In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t the biggest argument that Derek and Catherine had ever had, but it was close. The trigger for this latest episode was six months previous, but neither of them recognised it at the time…
Six months before:
Derek was only twelve months into his role as a Sales Team Manager at Hamburg-Schmidt but relative to those that worked around him, he’d been there forever. Staff turnover at Hamburg-Schmidt was incredibly high. People who came to work in his team just didn’t seem to want to stay and he didn’t know why. In the last week alone, two of his twenty strong sales team had resigned without offering a good reason. He had tried really hard to create an environment where people could excel – he’d tried all sorts of things. He’d even put up an array of motivational posters on the walls of his part of the open plan office. The posters showed dynamic imagery with inspirational words underneath: words like “Aspire”, “Dream”, “Achieve”. His favourite was the one that showed a young man climbing on a rock face with a valley behind him. “Succeed” it said in bold white font beneath the image. The irony of it wasn’t lost on Derek. His favourite poster represented exactly what his department wasn’t doing.
Catherine had arrived a month ago, the eldest daughter of the CEO and full of swagger and cockiness. She’d come in on an MBA scheme with options for accelerated promotion. She’d shown an aptitude for selling, but also an open disdain for middle management – the part of the structure Derek now occupied. It was as though she just believed she’d inherit the company at one day and was already treating it as her own.
“It’s not much wonder this team is under performing Derek,” she announced one afternoon in a team meeting. “It’s all down to you. You’re a lazy leader. You just loaf around and you’re completely ineffective”. The team laughed.
Derek bristled with rage. Who did she think she was? This young wannabe who was trading off her Daddy’s position. From that moment on, he was on the back foot; off guard. He’d been in some strange positions as a manager before but this was new on him.
And so it began: the feud.
She’d been running rings round him since “loaf gate”. He’d become so absorbed in proving her wrong about his leadership that his team was beginning to unravel. The sales statistics were at rock bottom (although Catherine was consistently out pacing her targets). He was busy being busy: trying to find new ways to build the team up; researching team psychology; watching leadership videos on YouTube and listening to leadership podcasts. Everything he tried, she rebelled against and she managed to bring the rest of the team onto her side of the rebellion. He was neglecting normal business operations in favour of fire-fighting his problems with her. He was coming under scrutiny from the CEO (no doubt as a by product of her relationship with “dear old dad”). She had been openly critical of him and had become particularly adept at knowing which buttons to push in order to torment him. He felt trapped. The churn in staff was so great and overall performance so low. Her selling skills were the reason the department was not shut down. He couldn’t oppose her. He couldn’t sleep at night anymore and was having trouble keeping control of the kids. He couldn’t talk to his wife and all she saw was this moody guy that was no fun to be around anymore when he came home. He was at his wits end.
And so it came to be that in the midst of another dreadful team meeting on the 8th floor, where she was deriding him for something insignificant, he casually walked over to the window, opened it and jumped…
Wow. When I started this piece, I didn’t know this one would take me to that ending. There was no planning to this story – it just happened. It’s a bit dark for “pleasure writing” (and it’s short of the 750 limit) but in reflecting on it, I think it shows that bullying is not always exerted hierarchically, but it is a reflection of perceived power in a relationship. A combination of power, pressure and time can be a bad thing and I think it’s important to find ways through issues or get help to do so. I’m not an expert on this subject by any means and none of this is from personal experience – just a dark side of my imagination…
The prompt word for this Mutant 750 was “Loaf” – Verb: to idle one’s time away, typically by aimless wandering or loitering
Andy Ives – March 2017