Good Operator – Shame about the Person!
There is a certain breed that turns up regularly as the defendant in a workplace investigation. I don’t like talking about them aloud in case someone hears. So I’ll just write about them instead.
I’ll call them the Pol-ego-tech. ‘Pol’ being generally politically inclined; ‘Ego’ because their ego is big but fragile when properly challenged; ‘Tech’ because they know a lot about some technical things that are useful for the organisation. Polegotech.
The Polegotech can be a male or female. The complainant in an investigation might describe them as harsh. Regularly they are described as being really ‘great at their job’, and an excellent technician’. Very often, they end up as a manager, not because they have the ability to lead and bring the best out of people but because they are ‘leading edge’ in the field and it’s an ‘honour’ for people to work for them. How many times have I heard third parties say ‘Suck it up Michael, a couple of years working with Fred and you’ll be at the top of your game.’
In the eyes of the Polegotech, most of us don’t meet the grade and without their firm hard-nosed approach, things just won’t get done. ‘Lightweight’ is a common term used by them to describe those with a softer or more conciliatory approach to work and life. When the ‘lightweight’ is not getting immediate traction with an initiative, the Polegotech will play hard ball, sometimes in a direct intimidating manner and often in a political way, demeaning the ‘lightweight’ and making others doubtful as to whether the ‘lightweight’ can ever succeed at doing anything.
The Polegotech is a divider. They thrive on other people’s uncertainty about each other. They fill the divide created by the uncertainty. Uncertainty often exists because those in key leadership roles fail to deliver the vision and focus that disempowers the Polegotech. If the Polegotech is in a management role, it will be up to his or her peers to be strong; to question and hold their often arrogant peer accountable.
Some typical Polegotech behaviours include:
- Subtly or directly undermining or disempowering others with the potential to be influential within the Polegotech’s political or professional sphere. A political animal.
- Sarcasm and subtle put downs toward those that question the Polegotech’s intent or logic
- Inconsistent use of logic and facts to support their strong views.
- Making people feel stupid, often in front of others. Suggesting the person they have put down needs to be ‘realistic’ and only complains due to their ‘low self-esteem’
- ‘Cutting people off’ or ‘cutting them down’ when they seem to be getting to understand what is ‘really going on’. This is often done politically, especially at the senior level.
The confusing aspect of a Polegotech is that they are sometimes right. They have a tendency to be convincing for a while. It is not until the organisation receives a pattern of complaints that it begins to realise that it has a problem. This is understandable. An organisation cannot go into panic mode every time it receives complaints about a person who pushes others to think or work more effectively or differently. Sometimes a manager who has good intent, is respectful but has a strong change agenda will make others feel uncomfortable. There may even be complaints against this person as an obstruction to a legitimate change agenda. So you need to be careful differentiating between a Polegotech and a strong manager or change agent.
So how does an organisation manage and minimise the impact of a Polegotech?
- Be on the front foot in training its people about what is expected in relation to behaviour – especially leaders. In this training, talk about what is legitimate behaviour and not legitimate behaviour that may result in discomfort to others.
- Demonstrate a strong commitment to workplace bullying, discrimination and harassment reporting systems and natural justice. If the senior team has no commitment to this, it could be lean times culturally because it means there is little accountability for behaviour even at the top.
- Don’t allow ‘political correctness’ to be the basis of operating professionally and fairly. This allows Polegotechs to gather support and divide between what they describe as ‘the realists’ and ‘PCs’.
- Politely and professionally make people who make complaints about inappropriate behaviour accountable for their statements. Get them to be specific about the behaviours they have experienced or witnessed.
- Don’t promote or recruit experts into managerial roles if they don’t show a hint leadership ability and genuine commitment to the organisation. Be prepared to train them, even if they do.
- Train managers in having challenging discussions as soon as they identify a team member behaving poorly.
- The top leader needs to be continually reinforcing a commitment to appropriate and ethical behaviour, if she or he cannot the organisation has a problem. It will be a breeding ground for Polegotechs.
I would love to read some further ways individuals and organisations respond to a Polegotech, and welcome your comments and further discussion below.