79. Quiet Quitting + Manager Terrorizing the Team

Episode 79: Quiet Quitting + Manager Terrorizing the Team (Summary)

“Quiet Quitting” is all the rage — except for the part where it’s been around for decades. Plus, a listener asks for help with a manager who is terrorizing her team. That’s happening now on Boss Better Now.

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Transcript – Episode 79: Quiet Quitting + Manager Terrorizes the Team

Joe:
“Quiet Quitting” is all the rage — except for the part where it’s been around for decades. Plus, a listener asks for help with a manager who is terrorizing her team. That’s happening now on Boss Better Now.

Jamie:
You’re listening to Boss Better Now. This show is sponsored by Joe Mull and Associates. Now here’s your host speaker and author, Joe Mull.

Joe:
Hello again, BossHeroes. Welcome back to the show that aspires to be food for the boss’s soul. Every time we put one of these episodes out into the world, we are doing our best to share with you advice, humor, and encouragement for the boss’s soul. Whether you’re listening to us on your commute, during your lunch break, while doing your exercise, on your A-L-E-X-A at home… I will try not to say her name and activate all of your devices. Wherever you’re listening, we are glad that you are here. And if you are coming back to the show after our little summer break, you may have missed our big announcement that the show now has a new co-host. We met her last episode. Please welcome back to the show – executive coach and HR advisor, Suzanne Malausky. Hello, my friend. How are you?

Suzanne:
Hello, Joe. I am fantastic. And I couldn’t help but notice you have a Pirate shirt on today. (Joe: I do.) And I, I have to tell you, we just came back or came off a fabulous weekend. It was a family reunion here in the Malausky household. It was a small family reunion. It was about 30 people. And the last name is actually Small. Ah, isn’t that funny?

Joe:
 A Small family reunion. 

Suzanne:
A Small family reunion. Yeah, get it. So yes. anyway, part of our festivities were to go to a Pirate game yesterday.

Joe:
Yes. Yes.

Suzanne:
And as Pittsburgh weather often dictates it got postponed.

Joe:
Yes. Right. I saw that.

Suzanne:
So, so a bunch of us trooped to the city anyway, and it was wonderful because it wasn’t crowded, and we got to go up the Incline. We got to go to one of the sports bars that has Skee-Ball. And what is it called? Peg Bowling or whatever. (Joe: Yeah.) So, it was a lovely time to explore the city without all the crowds. So, we made the most of it.

Joe:
And so though, being disappointed at the rainout… no, see it didn’t work. I was going to make a joke there about the disappointment wasn’t small, but I, I fumbled it. Like there was a real dad joke opportunity there for you…

Suzanne:
I…yeah… I’m sure you could. Yeah.

Joe:
Swing and a miss!

Suzanne:
Swing and a miss. We took a small rain cloud and made it a rainbow. I don’t know.

Joe:
Oh man, this just went off the rails.

Suzanne:
Okay. Let’s stop. Yeah. Okay. We’re done with that part, but <laugh> you got the idea.

Joe:
Well, hey way to turn a rainy day into a good outing.

Suzanne:
Good for you. There we go.

Joe:
All right. We’re going to turn our rainy joke into what I hope is a better outing at this point. And talk about something that’s really been buzzing in a lot of media these last few weeks. If, if you have opened your phone to any news source, any social media platform in the last month, I would be shocked… “I say shocked”… if you had not encountered the phrase Quiet Quitting. So, so here’s what this is. This actually started as a turn of phrase used a couple of weeks ago by a content creator on TikTok, talking about making the decision to no longer give it all I’ve got at work. And since this video came out, the, the terminology has exploded, and it’s actually come to mean several different things. And so, in some corners of the conversation, the idea of Quiet Quitting is that people have given up. They’ve said, “I’m going to go through the motions. I’m going to do the minimum. I am no longer bringing my effort and energy to my job because I am sick and tired of how I’ve been treated at work.” In some other corners, quiet quitting has also come to encompass more toxic behavior, right? Where we have employees who are sabotaging the performance of an organization in one way or another, maybe they’re you know, they’re, they’re leaving virtual meetings early and, and you know, or muting them and then doing other things in the background, cuz they’re like, I don’t care anymore. And I don’t need this crap. And yet in other corners of the conversation, there are some who are referring to Quiet Quitting as a kind of healthy boundary setting, where people are saying, I am no longer going to allow my job to encroach on every aspect of my life. Between the … my life. Between eight and five or nine and four or whatever the hours are, I’m going to give it all I’ve got. But outside of that, I need to set stronger parameters for how my job interacts with the rest of my life. And so, there’s a lot of conversation that has been taking place around this idea of Quiet Quitting. What is it? What causes it? Is it new? Should we be concerned? What do we fix? Suzanne, where do we start? <Laugh>

Suzanne:
Well, I couldn’t help but start where I think some of our authors who are speaking about this also started with looking at the old employee engagement survey. Yeah. So forever in a day, when, you know, Gallup started measuring, whether people were engaged, we saw those highly engaged in… the highly engaged people were described as those who would give their discretionary income… income, not their… Lord, I hope they’re not given their income, their discretionary energy into their job. Right. So, I’m going to spend a little extra time. I’m going to prepare a little harder. I might stay a little longer. I might put my thoughts into things outside of just my role but think about how I connect to others. So that’s great. So, if that, to me feels like, feels like the people who are dialing down mm-hmm, <affirmative>, they’re quietly quitting, like are most actively engaged. To me, it felt like they were just dialing that down a little bit, finding their boundaries. And then we have the middle-of-the-road people who you really always wanted to get up to an engaged level, but they’re the ones just, I just do my job.  I do exactly what’s asked of me nothing more, nothing less. And our organization’s almost have to be somewhat okay with those  “Steady Eddie-s”. Right. And then you have the actively disengaged. The ones that you were saying are poisoning the well. Who are, you know, the ones that you can see or hear or observe, or you are kind of bringing everyone else down. So, it’s amazing what TikTok can do to spark conversation around…

Joe:
Changing the world one TikTok at a time. Right.

Suzanne:
Giving us new definitions for things that have been around yes. For a long time. Yes.

Joe:
Right. And that’s really the big part of this that, that I think is kind of interesting is in a way, if it creates renewed attention around something that has long been a problem, that’s a good thing. Right. but yeah, we, we’ve had social science research for decades that tell us that people who aren’t all in are emotionally and psychologically less committed, and Gallup has framed it as not engaged and actively disengaged for years. This, this idea of quiet quitting in, in that way has been around for years. But if we can create a renewed focus around what causes it and how do you fix it? That’s a really good thing to capitalize on it. I don’t know if you saw this Suzanne, but just the other day I got an email in my inbox cuz I subscribed to Gallup’s newsletter. Okay. I got an email in my inbox that said 50% of the workforce has been quiet quitting for decades. Right. I might be flashing the headline a little bit. Yeah. Like “news break”, not so breaking news, da da. Yeah. This problem’s been around for a long time. So, let’s frame it around that language that we are kind of comfortable with, which is that we have engaged employees. Right. They show up with, at the highest levels of commitment there’s emotionally and psychologically engaged in their work. They care and they try, and they give it all they’ve got — and then there’s everybody else. And so, everybody else kind of falls into this quiet quitting definition depending on how you’re using it. Is it worse than it has been before? Or have we just slapped a new label on an old problem?

Suzanne:
Well, I think that’s another fabulous question because I happened to observe some behavior that was new to me. I am training management skills and having some peer-to-peer coaching conversations with some folks in the manufacturing environment. And we’re talking about when you come to work in the morning and you’re assigning the duties… so hey Joe, I need you to go move that pallet or our friend, Sally, I need you to move some boxes over here. And in one class, in the morning, a guy raises his hand, and he says, Suzanne, you know, I asked Joe very politely to move the pallet. And he said you know what? I’m just not feeling it today.

Joe:
Hmm.

Suzanne:
Like, well, there’s something new. And Joe, it happened… that same line was being used in every class I taught. It was crazy. I had never heard it before. I’m just not feeling it. I mean, I’ve heard it from my teenage children. Right? Right. As an unacceptable response <laugh> or something that warranted further dialogue. But here we are. So maybe it’s changing in the way that employees are choosing to communicate or express themselves because at least if you say I’m not feeling it. I know where you stand. It isn’t “I’m going to ignore you and go off and not do anything.” So, we spent, you know, 10 minutes in every class really brainstorming on what are some good responses to that type of line — which I’m sure many, many of us face with that type of behavior or that, you know, that almost rejection of, of the work that you’re asking them to do. So that was new for me.

Joe:
So, I have to ask cuz I have all sorts of thoughts. I have to ask, what, what were some of the responses you came up with? What, what do you say? I mean, I have thoughts, but what do you, what did you guys come up with?

Suzanne:
After we got the therapeutic funny ones out of the way <laugh> right? There was some humor as we talked through “well you know, gee…employee… I’m not sure that’s an appropriate response.” Lets… you know, is there something else going on or we’d say something like, well, that’s really part of what the team has to get done today. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> so I’m counting on you to step up. Yeah. You know, and it, so we can find some varying ways to help see where the employee might be coming from with that statement and how we can help them get the, where they need to be. Yeah. One guy said, “you know well that I was just politely asking, I really… it wasn’t a question. You know?”

Joe:
Yeah, yeah.

Suzanne:
Just move the pallets.

Joe:
<Laugh> yeah. I, I always, and we talk about this a lot on the show, and I come back to it. Is this an incident or a pattern? And so, if it’s an incident you know, first of all, if this is in a meeting with a bunch of other people like you described… I’m probably wanting the conversation that follows to be one-on-one <laugh>. You know, I may say something like, okay, that was a little bit of an unexpected response. Why don’t you and I have a conversation over here? And you know, then we, we do that. And if it’s the first time something like this has happened, I’m probably saying something like, hey, are you okay? What’s going on?  You know, you usually are like, yeah, I got it. No problem — Like you’re Mr. Reliable around here, but that like the, you know, what’s the story behind this?

Suzanne:
Exactly.

Joe:
Right. Yeah. And I’m trying to have that empathetic conversation, and if I can drill down at what’s going on. Like maybe the person just saw next week’s schedule or they’re… they’re really frustrated with something happening in the organization. Then we work on that conversationally. We try to figure out how maybe I can help be an advocate for them. And if absolutely that’s how this plays out, then I might say something to the effect of,  Alright, well, you know, I’m going to work on this for you. But in the meantime, I really do need you to go move the palettes, you know? And they’re probably… if you’ve built trust and there’s mutual respect, that’s probably all it’s going to take. However, if it’s a pattern and this person continues to act out in this way and they’re… they’re being resistant, then you may have to take a more assertive approach. Now, I’m assuming that the person has done all the things that we just talked about, but eventually, you may have to come back to that person and say, listen, this is the third or fourth time that we’ve directed you to do some of the basic functions of your job and your response has been, I’m not feeling it. And I’m here to tell you that you better start.

Suzanne:
Yeah. We need — that’s feeling it. The expectations. Yeah.

Joe:
Yeah, yeah. You know, because if these are the things, because, you know, if, if you don’t do these basic things in the job, you don’t get to keep coming to the job. Right. And I know that you know that, so how do we, how do we stop this pattern from happening? Right? We may need to have the conversation about, well, here’s what happens next because at some point, and I’m sorry, I’m bouncing around here a little bit, Suzanne. That’s good. At some point, that person’s now they’re just being cute. Right? They’re putting on a show for the other people. When they say I’m not feeling it and they’re testing they’re… they’re boundary testing. And so there does come a point where we need to have some teeth in our response. 

Suzanne:
<Affirmative> we have to show where the boundary is. Yep. The fact though that other employees were saying it, it felt like a PR campaign. Okay. Morning news. Here’s the line, the word I want everyone to drop in their story. It’s like, who, like, where did they pick this up? Was there a memo? A secret? Nope. They went around. Okay. Everybody say, “I’m not feeling it.” 

Joe:
That was what, so that was happening all at the same company? Yeah?

Suzanne:
Yes. Wow.

Joe:
That is…

Suzanne:
It was different employees saying it too.

Joe:
Yeah. That originated somewhere.

Suzanne:
Yeah.

Joe:
Something got passed around.

Suzanne:
TikTok, probably… it was TikTok

Joe:
Almost certainly was TikTok. Right. <laugh> it’s like TikTok… TikTok has good and evil in the world. Right, right. Let’s… let’s use TikTok for good, people.

Suzanne:
Hey, if you’re a quiet quitter and want to know how to get out of work today, just say, “I’m not feeling it.”

Joe:
And then do it again and get a talking to, and it’s all going to spiral. Yes.

Suzanne:
Yes.

Joe:
Well, let’s let, let me ask you this piece of quiet, quitting, because there’s that other angle about the boundary setting, right? About how in some corners, this is being talked about as a way to create or promote better, for lack of a better term work-life balance. Right. We throw the, that language around a lot. Create better work-life boundaries. Is that an appropriate… is quiet quitting, an appropriate label for creating healthier boundaries between our work life and our professional life?

Suzanne:
I, I don’t feel it is. It irritated me. That the whole notion of it bothered me. In fact, if you turn it on its ear a little bit, it’s truly an opportunity for leaders to emerge as strong leaders. Yeah. Or individual contributors who have ideas of how to make things better… a way to start a dialogue. That’s constructive cuz quiet quitting feels like it’s disingenuous or it’s I’m going to fool you, or I’m lying. I, I don’t like that. Yeah. 

Joe:
It’s the quiet part of it seems to be like, you know, out of view – in the shadows.

Suzanne:
Yeah. So, wouldn’t this be a great way to talk about how to make things better as a team?  Or to look for more efficiency so that our meetings aren’t eating up our entire calendar. So, it could be things we’re only going to set 45-minute meetings. Instead of our meetings, which, and they have to have agendas, which forces expediency and quick decision making. Or we’re not going to ask for heavy lifting on Friday afternoons in these meetings. Right. We’ll save those for Mondays – just different things. So, I think it’s truly an opportunity because people are absolutely feeling this way. They’re burned out, they’re tired, they’re stressed. They’re feeling the pressure of home — taking care of things at home. So how do you be part of the narrative that makes it better? Yeah, not just, I quit. 

Joe:
And that’s, that’s actually, I think one of the most important points to make, which is if we want to frame it around healthy boundary setting. We should not only be encouraging that among the people who report to us – we should be getting there first. We should be helping them do it. One of the things that we’ve been talking about on this show for months already is all of the different conditions that employees are now pointing to as most critical for a more humane employee experience, the kind of employee experience that leads people to join and stay and care and try and having a job that doesn’t infiltrate all the corners of our lives are part of that. And so, the best leaders are the ones who are sitting down and saying, hey, we don’t expect you to be on email after hours. And we don’t expect you to be here past a certain time. And we want to monitor your workload so that it doesn’t become so cumbersome that you can’t have those kinds of boundaries. And, and so we should be getting there first, but that’s also why the label bugged me calling that kind of boundary setting, quiet quitting. Because it’s neither quiet nor quitting. Right. It’s… it’s, you know, quitting is…

Suzanne:
It’s where the real work is.

Joe:
Yeah. Quitting is about giving up. A person who’s setting healthy boundaries isn’t giving up. They’re saying I’m still committed. I just am not going to work for you 24 hours a day. You know, that’s completely healthy. It’s realistic and it’s not quiet either. You know? So, I think when we conflate the two, you know, we end up, there’s this kind of snowflake mentality that gets thrown at people who want to set those boundaries and that does a disservice to it too. You know? And so, this is just another sort of pejorative label for a behavior that, that some people roll their eyes at — healthy boundary setting. When the reality is it is healthy, and it is necessary for creating the kind of workplace that people want to be a part of.

Suzanne:
And you’re not saying that people shouldn’t have to work hard, right, Joe? 

Joe:
Right.

Suzanne:
It’s not, we’re not saying life should be a, a breeze every day. There’s hard decisions to make lots of things to push through, to make, to make whatever we’re making or to produce whatever we’re producing or to serve, provide the service we’re serving. It’s still hard work. It’s just that this forces the dialogue to get smarter at doing it. Right. Yes. And making it right. Making it better.

Joe:
If you create the right environment at work, people are willing to work hard. They just don’t want it to be really hard all the time.  And when it becomes really hard all the time, you know what you get, you get quiet quitting. You get people saying, I’m not going to, I’m not going to exist. I’m not going to redline my engine at, at 11,000 RPMs all the time to mix our metaphors. But yes. You know, quiet quitting is a signal that it’s probably been too hard for too long. 

Suzanne:
<Affirmative> okay. I’m with you.

Joe:
All right. Well, I’m glad we cleared that up. Well, what do you think BossHeroes? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Are you talking about quiet quitting, where you work? In which way are you defining it? Is it a problem that requires a solution? You can email the show at bossbetternow@gmail.com. This feels like one of those topics we’re going to come back to. It feels like, and it’s such a reaction in kind of the collective media and business literature and social media that it doesn’t feel like it’s going to go away quickly. So, we may come back to it. That’s why I’d love to hear what you think. So, you can email the show at bossbetternow@gmail.com.

Joe:
And that brings us to the Camaraderie Question of the Week. Bosses build camaraderie on teams by making it easier for people to find things in common with each other. That’s why here on our show, every week we give you a question that you can use at meetings at huddles, and one-on-one conversations, maybe even on TikTok to facilitate connection and to build comradery. I love this week’s question. Shout out to our producer, Jamie DeRosa, for finding this question and saying, I think I have a great question for the camaraderie question of the week. She gave it to me and I said, oh my goodness. I love it. Here it is. If you, if you were an action figure, what accessories would you be sold with? I love this question. And now I’m, we’re all picturing our own little action figure, right? I’m picturing my little Suzanne action figure, right? With its great hair and the glasses. Like I love it. And what accessories am I getting if I go to Target and I go to the toy aisle and I grab my Suzanne Malausky, Executive Coach and HR Advisor action figure? What’s in the box, Suzanne?

Suzanne:
Well, this was a great question. And I had a very quick answer and I hope it’s okay if I pick an accessory that a superhero already uses. (Joe: Ooh, I like it.) Can we repurpose accessories here?

Joe:
I think so. You can do anything you want with the question. Absolutely.

Suzanne:
So, I picked the golden lasso that Wonder Woman used. Nice. And do you remember what the golden last, so served a purpose for

Joe:
It was, to tell the truth.

Suzanne:
Absolutely. And do you happen to know who the creator of Wonder Woman was?

Joe:
It was William Marsden, right? Who also founded the DISC assessment? Yep.

Suzanne:
Yes. TA so

Joe:
As I… does that totally steal your thunder there? Did you, you totally expected me not to know? And you were going to be like, boom nugget drop!

Suzanne:
<Laugh> no, no, no. The thunder is anyone’s thunder, but DISC is something I, I use it’s a, it’s a, it’s a tool in my carpet bag of tricks and it does help people see the truth about their own personalities and their, their styles. So, yes. That’s what I would pick.

Joe:
Okay. You …fabulous. Where would you want to use your, your lasso of truth?

Suzanne:
Well, outside of work, probably with any, any, any salesperson.

Joe:
<Laugh>

Suzanne:
How low could you really go on that car, there?

Joe:
It is. I like it. I was thinking about kids like, you know, teenagers in your life. You’re like lasso truth. What are you really planning? Mm?

Suzanne:
Yes. Well, some of those things I wouldn’t really want to know, but yes, you’re right. That’s with care. We much use that. Any accessory with care, right?

Joe:
That’s right. 

Suzanne:
Alright. Okay. What about you, Joe? Okay. I’ve got a visual in my head. Let’s see.

Joe:
You’ve got the Joe Mull action figure with Kung Fu grip. Yeah, I do. Okay. it’s so funny because the two, the two accessories that would have to come with my action figure first is a microphone, right? Yeah. I mean, feels, that was like a that’s low hanging fruit there. Yeah. I mean, I’m a speaker and a singer, you know, it feels like, of course, there’s going to be a microphone. But in the other hand, is a bullet journal. Do you know what a bullet journal is? Suzanne?

Suzanne:
I don’t think I do.

Joe:
Bullet journaling is a notebook organization method and people who are devoted to bullet journals, use these notebooks to track their tasks, their to-do list, to take notes, to, to collect all their information. And I am a moderately devoted bullet journaler. And so, I, I have my bullet journal sitting right here, as we record. I use it for everything that I just said — for meeting notes, for capturing ideas, for, for keeping lists. I, I’m a big believer in it as the best way to kind of manage your personal productivity. And I’ve turned another, a number of people in my world onto the art of bullet journaling. And so, mine would probably come with a little tiny bullet journal. Now let me be clear about one other thing…

Suzanne:|
Yes

Joe:
This is important. Yes. When you first go online and like, if you decide you’re going to investigate bullet journaling and you go to YouTube and you like how to bullet journal and you put that into YouTube, it’s going to look like scrapbooking. And that is not what it is for me. I feel like people who loved scrapbooking back in the nineties have taken over bullet journaling now because people use these fancy tapes and stickers and calligraphy and colors. And I don’t do any of that. It’s an indexing system that I like for notes. I use a black pen that’s it. And so I’m just putting that out there in the world that I’m not like a scrapbooky bullet journaler. I’m a minimalist bullet journaler.

Suzanne:
Be clear — minimalist bullet. Now, when we say bullets, are you talking about bullets as in lists bullets?

Joe:
Yes. So, the system is founded on a SI a set of like sort of shortcut hand notations that you make in the journal. Like if you, if you move a task forward into the next week or you move it back into, what’s called your future log or you’ve delegated the item or you’ve, you’ve, you’ve not, you’ve decided not to do the item. There’s a little notation for that. So, it’s a, it’s a simple little system for different kinds of symbolism.

Suzanne:
I love it. I think, but I love yours there. Absolutely. I can see it; I think as well. I see some kind of Cape.

Joe:
Well, that’s nice, but you know, if you watch The Incredibles, you learn yes. That the, the worst thing a superhero can wear is capes. No capes. Oh, it’s, it’s a rule.

Suzanne:
Do they get tangled up? You trip over them or…?

Joe:
Yes. Capes on the heroes. Cause injuries, you can get sucked into a jet engine. Oh, you… flying don’t you know? 

Suzanne:
I don’t know.

Joe:
Okay. Well, now you do.

Suzanne:
I didn’t know it did. Okay. Now…

Joe:
I know you saving lives here on Boss Better Now. No capes.

Suzanne:
All right. I take it back. How about a top hat? Can you wear one of those?

Joe:
Done Deal!

Suzanne:
Okay. 

Joe:
And that’s the Camaraderie Question of the Week. I’m not going to lie at a lot of fun with that conversation. Thank you, my friend. Well done.

Suzanne:
You’re welcome. We hope others will have equal amounts of fun.

Joe:
Absolutely. All right, folks, listen, if you are a part of an organization that needs to continue developing, supporting your frontline and mid-level leaders, then you may want to check into our BossBetter Leadership Academy. The way we talk about our BossBetter Leadership Academy is simple. You can build better bosses in 30 minutes a month. Our program provides a monthly continuing education leadership video and discussion guide that you can use at management meetings, or one-on-one with leaders to help those folks become better bosses. This is a subscription program, kind of like Netflix, where every month you get a new piece of content, you get a digital vault. And then you get to also participate in live Q and A office hours with me every month. So, if you’ve been looking at an affordable way to bring some ongoing BossBetter development to the leaders in your organization, you may want to check out the BossBetter Leadership Academy.  Just visit joemull.com/academy for more information.

Joe:
And that brings me to one of my other favorite segments that we do on the show here, Suzanne, a segment that we call Mail Time.

Joe:
Suzanne, we got an email from, and, and there are two different ways to pronounce the person’s name. Tamara or Tamara. And so, we’re going to have an email here from T <laugh>. And so, Tamara, I’m going to go with Tamara, if it is Tamara, I apologize. Tamara writes, Hi, Joe, longtime listener -first-time emailer. I could really use some advice on managing up. I managed 10 employees and to put it nicely, our director could really benefit from listening to your podcast. He has built an environment of fear and shame. For example, he’s made employees cry in team meetings. He’s created competitiveness amongst the team — not the friendly, fun kind, but the kind that has good employees coming to me, asking if their job is safe since their numbers aren’t as impressive as others. And that’s not the kind of industry or company we work for. He doesn’t respect anyone on the team, including myself, and is almost never reachable when anyone needs him. On top of all of that, he’s a micromanager. For example, he insists on having meetings three times per week. One-On-Ones with me. He seems to pride himself on having so many meetings. Overall, it feels like my hands are tied. If I was the only one unhappy, I wouldn’t say anything, but it’s my whole team. And I feel it’s my responsibility to advocate for them. Do you have any suggestions or scripts to help me manage up with him? Would it ever be appropriate to go to his VP with my concerns? Thank you so much.

Joe:
Well, Tamara, I empathize with you. I’ve been in this circumstance. I know a lot of other leaders listening to this show right now feel your pain they have been or are currently in this situation. There’s a lot to unpack in what you’ve asked Suzanne, where do you want to start?

Suzanne:
Well, I want to start with saying yes. I feel your pain too, Tamara. It’s, it’s something that people shouldn’t have to experience, but they do. And it, unfortunately, it’s a reflection on a leader that, you know, doesn’t, hasn’t been able to find other options for their style or hasn’t been told they need to find them. Right. And I, you know, I start with, I have more questions than suggestions. At this point, right? If I, if, if she was sitting here in front of us, we might ask things like is there any data, is there a lot of turnover on the team? Were there engagement survey results? Like anything that can help? I don’t want to say, build a case, but build a story that’s data-driven. It, to me — sometimes that helps you decide whether to go to a VP or to HR or someplace else for help. I also might ask questions about, you know, any other attempts to provide feedback or if he ever asks for feedback? If the performance management system allows for feedback. So, I would look for all those things to help and then I suppose if the answer’s no, none of that <laugh>, we’re still left with the situation. Right? Right. 

Joe:
So, you know, I, I have said this in response to a lot of similar kinds of questions that have come in, but the first thing that somebody working for a bad boss has to accept is that it is not their job to fix a bad boss. It’s the organization’s responsibility to own how that person shows up. And you can’t Tamara, you can’t fix this bad boss. You’re not going to be able to change his behavior for the most part. That doesn’t mean you’re not going to try based on the advocacy that you want to try to put in place for your team. I will tell you that I think your response is going to be based on your risk tolerance. Most of the time abrasive leaders don’t know that they’re abrasive leaders. Micromanagers don’t know that they’re micromanagers. People who are creating unhealthy competition don’t know that it’s unhealthy competition. And so, you’re going to have to think about the kinds of interaction you’re comfortable having with this person, you know, level one response is sort of working around this person, right? You know, maybe, you know, when, when they show up in a way that causes harm to the team, if something didn’t work, you can brainstorm with that person and make it their idea, a new way of doing it. Boy, that maybe didn’t go so well, did it, I, I wonder if maybe we came on too strong, you know, and you kind of suggest alternate paths that, that are, that are kind of working around that person’s behavior. Obviously if you see them do something good, you praise them for it. You say, hey boss, I, boy, you know, you, you really went out of your way to thank the team this week for something that they did. And that really had an impact if, if you don’t mind me asking, just keep doing that, cuz that just fills up their gas tank, you know I doubt that’s happening with this person based on what she shared, but if there are opportunities to, to praise and encourage and thank them and, and increase certain kinds of behavior, let’s try that. The other aspect is can you find allies, are there other leaders in the organization that you can get mentoring from? Are there other managers at your own level who maybe can help you devise some strategies for working around this person? It probably goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. You don’t want to complain too much about this person to your direct reports. You’re going to have to acknowledge the problematic behavior that this person engages in. That is an act of empathy. You don’t want to seem disconnected from reality with your people. If this guy shows up like an a-hole and then leaves the room and everybody’s looking at you like that, wasn’t okay. You know, you probably need to say you’re right. That wasn’t okay. And, and you can say, and I’m working on it, I’m doing my best to put myself between you and him whenever I can. But you don’t like covert around your hatred for the guy. That’s not healthy. You asked if it’s ever appropriate to go to the VP with your concerns. And my answer is yes. With, with two caveats, the first caveat is I wouldn’t go to the VP until you’ve had a really honest conversation with the guy. If your risk tolerance would allow you to do that, where you bring into the light, all of the concerns, and you talk about it with him in a way that is direct and honest. The second point is the exception to that rule. And the exception to that rule is if he’s acting inappropriately, if there’s harassment, if there’s bullying, if there’s inappropriate comments, then absolutely that should be reported. And that takes courage and that can be scary, but that absolutely needs to happen. And you don’t need to wait to take that action. Here is what is at the heart of my advice for you, Tamara, is think about the most kind of the most direct kind of conversation you could have with the guy. And here again, you, you, there may be consequences to this. He may retaliate. You may create jeopardy for your employment by taking this action. But it might be the best and most effective way to go about it. And that is to have a very direct conversation with him about the ways in which he is doing harm to his goals and your ability to do your job – and really that probably sounds something like this. You first reach out to him and ask him if you can schedule a time to have a private conversation with him on a sensitive matter. You’re giving him the heads up that we’re going to have a delicate conversation that allows him maybe to get into the right head space at that time. This is not a grab you at the end of the day conversation. Cuz if he’s had a crappy day, that conversation’s only going to go badly. When you sit down, at the appointed time and he’s sort of on guard, like what’s going on? You say, how direct can I be with you? And then you wait and he’s going to say okay. And then you tell him directly what the problem is. And I would encourage you to pick your battles here. You’ve listed several things in your email to us that are problematic.I would pick one or two and you might say something to the effect of — this is really hard for me to say, and it’s going to be hard for you to, to hear — but you are suffocating this team. And let me tell you specifically what I mean by that. When you come into the meetings, you make people cry when you call them these names, or when you have three, you ask me to meet with you three times a week for one-on-ones. There’s no productivity that comes out of that. I, I am unable to do all the things you’re asking me to do because I’m spending all this time telling you about the things that I should be doing when the time that we’re sitting there and having that conversation by having very specific examples that you can list, you can create line-of-sight between his behavior and the harm that it’s doing to the team. You may have to say something like,  you hired me to create the conditions for this team to thrive, but I am not able to do that when these ABC behaviors happen. And so, I am coming to you today, having a really uncomfortable conversation and, and trying to be honest with you about what gets said when you leave the room and what your team, that relies on you, and me who relies on you really, really need from you going forward. If you want any hope of us having an upward trajectory, now you’ll have to play with that language a little bit and make it your own and figure out what the stakes are, where you work, and for your team. But if you have a higher risk tolerance, if you feel like this person maybe has a tiny little bit of respect for you, and you can have a kind of in-your-face, honest conversation with them, that might be the way to go. Suzanne, I see you nodding along with some of this. What’s your thought?

Suzanne:
Oh, I love it. And I… you’ve done some segments on bravery, right? Yeah. And courage. And it is one of those defining opportunities, both in how you respond and react. So, I love what you say, do not build a team around, do not unite, and build team camaraderie around being against a bad leader. That’s unhealthy. Yep. That’s not what you want to be part of. And then if you do, and I encourage you to have a version of that conversation, you will feel so much better because he’s, he had to hear you, whether he does anything about it, what happens from there? You, you can, you can manage that, but the burden you must be carrying around and trying to take care of your team right now is not fair. So, the step that you can take to have that honest, transparent, but constructive, not personally attacking conversation, I think you would feel very good about yourself after the fact, even if it’s one of the hardest things you’ve ever done. Yep.

Joe:
It’s amazing. Sometimes how leaders of a certain stripe -who are abrasive – who are difficult – sometimes don’t even hear the gentle delivery. Sometimes you have to match their aggressiveness and I’m not talking about it in an inappropriate way. You’re not going to go in there and MF this and swear that you know, that’s, that’s not going to get you where you want to go. But direct, assertive communication might be what cuts through. And I think in this case, what’s also important is that you document the interaction. One way you can do that is to send a thank you email afterward. Dear so-and-so, thank you so much for talking with me today. I know it wasn’t an easy conversation, but I really appreciated how you responded to my feedback that, and you document it. The other thing you’re going to want to do is have some allies at the ready. You know, if you are going to have a direct conversation with this person, you know, if there are other managers in the organization, other people who have some influence that you can role play with, that you can talk with, or that are just aware that this meeting in this conversation is, is going to take place. That way they can be a support network for you afterward, regardless of how it goes. One other thing that I want to bring up Suzanne, that this jumped off the page to me when I saw her email, yes. She said, she said, if I was the only one who was unhappy, I wouldn’t say anything. And I want to say, no, no, no, Tamara, no, no, no. Your happiness and fulfillment at work is just as important as everybody else’s. And we should not be creating work environments where one person is suffering in silence. And if you had one person on your team who was unhappy, wouldn’t you want them to come and tell you? And so don’t… don’t you want to apply the same standard to yourself. You know, your, your happiness and fulfillment at work is just as important as anybody else’s. And so, this isn’t the only job you’re going to have Tamara. And this is not the only boss you’re ever going to have, but please, no matter where you go or where you end up, do not ever let anyone rob you of the potential fulfillment that you can get from your career. Just because you chose not to speak up because enough people weren’t being affected or violated by it. That’s not okay. Your suffering alone is enough to speak up.

Joe:
All right, friends. Well, that is Mail Time.

Joe:
And that’s our show this week friends. My thanks to our new co-host Suzanne, who I think is just doing a fabulous job. I’m so glad you are here, my friend. And if you enjoyed this show, then I’m going to ask you to share it, pop onto your social media accounts. Share a link to this show, tell others about the Boss Better Now podcast. Tell them that if they’re a boss, there’s a show out there that aspires to be food for the boss’s soul – that endeavors to provide advice, humor, and encouragement to BossHeroes everywhere. That’s how we grow our audience. That’s how we continue to fulfill our mission of filling workplaces with better bosses. In the meantime, thanks for being with us and we’ll see you next time.

Joe:
This show is sponsored by Joe Mull and Associates. Remember commitment comes from better bosses. Visit joemull.com today.

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