Management Matters with Mike Myatt: Dealing with ‘Corporate Crazies’

–You can run, but regrettably you cannot seem to hide from the “corporate crazies.” Over the years, I’ve simply come to a conclusion that many otherwise savvy business people have yet to grasp; you can’t argue with crazy. We’ve all heard the saying “pick your battles,” and in my experience one

–You can run, but regrettably you cannot seem to hide from the “corporate crazies.” Over the years, I’ve simply come to a conclusion that many otherwise savvy business people have yet to grasp; you can’t argue with crazy.

We’ve all heard the saying “pick your battles,” and in my experience one of the most futile battles that can be waged is attempting to change the mind of someone who already lives in an altered state. So, as we move forward into 2009 I’ll share some thoughts on how to make sure the lunatics don’t gain control of the asylum in the year ahead.

Let’s begin by defining “crazy.” While most of us don’t encounter clinical insanity in the workplace on a frequent basis, we regrettably must contend with a whole host of other frustrating characters–the irrational, the ignorant, the closed-minded, the pathological liar, the overly political, the self-serving, the zealot, the megalomaniac, the CFO (just kidding), the power hungry and any number of other “corporate crazies.” The corporate landscape is littered with very sane people who are better suited for the padded room, or the romper room, more than they are the board room.

It is simply not fruitful to attempt to debate business logic with those who do not recognize logic to begin with. If there’s one tidbit of wisdom you need to take away from this post it’s that you cannot convince someone who always thinks they’re right that they are in fact wrong. No matter how logical and grounded your approach, they simply won’t except your facts over their opinions, emotions, and self-interests. So, what can you do when logic and reason fail to prevail? The following list of suggestions is my New Year’s gift to you in hope that it will allow you to outsmart those that feel they cannot be outsmarted.

1. Define Acceptable Behavior: This first thing all CEOs need to do is to accept responsibility for any “corporate crazies” who have taken residence in your organization. They serve at your pleasure and are your issue to deal with. Rest assured that if their behavior is bothering you, then it’s highly probable that their behavior is adversely impact others to an even greater degree. Just having a definition for what constitutes acceptable behavior is a positive step in containing the crazies. Creating a framework for decisioning, using a published delegation of authority statement, encouraging sound business practices in collaboration, team building, leadership development, and talent management will all help even out the uneven. Having clearly defined job descriptions so that people know what’s expected of them and a well articulated chain of command to allow for effective communication will also help people to play nicely.

2. Hit Conflict Head-on: While you can’t always prevent conflicts it has been my experience that the secret to conflict resolution is in fact conflict prevention where possible. By actually seeking out areas of potential conflict and proactively intervening in a fair and decisive fashion you will likely prevent certain conflicts from ever arising and if a conflict does flair up, you will likely minimize its severity by dealing with it quickly.

3. Understand the WIIFM Factor: Understanding the other person’s WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) position is critical. It is absolutely essential to understand other’s motivations prior to weighing in. Other than the obvious solution for dealing with difficult people (choosing not to deal with them at all), the best way to calm the perpetual storm is to help them achieve their objectives. If you approach problem relationships from the perspective of taking the action that will help others best achieve their goals, you will find few obstacles will stand in your way with regard to resolving conflict.

4. The Importance Factor: Pick your battles and avoid conflict for the sake of conflict. However if the issue is important enough to create a conflict then it is surely important enough to resolve. If the issue, circumstance or situation is important enough, and there is enough at stake, people will do what is necessary to open lines of communication and close positional gaps.

5. View Conflict as Opportunity: Hidden within virtually every conflict is the potential for a tremendous teaching/development opportunity. Where there is disagreement there is an inherent potential for growth and development. If you’re a CEO who doesn’t leverage conflict for team building and leadership development purposes you’re missing a great opportunity.

Bottom line: If you can’t avoid the crazies there is still hope. I sincerely believe productive working relationships can be formed with even the most difficult of people where there is a sincere desire/need to do so. Turning the other cheek, compromise, forgiveness, compassion, empathy, finding common ground, being an active listener, service above self and numerous other approaches will always allow one to be successful in building rapport if the underlying desire is strong enough. If taking the high road fails, or is not the best course of action, then relax, you’re the CEO; you can always let them go, which is probably what you should have done long ago.