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Into The Wind

Damn the results. I’m doing it my way!

By  Julia Kramer

Most people walk through life with a certain level of accumulated wisdom. They experience life’s trials and errors and apply what they learn to avoid predictably bad situations and outcomes. They know what typically makes others happy or sad, pleased or angry, clear or confused. They understand the notion of cause and effect. They would never spit into the wind and be surprised by the result.

Conversely, there are those who walk through a different world. It doesn’t register, or they won’t acknowledge that there are certain universal truths when it comes to relating to others. They push hot buttons and cross boundaries without any apparent appreciation that they are doing either. They seem not to notice body language and non-verbal cues. They may not give direct feedback its due. They spit into the wind, later wondering how their face got wet. Frequently, after deep thought, they blame the wind.

Underdeveloped common sense or low emotional intelligence may explain this behavior. But sometimes it is the result of an irrepressible and illogical need to always “do it my way,” damn the results.

Let me give you a very simple example. Manager Glenda is organized, precise and conscientious. True to her nature, she expects her staff to be punctual, accurate and meet their deadlines. Young staffer Jim reports to Glenda. Jim is smart, hard-working and somewhat overconfident. Jim started taking long lunch hours. Glenda told Jim that this was unacceptable and that he needed to limit his lunch breaks to an hour. Jim continued to return late from lunch. Glenda gave Jim specific examples of how his tardiness was causing problems for co-workers and clients. Finally, when there was no improvement, Jim ended up in my office for counseling. After a few minutes of discussion, I was stunned by the fact that Jim was stunned by the fact that his behavior had gotten him into hot water. He thought he had been fighting a winning battle. According to his sense of justice, working hard and getting results should do away with the need to adhere to a schedule. He was righteous about this and he was oblivious to the fact that his righteousness did not make him right. Jim was cavalierly spitting into the wind and daring the wind to throw it back in his face. My question was “Why?”

There was no logical answer. For some people it’s not about logic. Instead, for them, life’s a competition to win, to be “right,” to control. For these people, conforming to even the most innocuous norm is considered losing, and losing diminishes their sense of self-worth. Others may act out deep-seated anger, resentment or fear having nothing to do with the person or situation at hand. So what do you do when you encounter someone who won’t use common sense? I suggest three things:

Acknowledge that the behavior is more than just ignorance or carelessness on the part of the employee. At first you might assume that the employee just doesn’t get it or is unable to comply or that you haven’t clearly stated your position. But after repeated and unsuccessful attempts to remedy the situation, you may start to see things differently. If you suspect that the behavior is conscious on the part of the employee, such as an employee who repeatedly ignores directives to stop making excessive personal phone calls during working hours, then you need to treat the situation differently from one in which the employee just needs a normal level of coaching.

Identify someone on your staff with high emotional intelligence to rationally deal with otherwise productive employees who consistently make behavioral choices contrary to reasonable expectations. This is important because these same employees frequently resist behavioral changes. Not just anyone can fill this role; it takes a skilled individual. You need someone who can manage their own emotions (including frustration, annoyance, confusion and anxiety) while objectively assessing the situation and helping the employee modify behavior.

Stop enabling. This task goes to anyone and everyone dealing with an employee who views most norms, policies and parameters as obstacles to overcome. One effective way to stop unwanted behavior is to stop making it easy to do. If an employee repeatedly fails to show up for scheduled staff meetings, stop by her office on the way to the meeting and wait for her to accompany you, or go and get her, call her from the meeting to see when she’ll be there, and talk to her afterward (even if you’ve managed to get her to the table) to find out why she keeps balking at this basic job requirement.

Don’t get me wrong, many of us have a stubborn streak, may buck the system now and again, and once in a while may just not care if our behavior is inappropriate or unpopular. That’s entirely different from someone who, on a regular basis, is resistant to guidance, is oppositional, and metaphorically spits into the wind while eschewing blame for the inevitable resulting mess.

Kramer is The Council’s senior vice president, Office of the President


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