There are few evils which contend in destroying a Culture’s Soul more than Workplace Drama.  This wicked fiend slithers throughout an organization leaving a trail of overwhelmed, frustrated and resentful people.  Rapidly, processes break down, tasks cease to be completed, and everyone is exhausted.  The fun, the pop, the trust of a team is supplanted with a focus stealing chaos that consumes the team’s lifeblood.  Many managers living with Workplace Drama are easily confounded and can lose faith in their passion.  Their Vision becomes clouded and they begin to give up the cause.

Dealing with Workplace Drama is one of the least rewarding parts of being a Leader. It has the potential to suck the life out of you, and to eradicate your motivation.  Often it leaves mangers wondering: “Why did I choose this career?” “I just don’t get it. What is everyone’s problem? Why can’t they just do their work? It’s like dealing with children.”

Occasionally people need to blow off some steam.  They huddle around the water-cooler sounding off about a particular boss or co-worker.  Mostly it is momentary harmless banter.  The water-cooler tête-à-tête provides an outlet or release which can be healthy venting in measured doses.  But when the line is crossed and your team becomes stirred up, immobilized, upset, unhappy and otherwise dysfunctional, you have a calamity on your hands.    The culprits will begin to withhold information, manipulate situations, steal ideas, or act helpless so that others will come to their aid and give them extra help. Individuals are depicted as fools or villains and all of a sudden, everything is a big deal to the point of exhaustion. Everything is elevated to crisis proportions.  And your boss is looking at you and wondering why you can’t keep your team “under control”.

Workplace Drama must be eradicated immediately before its malignancy spreads.  Unimpeded, Workplace Drama will scathe productivity and foster a detrimental effect on accuracy and quality.  It will dissect a Team’s unity and become the focus of their work activities and priorities.  Those directly involved in the drama will take their “eye off of the ball” and induce costly mistakes.  This time waster, founded in bad behavior, prevents everyone from being great.  It reduces everything you are trying to build.  Unless you are prepared and equipped to contend with Workplace Drama, it will draw you into it as well and denigrate your standing as a Leader.  As usual everyone knows the score, and they are waiting.  Waiting to see what you are going to do about it.

Let’s start off by gaining a basic understanding of Workplace Drama.  Believe it or not the Drama is a predictable plot with predefined roles.  The moves of the “Game” are always the same.  In 1968 Stephen Karpman developed the Drama Triangle as a psychological and social model of human interaction in transactional analysis.  Karpman’s Triangle conjectures three habitual role-plays which drama seekers adopt:

● The Victim – The person who is treated or accepts the role of being vulnerable

Victim’s Moto – “I’m Blameless”             Victim’s Need – Love

● The Persecutor – The person who pressures, coerces, or persecutes the Victim

Persecutor’s Moto – “I’m Right”              Persecutor’s Need – Power

● The Rescuer – The person who intervenes; ostensibly wishing to help the situation or underdog

Rescuer’s Moto – “I’m Good”                   Rescuer’s Need – Acceptance

The Victim appears depressed, fearful, needy, having low self-esteem and looking for help or answers from others.  The Victim’s nemesis, the Persecutor, finger points, finds fault, has angry outbursts, a lack of compassion, clams perfection and judges others.    And the Rescuer demonstrates controlling tendencies, giving unwanted advice, over-extending, taking on other people’s problems while trying to be the hero.

Karpman explains a game of “con” and “hook” setting off a “switch” and finally the “payoff”.  The moves continue as the drama progresses.  In this Drama Triangle the players act out an unstable and emotionally competitive “mind game” which generates misery and discomfort for each other.  The covert purpose for each ‘player’ is to get their unspoken (and frequently unconscious) psychological wishes and needs met in a manner they feel justified, without having to acknowledge the broader dysfunction or harm done in the situation as a whole

Important in Karpman’s observations is the occurrence of the players frequently switching roles as the game progresses.  The drama plays out with the protagonist starting off in one of the three main roles: Rescuer, Persecutor, or Victim, with the other principal player (the antagonist) in one of the other roles. As the drama game progresses the two players move around the triangle switching roles, so that for example the victim turns on the rescuer, or the rescuer switches to persecuting.  Perhaps the victim goes on the offensive and begins to persecute the persecutor who then becomes the victim.  And it goes round and round.  That is, until you step up and do something about it.

So now that you realize this is a game with predetermined roles and routines, you can stop the insanity before it demolishes your team.  Your first move is a preemptive strike.  You need to firmly set the expectation in every team member’s mind that you will not tolerate “Drama”.  This should be one of your compulsory attributes for being on the A Team.  It should be discussed in Company Meetings, Team Meetings and Individual Counseling Sessions.  Make it crystal clear that you have a “No Tolerance” policy towards Workplace Drama.  Openly denounce gossip and backstabbing as inexcusable actions.  And let it be known the perpetrators, regardless of the drama role they choose, will be dealt with with severely.

Next identify your Drama Queens (or Kings).  These are those in your organization who reveal a penchant towards adopting one of the three drama roles.  In fact, they may even go further and want or need to play out the roles.  The drama queen may be a neurotic and self-centered perfectionist.  Often they are considered to be exceptionally talented, but this is not always the case.  A drama queen may be jealous or envious of others, which can make any personal failings even more painful and trigger irrational thoughts of revenge.  In a drama queen’s world, people can be either with her or against her; there are no stages in between.  The Drama Queen or King collects followers with similar proclivities and initially holds court to entertain while attempting to pull them into the game.

While a drama queen might find her forceful personality and manipulation skills useful in some situations, her inability to control her emotions and to form meaningful relationships creates a liability for you if left unchecked.  Watch your drama queens and kings for sign of instigation.  Understand the situations that will launch them into action and anticipate their play.  By thinking ahead of these divas, you will be able to control the outbreak when it happens.

In managing a drama situation, begin by ensuring you are not a participant in the drama.  Check yourself against the roles and objectively remove your emotions from game-play.  Karpman’s theory states that if you play one role, you eventually play them all. But here is the biggest eye opener of all. If you are in the midst of interpersonal challenges and you still can’t identify your part, then you are in the middle of the triangle, and that is called denial.  Know that you stand on firm ground as a Tough Leader, and you can act with integrity and authority.

Once the game is on, commence your counter attack by bringing the entire Team together.  They too, have been witness to what is going on and know far more than you about the situation.  In your meeting, treat the group as a whole.  Do not deal with the drama players specifically.  Re-establish your “No Drama” expectations and restate your no tolerance policy.  Show your dissatisfaction with the lack of teamwork in solving the current situation (without going into the details).  Reinforce to everyone that time and money is being wasted with destructive personal agendas.

Now pay attention. One of your drama players is going to try and put their issues on the table to justify them.  Your Victim is going to start off with, “Well, I just don’t think its fair when…” or your Persecutor is going to start with a direct attack or your Rescuer is going to try and make peace.  You know the game and you’re ready for it.  They are trying to drag you into it.  Now shut them down hard!  Firmly state that you are not going to get into the details of the situation.  Instead, the Team is going to reaffirm rules of behavior to go forward with.  Make clear the Team’s need for functionality is your priority and not an individual’s claim on righteousness.  Then lead the Team in developing “Rules of Engagement” for the Team.  Write them on the board for everyone to see.  Facilitate a healthy outcome by focusing on principles of respect and honesty.   Specifically discuss and agree as to how conflict situations will be handled going forward.  Starting now!  Usually they determine to first try and work out a problem directly between themselves and then elevate to management if this does not work.  You need to make sure the result is that they talk with the person they are having the problem with or they talk to you.  They are not allowed to talk to anyone else regarding their complaint.  Stress this rule!

You would think in our current world of tolerance, collaboration, and “can’t we all just get along” philosophy that this would be the end of it all and everyone would go back to work and progress.  Not even close.  In fact, I don’t ever remember one of these meetings working out.  So why did you go through all of that?  Because, remember, it is game and you are playing.  The meeting was you move to set up the final play.  Your winning play!  You didn’t take sides, you didn’t mediate, you didn’t get emotional, and most importantly you didn’t join the drama game.  All you did was establish proper standards for conduct.  After all, the issue at hand is distinct from the bad conduct of Workplace Drama.  Now sit back and watch for a few weeks.  One of your drama players will recidivate.

It is time for you to pounce into action.  Now you set up a meeting with the offender.  Get ready.  They will come armed to plead their case on the merits.  As they embark on their reasoning, let them know you are aware of the situation and you are handling it.  But this is not the purpose of the meeting.  You want to talk to them about their unacceptable conduct.  They are disregarding the company’s “No Drama” policy, they are breaking the Team “Rules of Engagement”, and they are a problem to you.  Acknowledge the difficulties they are having with the situation or the person, but reiterate the proper way to deal with those problems is not through divisive backroom games.

Look them straight in the eye.  Are you ready to win this game they want to play?  Tell them directly and honestly that they will lose their job if they do not put an end to the drama.  Let them know that if they continue to threaten the culture, productivity, and teamwork of your Team you are going to fire them.  Explain this is not a time sensitive issue and you expect their attitude and behavior to change starting tomorrow.  End your session by reinforcing their value to the organization and your hope that they will take your honest warning seriously.  Check Mate!  Whatever path they choose to take, you have eliminated them as a drama player.  And everyone else watched you fortify a key value of the company.

Workplace Drama can steal your company’s soul and dishearten your personal drive.  It damages everyone associated with it and renders poor performance results.  In the end it drives a stake through the culture and any ability to have fun.  A Street Smart Leader shuts down the drama game, sets the tone of personal accountability, respect, choice, and principled behavior in the organization and work culture.  He protects the value of trust which allows people to grow and excel.

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I entered management believing that as long as I was able to develop my department’s performance and meet company goals, I was doing my job and the rest would take care of itself.  So I did my job and waited for my career to move forward.  And of course it did, but not always as quickly as some of my contemporaries who didn’t appear to have my list of accomplishments.  It took me a few exasperating years to study their advancements and realize they were doing more than taking care of their jobs.  They were taking care of their careers.    

If you are to develop a successful career plan you must constantly concentrate your efforts in a three pronged attack.  Just doing your job well will only result in being able to do it for a very long time.  Eventually the mundane will take root and either you or your boss will tire of it and execution will diminish.  Inevitably your goal must be to advance stronger and faster than those surrounding you. You are in a race against time for success and the longer it takes to move up the chain of command the more unmanageable and improbable it becomes.  Launching a comprehensive campaign that showcases your talents and accomplishments will set you on the road to advancement. 

You must learn to manage three different entities every day with efficacy.  They are: 1) The Others you work with, 2) Yourself and 3) Your Boss.  Your ability to concurrently contend with the challenges of these three competing interests is essential. 

MANAGING OTHERS

We naturally imagine our subordinates when thinking of managing Others.  But just as importantly are our peers, staff members, and those in the company who are postured to observe our performance.  It is crucial to have this group’s Respect!

The easiest way to gain the respect of Others is to Win.  People love winners and thrive on the opportunity to be connected with triumph.  Focus your efforts on being a Tough Leader who accomplishes problematic strategic issues.  Do not be concerned with “being liked”.  Victory is more important.  Others will notice who is winning and who is losing.  Your success builds influence and influence in turn creates cooperation.  With the cooperation of Others, you are armed to take on your next challenge with momentum.

Gaining cohesive long-term cooperation depends on being an advocate of Others’ needs.  Support your team and your peers with passion.  Too many managers make the mistake here of keeping score and waiting until they owe someone a favor before throwing in.  This egocentric approach only diminishes your short term effectiveness and slows your own progress.  Gain the respect and cooperation of Others around you by “paying it forward” when it comes to support.  Acquire a deep understanding of what they need to win and contribute everything you can to their success.  They will not overlook it and you will have increased your own power-base.

If you win and are supportive, you will gain Others’ admiration, but you really need their respect.  This requires bonding with them.  You cannot expect someone to run through walls for you if you do not have any bond with them.  Get to know the people around you.  Know their interests and passions.  Understand what makes them tick.  Care about them!  Running into them a few times a week in meetings is a disingenuous attempt at a relationship.  Relationships are of consequence and they matter.  Build them with the people around you.  Enrich your team’s and coworkers’ daily experience with a giving and caring atmosphere.

MANAGING YOURSELF

I have seen managers who are utterly out of control when it comes to managing themselves.  It is a spectacle they are even making it through the day.  They storm through what should be normal daily activities as if they were drowning.  If you are habitually disorientated, people will mistrust your capacity.

Managing yourself is a principal of Quality.  You must grasp the concept that Quality is not a part time thing and it must permeate all you do.  You cannot ask for or demonstrate quality in some things and ignore others.  Quality is a Value.  Episodic deviation from the value of Quality only creates hypocrisy when you try and enforce standards on others.  A commitment to quality elevates the game and demonstrates to others the expectations you command in all things – all of the time.  

Start with your personal organization.  Are you together?   Are you prepared?  Have you thought issues through?  You must become impeccable with your time management.  Know where you are supposed to be and know what needs to be done and when.   Meeting deadlines should be a “no sweat” routine with which you never falter.  Look at your personal presentation, your office, your briefcase, and your organizational system.  Do they tell people you are devoted to Quality?  Clean-up any chaos.  Think about how you are perceived in meetings, how you order lunch.  Make sure you are a self-reliant, prepared, and poised Leader.  No one will want to follow you if you can’t even find your keys.  Simply put… be professional!

Although a large part of your responsibilities revolve around the work of others, inevitably, you have work of your own to produce.  The production of your work should be skilled and precise.  The quality of anything leaving your desk must be first rate, accurate and presentable.   Believe everything you create will be posted on the bulletin board in the lunchroom or your boss’s door.  Set a goal to produce the preeminent work within the company.   Anything less lowers the bar for everyone and questions your credibility.  This is a tangible opportunity to create career distance between you and your peers.

As a professional producing striking work product, your next self-management focus is to demonstrate the attributes and values you require in others.  If you expect a strong work ethic, demand one of yourself.  If you desire positive attitudes, mandate yourself to be upbeat in the worst of times.  As your career expands, you leave behind the ability to “do everything you ask your employees to do”.  But you always retain the obligation to exhibit how to comport oneself in difficult situations and to ensure your organization’s Values are alive and well every day.   

MANAGING YOUR BOSS

This essential concept is often a surprise to many.  After all, isn’t my boss beholden to manage me?  Isn’t he answerable for me in the same way I am responsible for my subordinates?  The answer is, “No”. We just discussed how you were responsible to manage yourself.  If you want your career to thrive, you need to own it and not be complacent with anyone else having accountability for your success.  Managing your boss safeguards your accomplishments and profiles them before the organization’s executives.  Here is where your career takes flight.

You need to become your boss’s Star; his “Go To” person.  This originates with understanding and being proactive to his needs.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  It is not his job to make your duties easier for you. It is your job to make his life easier for him.  Think about that for a second.  What does he need?  What is important to him?  What are the organizational goals he is focused on?  You want to be the first one to the table with real deliverable solutions to make him successful.  Forget the idea that he is there to care for you.  Your goal is to ultimately assume his position.  Start to think of yourself already in his job.  Who is going to take care of you then?  If you understnd my point, you realize relying on your boss for your needs is a self–limiting proposition.  Get out in front of helplessness and stay there.  Also, it isn’t your priority to change your boss.  All bosses have their quirks and difficulties.  Accept them, for if you don’t already, you will have your own challenges for others coming soon.  It is your duty to lead your team to success despite any shortcoming of your boss.  Waiting for a change in his habits is only placing your career on suspension.  Learn to make your system work around his imperfections.      

To become his “Go To” person, you must have ideas; well thought out ideas that can be put into action with winning results.  You need to be able to discover the methods and means for improving your organization.  Your team must produce “standout” performance.  When an initiative of your boss is meeting resistance in other parts of the company, show how your team can break through the barriers and make it happen.  As you create innovative ideas and your team outperforms the norm, your accomplishments will be noticed.  But don’t be surprised when your boss gets a certain amount of credit for this.  After all, you are on his team.  Don’t get stuck here; just keep moving forward and your star will continue to rise and shine.

Too many managers never learn how to “Get to Yes” with their boss.  They think of an idea and throw it up.  They run into their boss’s office on Monday morning and excitedly spew out, “I have an idea. I need people.  I need money.  And then I can do so and so.”  Usually their boss impatiently listens for about 15 minutes and then says something like, “We’ll see.”  Doesn’t this sound familiarly like our Parent’s response when we were ten years old?  It should, because these managers are acting like ten year olds.  If you have a well thought out winning idea, then you need to guarantee it will get approval.  It is your responsibility to get the “Yes”.  Managers who sit around complaining that “nothing ever changes around here” have failed.  They are incapable of putting forth a compelling and unquestionable argument to get a “Yes”.  Commit to yourself that you will never receive a “No” from your boss again.  “Yes” isn’t just about being right.  It is about timing, presentation, and competing interests for resources.  It is about ROI, Values, and your Boss’s agenda.  If you’re not ready to win on all of the fronts, don’t pitch your idea.  Once an idea is pitched and denied, it usually dies.  Be patient, properly prep your idea, wait for alignment, and wait for your boss to be ready to say “Yes”.  Only then should you go for it and present.  If you can acquire this skill you will be among the few who can say, “My boss never says “No” to me.”  And your boss will learn to trust in the strength of your ideas and your abilities.  He will be able to count on you as a solid thinker and contributor.

 Managing Others, Yourself and Your Boss may seem like too many balls to keep up in the air.  It requires careful forethought, diligent planning, and unswerving implementation.  It entails an awareness of the priorities going on around you which you may not necessarily be involved in.  But most of all, it requires a commitment to being the best manager you can be in all areas of your working life.  If you’re not up for the challenge, you might continue to succeed at your job.  But if you want to be a Street Smart Leader, you will keep an active focus on these three priorities and vault past your contemporaries for that next promotion.

In my article, The People Age, I explained the importance of People in differentiating your company and maintaining a “sustainable competitive advantage”.  In order to successfully do this you will need to build an A-TEAM of people.  You must understand what your A-TEAM should look like and begin a relentless plan of attack to achieve it.  Without an A TEAM, you cannot win!

The easiest way to determine what your A-TEAM should look like is to make a list of attributes you would expect an A Player to have.  I have done this many times with management teams and it is surprising how similar the lists are.  The average list ends up being about twenty to forty attributes.  All of these are important and should be used in your evaluations.  But go a step further and identify the Top Ten attributes which are “must haves” for excelling in your company.  As a double-check, compare your list against your Top Performers and ask yourself if this list accurately describes them.  You may notice your list is very different from your company’s Performance Review Forms.  For example, your Top Ten List most likely does not include items like “neat work area” or “punctuality”.  Performance reviews have their place, but they are more about Surviving; what we are talking about is Excelling.

Here is a sample list of attributes describing an A-TEAM:

 

Once you have your list, you need to begin hiring people who are A-Players.  Your Top Ten “must haves” should set the foundation for a significant part of your interview questions.  This is so important that I encourage you to write out questions and follow-up questions to specifically discuss these attributes.  Work experience is good, but is the person driven?  Can they give you examples of when their drive has attained extraordinary achievement?  Your interviews will begin to take on a completely different approach.  You are no longer looking for someone who can just do the job; you are looking for the A-Players who will make a difference.  As you may know, most people think they are A Players, so you have to dig deep in your questions for verification, check references and even use profile test to help determine if the applicant’s attributes are a match. Hiring A Players is one of your most important jobs.  There are great seminars and books to help you improve this skill.  Take advantage of them.

Before we go further, I would like to make an important distinction.  I refer to “building” A-TEAMS  not “developing” them.  Many managers are taught to believe that it is their job to take C and F-Players and develop them.  This development philosophy usually includes training, motivating, explaining responsibilities and lots of hand holding dealing with old baggage.  This is a complete waste of time!  The idea that you are going to motivate a non-motivated person or create a sense of urgency in a slow-moving person is a futile exercise in the fulfillment of your own ego.  Stop trying to fix people.  This is not your job.  You need to remove people who do not excel and hire A-Players.  It is faster and you will see how the results speak for themselves.  Wouldn’t you rather provide motivation for a motivated person?  Wow! Think about what that might produce!

I was once sitting with one of my toughest mentors, John Smye, explaining to him that I thought I could have a certain manager where he needed to be in the next six months.  He asked, if  I started  looking now  for someone who is already there, how long would it take me.  I replied no more than two months.  He made it clear we did not have four months of time and company money to waste waiting for someone to learn a job they already had.  Not to mention what damage could be done while we waited six months for his group of thirty people to start performing.  He told me to fire the manager and find the right one.  As hard as this sounds, he was right!  Within sixty days I had a fully functioning manager in place who began moving his group forward.  The new manager had no baggage, no agendas.  He just wanted to take our plan and enthusiastically run with it.

Now for the tough part; what do you do with your existing team?  First, show them your list and make it clear you are looking for A-Players.  Next you need to sit down and evaluate them.  By each person’s name, without over-thinking it, write an A, B, C, or F.  Remember, to be an A-Player someone must have “all” of the Top Ten attributes.

You must immediately replace your F-Players. There is most likely some reason they are still there.  Keeping them for any reason (and I have heard some of the best) is just an avoidance of the inevitable and of your duty to the people you work for.  They cost you valuable respect from the rest of your team.  Do it now, within 30 days, and take the short-term pain if you have to.  Six months from now, you will be saying it was the best decision you ever made and wondering what you were so afraid of.

Now let’s talk about the C Players.  C-Players must be gone in 90 days.  If you believe there is anyone on the cusp of being a B-Player this is all the time you have to get them there.  C-Players are killing you; maybe even more than the F-Player.  They absorb most of your time and deliver mediocre results.  Imagine what could be accomplished if you spent that time with the A-Players instead.  Just think how the daily agenda would change from “how do we get people to do what we want?” to “we can do anything, so what should it be?”  The other major issue with C-Players is they lower the bar.  Joe, a C+-Player, sits next to Sally, a C-Player, and has it all figured out.  Since he knows he is a little better than Sally, he is “safe” as long as she is there.  Raise the bar!  Get rid of Sally, get rid of Joe and have Mr. B- looking over his shoulder saying, “I better get with the program or I’m next.”

 

Your culture will be driven by these decisions.  If you allow C-Players to dominate your team you will have an average (and losing) culture. The reality is you will lose your A-Players in a C-Culture.  If you dominate your culture with A-Players you will find yourself leading a dynamic “Can Do” Culture.  And it is important to remember, the new employees you will be hiring are walking into one of these two cultures.  Imagine the difference in their performance by walking them into an A-TEAM Culture.

Some of you are saying, “I would love to do that, but HR won’t let me.”  Or, I once had a manager try to talk me out of this program by saying, “Not everyone is exceptional.”  I realize there are obstacles and this is not an easy task.  But it is easier than dragging those C-Players around on your back.  You must find a way to make this happen.  Understand what HR needs, get your boss on board, set performance standards, support your A-TEAM (instead of the C-Team) and show the visible undeniable difference between the two groups.  You do not need to make everyone in the world exceptional. Just find the exceptional people you need for your team.  They are out there.

I know; what about the B-Players?  Remember you just raised the bar on them.  The bottom half of them just became your new C-Group.  Give it another six months and go through it again.  In a year, you will have the A-TEAM you and your company deserve.

If I haven’t convinced you yet as to how important this is, consider the following:

  • You became a Manager because you were an A-Player.
  • If you are leading a C-Team and getting mediocre results…
  • You are now a C-Manager.

Need I say more?