I’m an easygoing, accommodating supervisor. Not only does it take a lot to upset me, but I hate conflict. As a result, some employees take advantage. This can create messy situations as the employees with strong work ethic have to pick up the slack.
Soon after I hired “Sam,” he scheduled a private meeting with me and let me know Bekah was internet surfing during work hours. I’d actually caught her doing this and had asked her to cut it out. Sam let me know she was still surfing but was using a VPN and Incognito Mode to hide her activity. He asked me if I’d like him to handle it. I said “yes.” He brought IT into the situation and laid down the law to Bekah.
Bekah soon quit, and Sam helped me hire her replacement. I was grateful, thought I’d found the perfect solutions to having problems managed, and gave him a “Team Lead” title. Two months passed. I increasingly relied on Sam.
Several employees complained about Sam, but I figured they were rebelling because Sam was strict, and so I didn’t worry about it. Then one of my best employees turned in her resignation. I was stunned, because she’d been with me for years. She told me Sam bullied employees. She said Sam had tried to bully her, but she’d stood up to him and he’d backed off.
The Sam she described didn’t sound like the man I knew. Also, she made it clear all she had to do was stand up for herself and he backed off. I decided she was exaggerating the problem, and I didn’t listen. Two more months passed, and I named Sam my deputy.
Several of the employees who complained about Sam quit. As I was busy with other projects, I gave Sam control over hiring their replacements, except for “Eleanor.” Although Sam had wanted me to hire a friend of his, Eleanor had the skills we needed. When Sam learned I wasn’t hiring his friend, he became upset and stomped out of my office. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it.
Shortly after that, I left for a vacation. In my absence, Eleanor quit, and Sam hired his friend. My other assistant has also given notice, and I believe it has something to do with Sam. Sam has real talent, including in office management, and I don’t want to lose him if I can save the situation. Any suggestions?
By not handling problematic situations, you created a leadership vacuum. Sam stepped into it—with your blessing. Unfortunately, when leaders create a vacuum, it’s often the most controlling, judgmental individuals who move in.
The longer you delay handling this situation, the more opportunity you give Sam to potentially create a toxic environment, damaging morale, eroding productivity, and weakening your relationship with your employees.
Interview your employees, starting with your assistant. Let them know the recent turnover worries you and ask them what’s causing it. If you haven’t already, call your recently departed employees, including Eleanor, and conduct exit interviews.
When an employee tells you another employee bullies them, listen—even if you haven’t seen the bullying for yourself. Many individuals show one side to their managers and a completely different side to their peers and employees. You can’t assume problem behavior doesn’t exist because you haven’t personally witnessed it.
If Sam is a bully, you need to rein him in or fire him, despite his talent. If he’s not a bully, you need to know that as well. If Sam is a bully, expect him to fight any discipline you mete out. Bully employees invariably feel justified in their actions and have few qualms about fighting back when managers, particularly accommodating ones, initiate discipline.
Finally, easygoing managers who hire “lay down the law” seconds-in-command often brew a recipe for disaster. Here’s what you need to ask yourself—“What’s it going to take for me to rise to this challenge?” Then, find that strength in yourself. If you do that, you’ve become a better leader and your organization will become better and stronger as a result.
(c) 2023 Lynne Curry
If conflict is your poison, you’ll gain what you need in Navigating Conflict, https://amzn.to/3rCKoWj (a 5-star rated book on Amazon.com).