Delusions of Leadership

I once had a boss who was highly regarded as a great manager. Her team of three employees were reliable, honest, and did impressive work. Everyone got along and collaborated easily on projects. Life was good.

Then she hired an employee from hell. Lisa did not have the skills she professed. Her work quality was egregiously bad and she brought total chaos to every project she touched. She quickly violated trust with everyone of the team.

So the team looked to the manager to address the problem of Lisa. The manager met with Lisa. Repeatedly. Nothing changed. The team quickly lost their respect and faith in the manager.

The situation baffled everyone. This idolized leader seemed incapable of managing Lisa. This manager, who also taught leadership classes, didn’t seem able to execute the very skills she trained others on. Why?

This manager was an amazing leader only when her team was low maintenance and high performing. Anyone can lead a team of perfect employees. Only a truly skilled manager can lead a team through messy situations.

How do you develop leadership skills? By managing situations that throw you off. You learn how to handle performance issues by having employees who do poor quality work. You learn how to have awkward conversations by having an employee who reeks of strange odors. You learn how to manage a compulsive liar by having one on your team. You learn clear communication from having a direct report who misunderstands everything.

You’d be surprised at how much you’ll learn from a renegade, two-faced, lazy, incompetent employee who lies in meetings, undermines projects, harasses the FedEx guy and is suspected of spiking her coffee each morning.

If you never have any of these situations, how will you ever develop the skill to handle difficult situations when they do occur? You don’t learn in in a 4 hour class; you master it over years of experiencing a lot of wonky stuff. And this goes for pretty much every skill in life. 

The employee from hell is the best training you will ever have. So don’t forget to silently thank them when you finally boot them out the door. Your worst employee might just be your best teacher.

Related: Delusions of Competence


* In a previous lifetime, I worked in Human Resources for ten years where I advised managers on employee relations issues. 

About Epiphany

epiphanies on life and spiritual living as I chase wisdom - one insight at a time.

Posted on May 9, 2016, in Career and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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