THE LEADERS AND THE LEFT OUT
c.2013 New York Times News Service
WHEN ALMOST HALF THE EMPLOYEES ARE ON THE LEADERSHIP COUNCIL, HOW DOES THE REST OF THE GROUP FEEL?
Q: Dear Workologist: My employer has something it calls the Leadership Council, a group that meets monthly to discuss organizational issues. Currently, we have around 80 employees. Some 35 of them — or 44 percent — are on this council.
Of course, every organization needs a group that steers the ship, but when nearly half the organization is deemed “leaders,” on some level it makes the rest of us — which includes me — feel left out in the cold.
A corollary to this, at least in my mind, is that in my department of 13 people, we have one senior vice president, two senior directors, one director, one senior manager, four managers ... and the rest of us. “The rest” all have master’s degrees and perform highly skilled labor. This makes the four of us nonmanagers feel like chopped liver.
Should we be as bothered by these matters as we are? And, if yes, can you suggest a solution we could pass along to the Powers That Be?
— ANONYMOUS, NEW YORK
A: Perhaps you should retaliate by organizing a 45-member Special Leadership Council Advisory Committee. OK, not really. You’re right that the situation here sounds a bit ridiculous. It’s the organizational equivalent of how Greg Focker was raised as described in “Meet the Fockers”: a world of ninth-place ribbons and trophies for participation.
But, silly as it may be, there’s a pretty good chance that it’s harmless. Much like the title inflation you’ve noticed, this committee sounds suspiciously like a sop whose chief function is to make people feel more important than they actually are.
The main question is whether you can point to a more tangible downside — either in the form of problems that this committee’s actions have caused or opportunities that a different council structure might have found, but that this one missed. To be clear, you’d need to identify something beyond the imperiled self-esteem of you and everyone else in the chopped-liver layer of the company org chart.
I don’t mean to disqualify this as a legitimate issue. It clearly is one. In fact, I suspect that your bosses have an addiction to feel-good gestures that not only alienate employees like you, but do less to instill loyalty than they assume.
I can easily imagine that a smaller leadership council, with a partly rotating membership that included voices from all levels, might genuinely benefit the business. But I’m afraid that if you frame this as purely a morale issue, the most likely response will be a 10th-place ribbon. And that won’t make you feel better for long.
SEEKING A TRUCE, FROM SIX FEET AWAY
Q: Dear Workologist: I had an excellent, friendly relationship with a co-worker — until about a month ago. I was on the line with a client when he started yelling at another colleague of ours. I had to cover my mouthpiece and asked him to please “take it outside.”
I was appalled at the unprofessional behavior. It’s the last thing I would have expected of him. Afterward, I confronted him. I told him that it was deplorable, and that he had treated our colleague disrespectfully.
They have since made peace. But this co-worker is still upset with me. He gave me the silent treatment for a month.
But when I finally asked to speak with him about it, he came unglued: He accused me of butting in where I shouldn’t have, and told me that I was a know-it-all, among other things. Yikes! I apologized and later sent a note saying I hoped we could make peace, too. He did not acknowledge the note or my apology.
We work six feet apart. My husband told me to document all of this in case something else goes awry. It really has me wondering. He has always been a great guy. What should I do?
A: If you want to continue your fence-mending campaign, make sure you’re working on the correct problem. There’s definitely some disconnect going on here. It’s telling that your co-worker has made up with the person he yelled at, but not with you.
It’s quite possible that your previously friendly relationship is part of the trouble: Nobody likes to be “called out,” but that’s doubly true if it feels like a breach in a congenial, peer-level relationship. Perhaps he felt that you were taking sides against him in a dispute without bothering to get all the facts. That said, it’s probably a positive that he — finally — got to vent. The apology and the note may have helped even if he hasn’t acknowledged them, but that depends on whether your apology really matches up with his view of the problem.
If you want to try again to clear the air, make sure you give him a chance to articulate exactly what upset him and why. Avoid giving your side or turning the tables to remind him that he shouldn’t be yelling while you’re on the phone with clients. It may entail some pride-swallowing, but try to concede his points specifically and underscore that you’ve always liked him and regret upsetting him, even if accidentally. Finally, find common ground: If he got carried away and lost his cool, maybe you did, too?
All of this depends on whether you feel you’ve already done enough apologizing and how worried you are about this situation escalating into something even more unpleasant. It’s also possible that his month-delayed blowup was cathartic, and, bit by bit, you’ll get back to normal.