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.

Sometimes you should document.

Last week I suggested that if you’re being backstabbed, scapegoated or otherwise hung out to dry, documentation won’t help you.

Several members of the KJR community pointed out that if you think you might ever file a formal complaint … if, for example, you might involve the EEOC or if things might end up on court for one reason or another … then good documentation is essential.

As long as we’re on the subject of your relationship with your employer going sideways, let’s take a few minutes to talk about your next exit interview.

Here’s what the exit interview’s point is supposed to be: Freed from concerns of reprisals, departing employees are supposedly more likely to provide honest information about their employment experience than those they’re leaving behind.

And so, exit interviews should help HR pinpoint both problem managers and more systemic issues, and in either case to recommend corrective courses of action.

Here’s what actually doesn’t happen, according to “Making Exit Interviews Count” (Everett Spain and Boris Groysberg, Harvard Business Review, April 2016):

“… many companies don’t even conduct these interviews. Some collect exit interview data but don’t analyze it. Some analyze it but don’t share it with the senior line leaders who can act on it. Only a few collect, analyze, and share the data and follow up with action.

Imagine an HR staff member — call her Mary Mencheslaus — charged with conducting exit interviews. Mary is interviewing Wendy Whyme, a five-year employee who tendered her resignation two weeks prior. Whyme explains why she resigned: Gary Gaslight, a top-performing sales rep who employs the unfortunate tactic of taking prospects to strip bars and requiring the whole sales team to come along. Whyme is the third departing employee in as many months to tell the same story.

Mencheslaus documents the interview, writes a summary for Gaslight’s personnel file, and meets with Gaslight’s manager, Fred Foghat, to explain the situation. Foghat explains the consequences of killing golden geese and suggests to Mencheslaus that dropping the whole matter would be best for all concerned.

Mencheslaus next meets with her manager, Sam Sansvertebrae, to inform him of the situation. Sansvertebrae explains that Gaslight, because he’s such a strong rainmaker, is untouchable, that there’s no point in pursuing the matter further, and that Mencheslaus should remove her remarks from Gaslight’s file and drop the issue immediately.

Mencheslaus, being a highly principled individual, refuses and escalates to the head of HR. Shortly thereafter she finds herself looking for her next employment opportunity.

Meanwhile, Foghat lets Gaslight know about his meeting with HR, suggesting he tone things down a bit until it all blows over. In response, Gaslight spreads the word among his personal network that Whyme is bad news and a troublemaker.

If you think the above tale of woe or something similar doesn’t play out, over and over again, throughout the halls of business organizations all over the map … this is just my opinion mind you … you aren’t being paid for your charming naivet√©.

Who flubbed the situation, and how?

Whyme‘s mistake wasn’t trusting HR’s discretion. Mencheslaus didn’t mention any names in her documentation or her meeting with Sansvertebrae. Whyme’s mistake was thinking she had any upside for responding honestly and completely in her exit interview.

As a five-year employee she had to understand the company’s management culture well enough to know nobody would care. And she had to know that if anyone reprimanded Gaslight or otherwise called for him to change his stripes, that he would figure out she was a likely informant; and that he was vindictive enough and sufficiently well connected that she was putting her career at risk.

Did Mencheslaus make a mistake? You bet she did. She also had to understand the company’s and HR’s management culture, also Sansvertebrae’s management style. Whatever other actions she took, she should have consulted him before taking any other action. Then, if she decided to escalate in spite of its utterly predictable futility, she’d also have been smart enough to keep personal copies of her documentation regarding the entire sorry episode before doing so, just in case one of Gaslight’s victims decided to take the company to court.

Anyone else? Of course. I hope everyone in the KJR community is savvy enough to recognize that the CEO and board of directors are the source of every aspect of the company culture.

That includes the culture of plausible deniability that’s carefully designed to insulate everyone above Foghat and Sansvertebrae in the management hierarchy from the reality of How We Do Things Around Here.