Are You a Meanie? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I am a senior director for a large multinational organization.

I am good at what I do, my employees love working for me, and I’ve always received good feedback from my boss. At my last review, though, I didn’t get the promotion to VP that I expected. My boss told me she didn’t think I was strategic enough with my hires and that I was too easy on my people.

I developed a plan to address the feedback, got my boss to sign off on it, and I was feeling pretty good about it.

Since the meeting with my boss, I have:

  1. let go of two people who were never going to be quite right for the jobs they were in—and had already been on performance plans for too long;
  2. given people some hard feedback and created development plans for them; and
  3. asked some other folks who were slacking to take on a few more responsibilities.

Well, wouldn’t you know—they all went running to my boss to complain about what a “meanie” I am. Now my boss is coming down on me for doing exactly what she told me to do!

Can’t Have It Both Ways

Dear Can’t Have It Both Ways,

You are right. You can’t. It is really hard to get the right people in the right seats and have them all fully engaged and living up to their full potential. But don’t quit now. You know what I am going to say: sit down with your boss and ask her exactly how she would have had you proceed differently. But given the way she reacted, it is pretty clear that you ultimately are on your own.

So the ones you really need to talk to are your people—who, by the way, are in shock because their big, soft, teddy bear of a boss has all at once turned into a performance hound. Have an all-hands-on-deck meeting. Share with everyone the context for what is going on. Tell them the organization perceives you as too soft and you realize you have allowed less than stellar performances. Ask them what they think you should do—what they think you should all do. Tell them your goal is to have each person be exactly the right one in the right job, loving their work and challenged just enough but not too much. Tell them you erred in the past by being too nice and you want to learn how to balance being a kind person who values performance—one who is tough but fair. Involve them in the problem they all colluded with you in creating. The self motivated top performers will be excited and will participate. And the ones who prefer to blame and criticize will—well, they’ll blame and criticize. Who do you want on your team?

Challenge your team to have the hard conversations. Listen when they come and talk to you. Empathize with their points of view and become articulate in advocating for your own. Make a direct request to your people to work with you on the plan and to support you in executing it.

Stay strong. You will get through this and you will be the more effective leader for it. And who knows, you might just get that promotion.

Love, Madeleine

About the author


Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

4 thoughts on “Are You a Meanie? Ask Madeleine

  1. The challenge for every leader is to balance the need for performance with maintaining good relationships. Both matter and neither can or should be neglected for the other. Where the mistake is usually made is that the leader believes they can’t have both, so they lean one way of the other too much. I suggest “The Five Levels of Leadership” by John Maxwell as a good starting point to understand the balance.

  2. Thank you for answering question. But, how as a middle manager do you handle the leader who behaves as “Do as I say, not as I do” and why wouldn’t this leader support the manager when the employees complain tahini the opportunity to share his/her vision with those employees. The culture and expectations of the organization needs to start at the top with consistency throughout.

  3. I agree completely, and very few people have that kind of consistency in their organization because…well, because people are illogical and inconsistent. All of what we teach at Blanchard is to help managers be more logical and consistent in their conversations. It makes such a difference! Thank you for your comment.

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