeria.

Dangote has also skillfully made friends in high places. Never has he incurred the enmity of powerful people. He has courted Nigerian political leaders, donating colossal sums to their election campaigns and funding several political parties. Dangote had donated millions of dollars to the campaign of Nigeria’s incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, in the run-up to the 2011 presidential elections.

Dangote might be cunning and ruthless in business, but he knows just when and how to do good, and how to publicize it enough to win public affection. He has given away millions of dollars to charitable causes in everything from education to health, the arts and small scale enterprises. When you succeed in business, always give back. You win public affection with your grand messianic gestures and build emotional capital for yourself and your brand.


Categorized as Media

Different Personalities at Work: Productive Narcissism

Elon Musk wants to send mankind to Mars. The entrepreneur has different visions of the future. Still, the fact he is possessed by enough self-belief to pull off world-changing feats has earned them a spot in a category of self-centered CEOs, who were first noticed by an anthropologist back at the height of the dot-com bubble. The academic calls them productive narcissists, and he thinks there may be more of them today.

Chief executives are hardly known for being reserved or self-doubting. However, there is something “new and daring” about some of the modern CEOs, said Michael Maccoby, an anthropologist and psychoanalyst who first wrote about this new type of leadership in an article for the Harvard Business Review more than a decade ago.

Called “Narcissistic Leaders: The Incredible Pros, the Inevitable Cons,” the article noted that corporate chiefs like Apple’s deceased CEO Steve Jobs, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates were “transforming” industries with their ability to be “gifted and creative strategists who see the big picture and find meaning in the risky challenge of changing the world and leaving behind a legacy.”

Categorized as Media