Dear Bob ...
"Mark" (not his real name) is my smartest manager. I mean that -- he's a very bright guy who learns quickly and can process information with the best of them. He's reasonably popular with his direct reports, but he drives his peers nuts.
[ Also on InfoWorld: How do you encourage workers to keep contributing to the company? Try nurturing their enthusiasm and inspiration, as Bob suggests. | Keep up on career advice with Bob Lewis' Advice Line newsletter. ]
I'm siding with his peers -- he drives me nuts too, because when situations arise that in his opinion shouldn't arise, his response is to focus on the wrongness of the situation instead of what to do about it. If he were skiiing and saw an avalanche heading his way, he'd complain that it isn't avalanche season instead of skiing out of the way.
More to the point, if my boss drops a high-priority request on us, Mark won't be the person who says, "Here's how I think we should handle it."
Instead, he'll say, "Your boss shouldn't have dropped this request on us." He might even critique the request, helpfully explaining to me what the request should have been instead.
Mark thinks he's destined for greater things. I think that if he doesn't figure this out, he's destined for career stagnation, and as he's only in his mid-30s, he's going to have a long stagnate in front of him.
Any thoughts on how I might coach a person like this? Or is the situation hopeless?
- Middle Manager
Dear MM ...
Hopeless? No situation is entirely hopeless, so long as everyone involved still has a pulse and functioning central nervous system.
The odds? That's a different matter, and they aren't very good. By now, if Mark was going to figure this out, he'd most likely have pieced it together already. Still, you say he's smart, so there are some possibilities.
My guess is that Mark is a "projective perfectionist" (my term). That is, he projects his perfectionism on the world, and when the world doesn't live up to his expectations of how it ought to behave, he faults the world for not operating properly. For a projective perfectionist, people are the ultimate horror because of everything in the world, they're the component most likely to violate the "rules" as the projective perfectionist envisions them.