Professional Jeweler Archive: Managing Away Bad Habits

April 2001


Managing Away Bad Habits

From heroes who burn out their subordinates to rebels who oppose all authority, employees have some pretty irksome habits. But you can manage them into better behavior

Everyone loves a hero, but they can be hard to manage and work with. In a retail setting, heroes seem driven to outperform everyone else. They work late to coordinate display windows. They insist on polishing all the silver weekly. They come in Sundays to wind the watches.

That’s the good news. The bad news is they expect subordinates to do the same. This results in workers who are burned out, have disrupted family lives and eventually quit out of exhaustion.

Managers are often torn between looking for ways to reward heros and wondering whether they should fire them to eliminate their long-term destructive impact. A better alternative, reports the Harvard Business Review, is to salvage problematic high-performers by managing away their bad habits. You needn’t become shrinks, say authors James Waldroop and Timothy Butler, both psychologists, but you can help employees control behaviors threatening to destroy otherwise promising careers.

The authors say managers have the greatest degree of leverage helping people whose behavior falls into one of six patterns. In addition to heroes, they are:

  • The Meritocrat, who believes the best ideas are determined objectively and, thus, will always prevail. They ignore the politics inherent in most situations.
  • The Bulldozer, who runs roughshod over others in a quest for power.
  • The Pessimist, a natural worrier who focuses on the downside of every change.
  • The Rebel, who automatically opposes authority and convention.
  • The Home-Run Hitter. In sports terms, home-run hitters swing for the fences before learning to hit singles. They try to do too much too soon.

These behaviors may be genetic, learned or both. What they have in common is an inability to understand the world from the perspective of other people.They also don’t understand how and when to use power, they are too deferential or too rebellious to authority and they have a negative self-image.

To change a hero, say the authors, start by praising his or her accomplishments, but then move on quickly to a discussion about recognizing the signs of overload – personally and in other team members. Make it clear this is a serious problem.

Heroes must learn to take regular readings of their team’s temperature and need to learn to pay attention to body language and energy levels that subtly indicate resistance or dismay.

Help the hero make a checklist of warning signs that the pressure is too high. The list might include the number of voice messages and e-mails the hero leaves for other employees, the number of employees still working after 9 p.m., illness among employees and reports of marital trouble. If a hero regularly intrudes on subordinates’ time at home, he or she may need to be banned from contacting them at home.

Most people won’t say they need a break, so heroes need ongoing help to recognize the signs of fatigue and burnout.

– by Mark E. Dixon

Next Month: Introducing meritocrats to the real world.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications