It’s late Friday afternoon. You are sitting in your office, exhausted and frustrated. The week could not have been worse. The project is a mess, the team is in disarray and the VP is breathing down your neck. You have fought off about a dozen fires since morning. You almost had a fist-fight with that marketing ‘dude’. You are not even thinking about the upcoming conversation with the VP. The weekend is ruined. The best you can do to soothe yourself is by believing that its just one of those days (though you think there have been too many of them lately).
There was a knock at the door.
It’s Neville (hint: inspiration from Harry Potter series).
Gosh, no. With Neville, you know its trouble. The expressions on his face do not suggest otherwise.
“Boss, we have a problem”.
“I am listening”.
“I have been trying to get this fixed by myself for past 3 days, hoping it will go away. I fear that we have hit a hard rock. Our credit card processing system for the upcoming launch is completely broken. We do not have a solution.”
So only when you thought your day could not get worse, Neville proved you wrong.
What would you do?
Your heart tells you to leap on him and grab his neck. Somehow you manage to take a deep breath and count till 10.
You smile (it hurts) and say “Neville, thank you for letting me know”.
What Neville has done is to voluntarily communicate to you a problem, a failure and warning for further calamity – all arguably due to his own doing. He may have come over to you a couple of days earlier, but he still came and told you rather than you finding out the hard way (say, the VP telling you!).
The worst response would have been to grab Neville by his neck!
Because while you may be where you are because of Neville, the key is that he proactively communicated to you the problem. He was able to take the decision of giving the bad news to his boss. He took the plunge of getting up from his seat and walking to your office, and delivering it despite the expressions on your face.
The process is more important than the situation. The behavior of Neville communicating a problem in advance is vastly more important and effective than Neville’s shortcomings in his work. The consequences of him not communicating are much more than he communicating late. You are now at-least aware of the problem and can deal with it (over the weekend!).
Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional. A key indicator of you as a manager growing up is your ability to start differentiating between seemingly same or overlapping things – for example, the process and a situation.
Process lies above the situation. While the situation and its causes need to be addressed (even if it involves putting Neville in community service), but right now, it’s the process behaviors that are important than situational responses. If you as a manager react emotionally to the situation (very natural indeed) you are essentially discouraging the process behaviors in future. And that is fundamentally worse!
This differentiations between the process and situation is a fundamental one for managers to move to next level. It forces them to evaluate things at two levels – a situational one with associated emotions, the other a higher abstract level with a longer perspective.