Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Congratulations! You have graduated from your managerial training course. You are now a Manager, at least on paper. You are at the beginning of your executive career and you hope to change the world. Unfortunately, at this point you are between a rock and a hard place. On one side there is your ever demanding boss Rock and on the other side there is the general workforce Hard Place.

Here is what you can expect from a typical day at work: Your boss hands out your first task and you are clueless as to where to start. Your job is to delegate the task to your experienced workforce but you decide to flex some muscle so you show some authority and you give the task a personal twist. Your workforce may not appreciate your naive initiative and so what follows is a fun and clever anecdote (author unknown) that demonstrates the typical reaction from the people you are depending on to do the work.

The Facts Of Life

Links to hi res poster at end of article

This little story is timeless and can be witnessed in many different environments. It is human nature to pass the buck to other workmates when frustration sets in. The larger the workforce the worse the situation gets. In real world terms this situation will always have the same result. The job your boss was expecting from YOU yesterday is still at an embryonic stage and you can’t blame your workforce because they set you up for a no-win situation. Try telling your boss your workers didn’t come up with the goods…you fail for not delegating properly and monitoring the progress. In fact, your boss will probably be protective of his trusted employees and so your managerial skills will be under scrutiny. The bottom line is that you can’t produce the work so you and you alone will be deep-fried for failing.

To avoid these early career potholes I would suggest a few simple home-grown tips and tricks

1)  RELAX – Give your workers their tasks exactly as you receive them from your boss; don’t get lost in translation.

2)  TRUST – Have faith in the workforce. If they were there before you then they will probably know what has to be done. If they have any questions you can be sure they will ask; just give them some space to breath.

3)  WATCH – Profile your workers; find out who does what best, who are the loners, who are the leaders, etc.. You will thus maximize their individual skills. Giving ten people the same job to do only causes confusion and wastes everyone’s time.

4)  INVOLVMENT – Get your hands dirty with the workers; you will gain their respect. Learn what they know and you will then be better equipped to add your own spices later on and thus give the work your own personal signature.

If you follow the above tips then the fifth one will come naturally:

5)  DELEGATE – If you are able to delegate more efficiently you get more from your workforce, faster and with less stress. Best of all you will be geared up with the work and proud to present the results to your boss. All this will make for one big happy family where everyone wins.

These are my own views so please take what you will and leave what you don’t need. Thanks for reading.

Click here for full size version of the Facts Of Life for poster printing

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5 thoughts on “Between a Rock and a Hard Place

  1. Very true and good advice – but life is neither ideal or simple – I came across a civil servant with a permanent job who, when a task was delegated to him said “I don’t want to do it and you cannot make me”, openly defying “management”. Lucky for me, I was an interim boss at the time and was not going to stay in that organisation more than a couple of months.

    With the help of HR and the Legal department we managed to transfer this individual to another location. This was essential in order to retain what limited authority you have in the civil service. Once lost it cannot be regained. You may wish to read Machiavelli’s The Prince or it’s more modern version by Antony Jay “Management and Machiavelli” and focus on gaining credibility, as without it you have nothing.

    • Bullseye (in keeping with an Olympicky theme), you brought home a cruel reality I would have rather forgotten.

      I’ve come across my fair share of this type of employee. They can be really dangerous because they start off as loners but later try to spread their spiel to other weak and isolated staff in an attempt to recruit their little army. Let’s say they want to be the cox in a coxed-8 rowing team. 😉

      The sad part is that they are often quite intelligent and could even be useful but they make it their mission in life to make a manager’s life hell. They always know how to read between the lines of their employment contract and, as you say, you are fighting a losing battle from the start. It is especially tough if there is a strong trade union to back them up.

      The civil service is rife with these naysayers but I’ve also seen some clever manipulators in private industry. In these cases they have to tread more carefully but the most malevolent seem to be able to get away with murder nonetheless and even with all the risks of being shown the door.

      Thanks very much for the reading tips; I’ll make an effort to look into those books. Also, I’m grateful for your feedback; at least now I don’t feel as if I’m writing in the dark. 🙂

  2. the universe works in mysterious ways…. i just blindly stumbled on your website and “when the student is ready, the teacher will arrive”

    for the first time in my 20yr career, i have my sights set on a director of clinical education management position within my company
    i have NEVER been a ladder climber or wanted anything to do with management, but i really love this company and i want my co-workers to be happy and love it too and we have a serious morale problem both at my facility and in my industry as a whole

    i realized that i have the type of personality that people come to for help, and if i take an ACTIVE role instead of a passive one, they call it leadership. while im shaking in my shoes at this undertaking, i also believe that maybe i need to be the catalyst for a change in perspective for my coworkers and friends. i didnt always love my career and i have brought quite a bit of grief to myself because of my own bad attitude. i had to change my outlook and i make a daily EFFORT to concentrate on the positive, not the negative. it doesnt come easily for me and i find myself taking deep breaths and adjusting my point of view several times a day but i have noticed a dramatic change in myself over the past year and it has also positively influenced those around me as well

    i am not a naturally organized, take charge kind of person. i work best and happiest when i am given the tools and left alone to complete projects on my own. iv had to teach myself to be a “team player” and find my happy place within that framework. in just a few minutes of perusing your website, i am on fire with down to earth guidance and support that speaks to me in plain honest language i understand- not the usual “management seminar” drivel that makes for a nice afternoon nap…

    thank you so much for sharing your words of wisdom with me personally at just exactly the right moment in my life and my career

    you may be writing in the dark, mr enzzzoo, but you are the candle and i will be a mirror

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