Driven To Distraction – an NL Case Study Revisited

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



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