Surviving A Bad Work Marriage
As seen on Forbes
Sometimes Love Just Isn’t Enough
All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Sometimes—maybe often—they deliver great work. But almost always it comes with a price. They yell, they scream, they manipulate, they brood, they threaten, they bully…and then when people ask what all the drama was about, they stand in front of their teams and tell everyone that things are fine and act as if their acting out never happened.
Welcome to your partner in the bad work relationship—the one you created.
This troubled relationship could between you and your second in command or you and your most gifted colleague. It even could be between you and your assistant. But unless your organization is atypical, this love-hate relationship exists, and you—I am afraid to say—are the person responsible.
Let me explain.
Been There, Done That
If you’ve been in business for more than a few years, you have undoubtedly experienced a dysfunctional work marriage. True, these relationships usually don’t involve a minister or wedding license, but they bring with them enough passion and drama to script made-for-TV movies. Like all codependent relationships, the ones involving leadership in a company are complicated and hard to unwind.
How do bad work marriages happen? Let me describe four classic situations—along with what you can do about them.
You Have Too Many Alphas
Let’s face it; many companies wind up functioning like wolf packs—with leaders publicly and privately flipping their teammates over to expose sensitive underbellies. Sometimes this is done in an effort to show dominance and gain control. More often it is the result of hiring and enabling too many alphas to the point where something must be done.
Consultants are fond of the phrase, “one throat to choke.” This is alpha parlance for clear accountability. In the absence of clear accountability, alphas will eat their own young, using dominance as a replacement for good processes and management.
The solution is twofold: Make sure your organization is not alpha dominant. And explain to your alphas, “Yes, our rules and procedures really apply to you, too—and there will be consequences if you don’t follow them.”
Opposites Really Don’t Attract
Here’s the thing…we tend to like ourselves, so we wind up hiring people just like us. This is unfortunate because what we really need is to surround ourselves with people who offset our weaknesses. Instead of hiring people just like us, we need to hire our opposites—the yin for your yang.
When your work spouse is too much like you, either nothing gets done or too many of the wrong things get done. Either way, you eventually wind up bickering about the dinner table with the kids watching…I mean bickering around the conference room table with the team watching…uhhh, you get the idea.
Use tests like the Kolbe Index to make sure you have a balanced team. You’ll have less “bro-mance” but better results.
You Hire The Results Of Bad Parenting
At the risk of playing psychologist for a moment, I’ve noticed that people take leadership cues from their parents and/or former paternal or maternal bosses. For example, this means that if they were raised or mentored by say, a screaming parent or boss, they interpret this kind of abusive behavior as good leadership and act in kind when they get a chance to lead.
I once had an employee tell me I wasn’t leading because I wasn’t yelling.
I learned leadership in part from my Navy captain father who got very, very quiet when he was upset. I learned that when he spoke quietly and slowly, I’d best be listening. The same is true for me. I yell at football games, not in the boardroom.
Look for people who have had great examples of leadership through good parenting, good bosses or great leadership training.
High IQ Low EQ
“Did he just say that in front of our client?” Every company eventually has one or two people who have been gifted with incredible intellectual capital and seemingly zero emotional intelligence. These intellectual athletes move deftly from being brilliant to blasphemous, from visionary to venomous. What’s worse, they often have no idea that they are crossing a line despite the looks of horror, disbelief and sadness around the table. And too often, sitting right next to him is the enabling work-spouse who is quick to point out how much the company needs the brilliant genius who just put off yet another client.
Solution: There are plenty of brilliant people who know how to be liked. Go find one.
If you run the company and have a mirror somewhere in the office, you can readily spot the reasons for all of the above. You deserve the team you get. When you encounter a bad work marriage, you literally played the part of matchmaker and minister. At the best, you now you have to play marriage counselor, at the worse, divorce attorney.
Like I said, been there, done that. Good luck.