I just got a follow-up e-mail from “Bob”, an internal Industrial Relations/Human Resources professional within one of our larger Clients. He was a participant at a leadership fundamentals workshop I ran in June. Another participant in that session was an extremely vocal and negative supervisor who continually complained about her inability to lead because of their union contract. Shortly after presenting my revised model around our fundamental choice of Leading, Following, or Wallowing (the old model was Navigator/Survivor/Victim) I put up this slide for discussion:

“Management frequently blames unions or civil-service regulations or Human Resources departments for delays in dealing with poor performers. To the extent we have been able to study this, our data do not bear this out. The problem of management’s unwillingness to face up to poor performers appears unrelated to those variables. For example our data show little difference between the way workers in unionized and on-unionized companies respond to the question about the company facing up to poor performers. The problem therefore appears to lie in management, not in the constraints imposed by unions.”
The Enthusiastic Employee, David Sirota, Louis A. Mischkind & Michael Irwin Meltzer

“Joanie” objected and gave examples of how her hands were tied by the company’s union contract and there was nothing she could do about the poor performers she was forced to continue working with. The IR/HR professional said to her “I can help with exactly your situation. There is a leadership process that we’ve developed with the union to help you. Call me.” This quieted Joanie on that issue. But she soon found other things about her job and with the company to complain.

After the workshop Bob talked to me about how frustrated he was by similar excuses coming from some supervisors and managers who chose to slip below the line rather than lead. Now he just updated me a month later with an e-mail that he still had not heard from Joanie. We agreed that she was one of those unfortunate and unhappy sorts who is determined to be a wallowing victim. And she is resolved not to let anyone talk her out of her comfortable misery. Some people seem to be most comfortable loudly complaining and really don’t want anyone to show them how they can get themselves above the line and start leading. Bob and I need to move on to work with those who want to do and get better.