Leadership Scenario 5
Scenario 5
A new leader was appointed to oversee a team of reservationists working
for a large travel company. The work of the department involved handling
enquiries and taking reservation bookings for clients. When she started, the
new leader sat with the team members and outlined her expectations and
also addressed some concerns the team had about aspects of the job.
Since then, the team generally worked well and the leader had not had any
major staffing issues to deal with. However, one problem arose
unexpectedly which caused significant difficulties.
One of the girls, the longest-serving and best member of the team, began
taking unscheduled breaks usually towards the end of the day. She was
never gone too long but the leader felt it wasn’t acceptable just to
disappear like that. Upon speaking to her about it, the employee explained
that when she had completed her workload for the day, she did pop out for
an occasional smoke. In any case, she ‘did a lot more work than the others
so she deserved it and anyway it wasn’t affecting anyone else’. The team
leader emphasised that it wasn’t permissible to take unscheduled breaks
because if she allowed her to do it, then everyone would end up expecting
the same. If she had finished her workload for the day, there were other
things that could be done. But despite this chat, the leader noticed that this
girl continued to take unscheduled breaks occasionally.
The leader tried the engaging approach again, hoping to come to a
reasonable agreement but the team member remained obstinate. So the
leader explained that she would no longer tolerate the unscheduled breaks
and the team member reluctantly agreed to stop taking them. But different
problems later arose. Due to not getting her way, the girls performance
dropped and she became slower at her work. Over time, she became more
and more difficult and despite the best efforts of the leader in trying to
reason with her, nothing seemed to work. Eventually, this led to disciplinary
action being taken with the girl and ended in her leaving the company of
her own accord.
Before you read on, consider the following:
What was the problem facing the new leader?
READ_C11.QXP 1/10/07 12:05 Page 137
How did she deal with it?
What are your thoughts on the leadership style she adopted?
Like all leadership problems at work, there are rarely perfect solutions. On
the one hand, it would be nice to be flexible with a good employee, but on
the other it is not possible to have separate rules for each team member. In
this case, the team leader began with an engaging style in seeking to resolve
the situation through discussion. But this didn’t work. Then she moved to
a more steering style and defined for the team member what solution was
acceptable, i.e. no unscheduled breaks. The particular team member didn’t
like this and eventually left.
What was really behind this issue was that the girl in question had applied
for the leader’s position but had been overlooked. The leader who was
appointed did try a number of approaches, but the girl could never get over
her resentment towards the company. Sometimes there is no alternative
but to lose a disgruntled team member when all other approaches fail. It is
a shame when this happens, but a worse case scenario is having every
member of the team thinking they can set their own terms, even over what
seems like a relatively minor issue. If this girl had been allowed more
breaks than everyone else, it would only have been a matter of time until
other team members started to look for special terms of some kind. A lot
of employees feel they work harder than others, so where do you draw the
Key learning points from Scenario 5
This scenario shows that it’s never easy to lead people and even when
a leader tries to do the right things, it doesn’t always work. But the
leader did try to deal with the problem in the correct way and that is
the key.
The leader did adopt a number of approaches, but personal resent-
ment lay behind the problem and you may encounter similar
situations. All you can do is deal with it in as professional a manner
as possible.
Sometimes having tried everything reasonable, there is no alternative
but to lose an unhappy team member even when they are a strong per-
READ_C11.QXP 1/10/07 12:05 Page 138

Get Ready To Lead? now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience books, live events, courses curated by job role, and more from O’Reilly and nearly 200 top publishers.