Up here in the Northland we practice “Minnesota Nice.”
On a good day it means choosing our words so as to avoid making disagreements personal. A quintessential example, from How to Talk Minnesotan: A Visitor’s Guide, (Howard Mohr, Penguin Books,1987), is “Ya know, a lotta guys wouldn’t be comfortable welding a full gas tank.”
On a not so good day Minnesota Nice means passive aggression and pretending to agree while face to face, only to explain to everyone else that they just didn’t make anyone feel bad.
What it never means is how Amy Klobuchar reportedly treats her staff when no one else is looking.
No, I’m not going to take a position on Klobuchar’s candidacy. That would be out of scope for Keep the Joint Running.
But headline news can be useful for spotlighting subjects that are in KJR’s scope. And so …
Imagine HR informs you of similar complaints about a manager who reports to you. How should you evaluate the situation?
The Management Compass, discussed in depth in Leading IT: <Still> the toughest job in the world, by Yours Truly, 2011), might be a useful place to start.
The compass divides Management Relationship Management into four quadrants: North, where a manager’s manager lives; east, where relationships with colleagues and peers take center stage; west, where managers interact with those their organization serves; and south, where managers work with those who report to them. One at a time:
North: For your manager, that means you. For Klobuchar it means Minnesota’s voters, as they’re the ones who decide, once every six years, whether she keeps her job. Klobuchar beat her Republican opponent 60.3% to 36.2% in the last election — an excellent score for North.
East: Getting others to follow when you don’t have authority over them is essential to success. That’s what managing east is all about — influencing and persuading colleagues and peers. Klobuchar gets universally high marks here, as evidenced by a Politico story headlined “Republican gush over Klobuchar,” Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine, 2/11/2019).
Klobuchar excels at East.
West: There’s a difference between constituents and voters: Minnesotans who voted against Klobuchar are still her constituents.
Based on admittedly thin evidence, I’ve heard and read that Klobuchar’s office does very good work helping constituents. As the boss you don’t have to rely on thin evidence. You can find out everything you need to know about your manager’s westward-facing performance through the simple expedient of asking people.
South: Based on the reports we’ve all been reading, which appear to be quite credible, Klobuchar’s southerly performance is atrocious. The same is true for your hypothetical manager.
To say there’s no excuse for throwing things at staff members or trying to ruin their careers is, while accurate, superficial.
Based on my limited experience, both on the receiving end of several bully bosses and, I regret to admit, a short stint as an excessively excitable manager myself early in my managerial career, here’s a guess as to what’s going on: Klobuchar depends too much on self-control and not enough on maintaining perspective.
It isn’t that self-control is a bad thing. Quite the opposite, leaders and managers who can’t control themselves have little hope of controlling a large organization.
The problem is, self-control has its limits. It shouldn’t be a manager’s first line of defense against losing her temper. Better to not need it most of the time because she keeps her frustrations in perspective.
It’s better because the more situations and frustrations don’t require your self-control, the more of it you’ll have left when you do need it.
So … you have a Klobuchar-like manager reporting to you. She’s talented, driven, smart, effective, and a nightmare to report to. What do you do?
One alternative is zero tolerance, but it probably isn’t the right choice. Your manager does, after all, deliver outstanding results.
And, some abusive managers are capable of growth. They should be given the opportunity, along with the sort of encouragement that ends with the words, “or else.”
Analogies have their limits. Klobuchar isn’t a manager who reports to you, she’s campaigning to become a candidate for the POTUS.
So a closer match might be how Apple’s board of directors evaluated Steve Jobs’ performance: Given his results, he got a pass on any and all behavior that wasn’t legally actionable.
When you’re hiring new managers and deciding whether to keep those you have, you have the luxury of insisting on excellence across the management compass, calibrated to your assessment of how much each quadrant matters.
When you’re voting, your choice is starker: Unless you have ranked choice voting all you can do is decide which candidate is better.
Ideal isn’t something you can insist on.