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These are all true stories. Identities have been modified to protect the (not so very) innocent.

When asked what she makes of the fact that her staff hates working for her, a 36-year-old senior leader replied, “I think they’re jealous of how young and cute I am”.


After making a very elaborate, 35-paged Powerpoint presentation about a major process improvement plan that would take a department of 120 people down to 60 the senior executive looked around the table for responses.  Nine executives commented on the thoroughness of the analysis and the well thought out plan.  The CEO was so impressed he asked if the process could be sped up to reap the savings sooner.  Just as the executive team was ready to bless the plan the Communications VP said, “Did you think at all about how the staff will react to this?  Where is your plan for managing the complicated people issues involved in this change?”  Absolutely and genuinely stunned the sponsor said, “Gee, I never even thought about that.”


When approached by another executive about a few specific, highly valued and unique employee situations where the impending lay off would create undue hardship, the COO said, “We’re not running a social service agency here!”


A long-term employee shows up in the office of the VP of HR to protest being fired.  The VP repeats that the issue is his chronic under performance.  When the back and forth exchange doesn’t lead to his desired outcome the employee says, “But everyone really likes me.  They’ll be very upset about my departure”.


Blind spots. To an outside observer these stories sound so nuts. But to the players in these tales, they believed they were perfectly reasonable. That is one giant disconnect. So what do you do when you are the jaw dropper? Just stand there stunned or say something? Is it your job/responsibility/duty to toss a cold splash of reality onto someone?

Let’s play this out. Take the “cute leader” in the first story. Do you say, “You’re not that young and you’re not that cute”? Or do you give your best Seth Meyers/Amy Poehler imitation and say, “Really?! Really?!” Or how about, “It might be valuable to explore other possible explanations for why everyone is so unhappy.” Sure, that last one might actually get a paragraph of conversation going but do you really think it will wind around to the person saying, “I guess I was being defensive. It feels so awful to be so disliked.” Probably not.

When someone has such a whacky explanation for a difficult situation you need to understand that she has created a story she can live with. The problem is not about her. It is about other people’s jealousy. Unless you are this woman’s therapist you will have a hard time breaking down that defense. You might get further by saying, “That may well be the case but you can’t change your age or looks. What else could you do to minimize the negativity?” In other words, stroke her ego but still try to address the problems.

For the large initiative that has all the executives’ commitment even though there has been no thought given to the human factor….If you are a leader on that team you ought to stand on the table with a big sign channeling your inner Norma Rae. Any leadership team that moves forward on major changes without talking about the impact on the people is not just blind but also callous.

When it comes to addressing a handful of people’s needs in the midst of a downsizing activity there is always one important question to ask. When this employee leaves the company do you want him to tell everyone what an uncaring and cold place it is or do you want him to say “at least they tried to help me out”. Your brand is as much about your reputation and how you treat people as it is about your products and services. Be a mensch…even if you cannot make accommodations.

As far as the long term and well liked employee goes it’s still a good idea to be a mensch. But there are a couple other things to do. “Your manager has provided a great deal of feedback to you about your disappointing performance. While it is true that you are a well loved employee here there are expectations that you have not fulfilled. I’m sorry it has come to this.” Those are the kind but firm things you say to the person. But the bigger picture raises concerns about why is this guy shocked. Had he been getting consistent corrective feedback for a period of time? Had he been given the help he needed to improve? Were others on the team being allowed to coast?

In this case the employee might have a blind spot or he might have been blindsided.

Being unaware of the impact of your own actions or your own fabricated stories (“everyone will be so upset if I leave”) is a tough way to go through life. Your better option is to listen to the people around you and take their input seriously. If not, your escapades are likely to end up as hallway fodder…or a surreal greeting card.

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