It wasn’t too long after Bob had joined Kmart as a Vice-President he ran into our resident manipulator.
Kmart’s manipulator was as good as they come. He had spent his entire career fine-tuning his skill at twisting facts and creating diversions. Virtually every executive ranked lower than the president had fallen victim to the manipulator’s craftsmanship.
Nobody had warned Bob about the manipulator. He made the discovery on his own.
At the time, our manipulator was responsible for the distribution department. Under his command were the people placing orders for advertised merchandise. They were also to alert the proper people in the event the advertised merchandise would not arrive in stores on time. One Friday the Store Operations Department began to get calls from stores complaining about a missing item. There had been no alerts from the manipulator's people.
Bob, the head of the distribution centers, the vice president of merchandising, and the manipulator were called into a meeting with the president to explain what was going on.
The manipulator immediately blamed the head of the distribution department by saying, “the distribution centers aren’t prioritizing the ad orders to receive them first. They haven’t unloaded the trucks with the ad merchandise.” His allegation made it sound like it was strictly the distribution centers’ fault merchandise is not in the stores. Bob began to do his own independent investigation. He found the manipulator was correct as the distribution centers had not unloaded the trucks. The reason – no orders had ever been placed -- therefore there were no trucks to unload.
The manipulator was well aware of this fact when he had been in the meeting, but gave only a partial truth to deflect attention. Everyone was focused for the rest of the Friday at why the distribution centers had failed to prioritize ad shipments.
By Monday new emergencies and hot issues had surfaced and the reason for the missing ad merchandise was no longer important to upper management.
The manipulator had succeeded in keeping his area out of trouble. Bob had also learned who the manipulator was.
Several months later the manipulator’s department had made another major mistake. Bob had done research and knew what had happened in advance of the big meeting to discuss the problem. The manipulator got wind that Bob had been nosing around.
To threaten Bob into silence, the manipulator came by Bob’s office in advance of the meeting.
The manipulator had learned that a new goal established by CEO Chuck Conaway was not being met. Meeting the goal was solely Bob’s responsibility. I was in Bob’s office when the manipulator came by. “I sure would hate to be in Chuck’s office when he finds out you’re not meeting the goal,” the manipulator said.
Bob gracefully replied, as he turned to the phone behind him, “I guess we should find out.”
The next sound in Bob’s office was on his intercom, “Chuck Conaway’s office.”
In one phone call Bob had disarmed the manipulator.
Why? Unlike the manipulator, Bob was not afraid to admit his own problems. He was always aware of shortcomings and made plans for realistic improvement. Chuck liked that about Bob because Chuck knew he could trust Bob.
This is an excerpt from my book “Life’s Leadership Lessons” a collection of 53 anecdotal leadership lessons, each with an anecdote and the application of the topic in your everyday life. It is designed for use in weekly staff meetings or for personal development.