Are You a Management Survivor?

I don't know about you, but I've worked with (and for) quite a few managers that - in my opinion - had no business holding the title of CEO, vice president, whatever. Sure enough, once they left or got canned, most of these folks were never heard from again.

Still, I didn't handle every situation as well as I might have. I survived some of them, but not others. If I knew then what I know now, well, I might have hung around a bit longer. Would that have changed things for the better? Maybe.

One thing's for sure. Management teams are a veritable Petri dish for conflict. It makes you wonder how anything gets done at all. So when it comes to deciding whether to stick around or bolt, you want to make that call as objectively as you reasonably can, and you want to have the best chance of a beneficial outcome.
The first time I had a serious conflict with a senior manager I sought the advice of our mutual vice president. Hiro Hashimoto was a lifer at NEC - where he was sort of a legend - and his advice reflected that of an old school Japanese executive. Hashi recited a Japanese proverb that saw him through tough times:

"If you wait by the river long enough, you'll see the body of your enemy float by."
Now, more than 20 years later, I know the proverb is true. But it does bring up two important questions:

  • How long is "long enough?"
  • How do you identify an "enemy?"
In Five Ways for Managers to Resolve Conflict, you'll find a pretty good litmus test for answering both questions. Here's an abridged version:
  1. Embrace conflict. Conflict isn't necessarily a bad thing. If it's open and direct, it helps in dealing with issues and building consensus.
  2. Challenge your own assumptions. Ask yourself what assumptions your position is based on, then do the same with the other person.
  3. Focus on the issues, not the person. Focus on real issues - products, customers, positioning - you know, what the company actually pays you to do.
  4. Put yourself in the other person's shoes. Remember, he's human too. Ask for his viewpoint and test your listening skills by articulating it back to him.
  5. Be open and honest. Meet one-on-one and air out how you feel. She probably feels the same way you do.
If any of that works for you, then great, hang in there and see what happens. If not, if you've tried everything and still feel the relationship is unworkable and, more importantly, you're miserable, then bolt. At that point, you're probably making the right decision.

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