Which Hat Do You Wear?

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I am a bit overwhelmed with the quality of responses to the dilemma posted by Exhausted this past Friday. There are some very thoughtful suggestions at both ends of the spectrum.

Exhausted is faced with a decision about a team member who is resistant to his management of her work behavior.

My response:
As I listened to your description of events, I only heard about your efforts and your failure to manage this person to your way of thinking and behavior.

People don’t want to be managed. You can manage a process, you can manage a machine, but you cannot manage a person. Which is kind of weird, because we think that is what managers are supposed to do.

You are wearing the hat of the critical parent, she is wearing the hat of the petulant child. Your goal is to move the conversation to adult-adult.

You see, the only way to manage people as a critical parent is with pressure tactics, control systems, threats of punishment, verbal and written warnings. You have tried all of these and you are left with a poor attitude and a resistant direct report (petulant child).

If you take off your critical parent hat, what are the new tools you have to build trust and gain commitment. People will sign-on to a world that they help to construct.

  • Alignment. Ask questions about personal goals and organizational goals to find the common ground. These are discussions about purpose.
  • Challenge. Ask questions about the work, related to decision making and problem solving. Uncover areas for skill development, difficulty and competence.
  • Managerial relationship. The reason people stay with or leave companies is, most often, dependent on the relationship with their manager.

Here is the bad news. For the past four months, you have managed this person into a state of resistance. You may have ruined her. And you may not have the patience or the time to repair the damage. And the damage may not be repairable.

By all appearances, this person may be headed for an inevitable separation. And separations happen. You will then get a chance with a new person. You will get a second chance. Take a look at your hat, make sure you are wearing the right one. Whenever I hear about this kind of situation, all crumbs lead back to the manager. That would be you.

4 thoughts on “Which Hat Do You Wear?

  1. Shwetal

    what are some good questions about – work, related to decision making and problem solving.
    how do you uncover areas for skill development, difficulty and competence if an employee is not performing at the level they are suppose to?

    1. Tom Foster

      The questions are simple, not obvious, but simple.
      -Step me through your workday?
      -What are the problems you have to solve each day?
      -What do you need to know to solve those problems?
      -What works well, where do you struggle?
      -What are the decisions you have to make each day?
      -What do you need to know to make those decisions?
      -What works well, where do you struggle?

  2. Gail Boenning

    Yes, and…without any perspective from the employee, we only see a fragment? Does it take two to tango? One would “expect” the manager to take the lead, but I wonder if both parties had opportunity to change the direction of their relationship?


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