Gut Check: Are You Letting Workplace Drama Get In the Way of Your Ability to Lead?

Vince Molinaro, Ph.D. Blog

One of the great things about my role is that I get to travel and speak with leaders all over the world.

It’s in those conversations that I really learn what leaders struggle with day-to-day. A while back, I was chatting with a small group of middle managers about the leadership challenges they faced, and one key theme emerged: increasingly, they were being forced to manage conflict and drama among their employees.

One leader nailed it when she said, “Sometimes I feel my actual job title should be Director of Workplace Drama.”  Everyone in the room laughed.

I inquired further about what they meant by “workplace drama.” An endless stream of stories erupted.

One leader described an ongoing skirmish between his team and another team in the company. Every day, this leader had to endure a constant barrage of disgruntled employees moaning and complaining about how the people on the other team were sabotaging their efforts.

Another leader described the challenge of managing a team member who was constantly sparking dissent and disruption.  He was constantly applying a negative lens to every issue, complaining and criticizing everything, and encouraging gossip. His behavior was a source of constant distraction, keeping the team from completing its most important tasks.

One other leader described dealing with an egocentric Vice President who was a consistent source of drama. Every decision made by his team was based on whether or not it would advance this VP’s personal reputation and career. Often, it lead his team to make stupid business decisions.

The common thread in these stories is pretty clear: the burden of dealing with a melodramatic employee was keeping these leaders from truly leading.

The stories I heard that day were both painful and funny. Painful because, we all pay a price when we deal with unnecessary drama and when we allow it to take over our working lives.  Funny because, the stories resemble episodes of The Office, Veep, Vice Principals or other workplace-based comedies.

I believe all leaders have an obligation to confront workplace drama when it emerges. Now, as I’ve found out from my own experience, that’s not an easy thing to do. However, if you are in a leadership role, you must take immediate steps to defuse workplace drama. The first step would be trying to figure out if managing dramatic employees is taking up too much of your time.

Here’s a quick checklist to see if you have become the Vice President of Workplace Drama:

  • Reflect on the last few days – and try to calculate how much time you’ve spent listening to a team member whine or complain about a people-related issue.
  • Try to identify how much time you’ve spent whining and complaining to a colleague about some drama in your organization.
  • Take a few minutes to think about how much mental energy you spend during personal time (evenings and weekends) stewing about people issues of your own.
  • How many mornings do you come into work with a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach because you know you will face another day of endless drama at work?

It’s important to remember that as humans, we have a natural penchant for drama. And we all indulge in a little dramatic behavior. However, as leaders, we have to ensure that it doesn’t go on too long or too often and eclipse our more pressing duties and tasks.

How can we address workplace drama? Stop putting off that difficult conversation you need to have with a colleague. Stop making your office a revolving door for whiners and complainers. Take action on those employees who do nothing but stir the pot every day. Consider showing some of the more dramatic employees the door.

You have to make a decision. Are you going to lead, or are you going to be the Vice President of Workplace Drama?

This week's gut check asks: are you letting workplace drama get in the way of your ability to lead?

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