Driven to Distraction – a NL Case Study

ANYBODY who watched the excellent film A Few Good Men will know all about a Code Red. Jack Nicholson’s character, Colonel Nathan Jessup, famously ordered one. Well don’t talk to Martin Peak about colour codes. A respected businessman and leader of men – a few good ones at that – he has been tormented by them. In fact colour codes are a mere bi-product of his anguish, the distress in his life caused by his boss, who suffers from Asperger Syndrome.

So driven to distraction was he – in what has become an extremely difficult time in his career – Martin was prompted to ask advice from David Taylor, who was able to help him deal with what seemed like being trapped in a dark room. With no way out.

Martin explained: ‘Having worked in the financial and education sectors for more than 25 years I have encountered many different management styles. I have adopted some, and have adapted my own too as a result.

‘In latter years as a senior manager I am being managed by someone I have found particularly challenging. With poor interpersonal skills and an attention to the micro not helpful in guiding the organisation strategically, I am number two to a very challenging senior manager.

‘A typical meeting has a highly operational and colour-coded agenda with many points, which should be connected from a strategic perspective, remaining discrete and unconnected (they are only connected by personalised colour themes, not by the nature of content or strategic importance).

‘My efforts to connect issues are met with a ‘we don’t have time to discuss this – let’s move on’ response. The individual is humourless and will email with perhaps 10-20 requests per day and then have daily follow-ups to establish status of completion. These may come direct from his PA, or from him, or more often from both separately.’

The situation has left Martin at the end of his tether. He continued: ‘Another characteristic is the sending of emails by staff accountable to this executive (my senior team) without copying the senior manager in.

‘This causes confusion and often undermines the senior managers indirectly. The work environment is chaotic, draining, very tense and totally uncertain. The senior team is highly ineffective as a result and risks to the business are growing.’

Enter Naked Leader founder, David Taylor, who managed to throw a new light on Martin’s problem and get him to view it in a positive way.

‘Martin told me his boss doesn’t like detail, is paranoid about projects and is not one who is comfortable in conversation,’ says David.

‘This man also emails him at 8am for updates having already requested them the previous evening. I told Martin he was in the best situation in the world. Why? Because his boss is so predictable.

‘I told him to behave in the same way. If his boss wants a clipped conversation, then he should keep what he says to him brief. If his boss wants to get straight to the point, he should get straight to the point. And if he knows he is going to get an email at 8am, he should email him the night before. It’s far easier to deal with someone with totally predictable behaviour.’

Martin was taken with the advice from David and explained: ‘I relayed all my thoughts to David, as well as additional examples, and he proposed that this individual may have Asperger Syndrome and gave me several coping strategies to help manage them.

‘In less than an hour I came away from the meeting with David feeling empowered and revitalised. With a highly practical approach David was able to get to the nub of what was a really an ‘end of tether’ situation for me and with confidence and comfort gave me light at the end of a very dark tunnel indeed.

‘The revelatory comment from David was that I should take great confidence in the knowledge that the way my boss was behaving was, however insanely chaotic, totally predictable and such predictability was the answer.

‘I’m taking every day as it comes now, have altered the way I interact verbally and electronically with this individual, and am making progress slowly. I can’t say everything is great – progress is very slow – but at least I can now see that I’m not alone in dealing with people of this type and that there are ways they can be managed. The resolution, such as it is, is more about my frame of mind in work rather than strategies for changing the individual at the heart of the problem.’

Another satisfied customer! For more information on leadership days with a Naked Leader expert, contact Rosalind Howard on 01483 766502 or email rosalindhoward@nakedleader.com



10 Comments

  • Mark

    Coping with such a difficult boss must have been extremely hard. I assume he must have left his position as to try and cope with that sort of burden must be awful. I applaud the way he has dealt with it.

  • Chris

    That must have been difficult I accept that. But Asperger Syndrome has to be dealt with carefully. The poeople can't really help what they are saying and doing. Sometimes you just have to accept that it's part of the job and get on with it, no matter how your boss reacts. If you want to earn lots of money sometimes you have to make sacrifices.

  • mary

    One of the reasons I decided to break away from working for someone else was down to a similar experience. I worked for a woman that was jealous of me and everything I stood for. I used to dress in the way I thought showed off my real self and was comfortable with that. A rather dowdy individual, my boss and I clashed and it was a personality issue. I still felt that I was in my rights but she made my life very difficult so I can empathize with the problems Martin faced. There are two ways to deal with it. Put up with it or leave, although I accept that leaving is not always easy.

  • paul charlton

    Good for you Mary if you decided to do something about it. I hope Martin did too. For someone to be treated unfairly because the other person has little or no social graces is hard to take. It makes you wonder how they got to that position in the first place. Did they threaten someone unless they got promotion? Did they play the disability card and get promotion that way. 'The only reason you aren't promoting me is because…' It does happen a lot. Still, the main issue is that people have to do something about it if they aren't happy. To take action. To make a choice.

  • paul charlton

    Thanks all for your comments. I believe Martin was getting on better with his boss and then decided to leave the company as he had a better opportunity. Can't say I blame him for trying something new, especially with the way he was being treated.

  • markaah

    How I wished I could have had this advice previously. However, while my current boss may not have a recognisable condition, the predictability and micro mangement exhibited does ring true here also. Still early days, but will hang on to this advice and amend my attitude to work accordingly.Thank you.

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  • chris

    As I mentioned, making sacrifices for a big salary comes with the job. When you have a demanding boss and you are not actually earning much. That's difficult to take.

  • mark

    My advice would be to continue to be yourself and don't be intimidated by this individual. There are times when we all get flustered at work and come up against people we would prefer not to work with but that's life. Obviously if there is a problem, medically, with that individual it can present a challenge. I suppose it's a case of being the best we can be and try to get on with things without being affected by outside pressures we can do nothing about. easier said than done I suspect.

  • chris

    If Martin was getting well paid for the job he ought to be dealing with that type of scenario. That's what those guys are paid for.

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