Leadership Stories – The Unreasonable Request

One of my favorite Leadership Stories is the time the Senior Vice President came in and asked me to send out a message that he wanted all salaried employees to put in a minimum of a fifty hour week.

At the time I was his Human Resources Director. Now I understood that a fifty hour week was pretty routine and in most cases managers put in more hours than that.

But, the request totally caught me off guard. He had always been a reasonable person in the past. He generally never shot from the hip on anything. As a matter of fact in most cases he over thought things.

With that in mind I knew something had to be up.

Leadership Stories - The Unreasonable Request

He was almost angry when he said it. He followed up with telling me that while he was working his way up through the ranks it was always expected for salaried employees to put in a minimum of a fifty hour week.

I listened very attentively while he expressed himself.

When he was finally finished, I said that I agreed that there was an expectation for salaried employees to put in long hours. I told him there is no question that managing an operation takes hard work and long hours.

I wanted to get deeper into his reasoning so I began asking questions.

Leadership Stories - The Unreasonable Request

I knew it was more than just wanting to see managers (salaried employees) putting in long days, just because he had too when he was a unit manager. What was really bugging him .. I asked the question bluntly but politely, "What is not getting accomplished now?"

He hesitated a little and then started to answer but stopped. You could see he was trying to justify his demand.

Seeing that he was frustrated with the question I decided that I would carry my question a little further. I went on to tell him that anybody can look busy for ten hours a day, and still not accomplish a thing.

Leadership Stories - The Unreasonable Request

I told him there are some managers that can get ten hours of work done in six or less, and others that take twelve to fourteen hours to accomplish the same thing. Some may never accomplish it.

I asked him if it would be a better idea to reinforce his clearly defined expectations with his District Managers, so that they could carry those out with their unit managers.

I could see him thinking now.

I continued with letting him know that if the unit managers have clear expectations of what your goals are, then if they don't meet them we can take action. That action may be training, support, or worst case discipline.

The Unreasonable Request

Point is that we are looking for results not time.

He shook his head acknowledging that I was correct. He thanked me for challenging him on this request.

The point of this leadership story is that senior leadership sometimes needs to be asked the tough questions to flush out what is really motivating them.

Good leadership skills will enable or equip you to be able to do this without offending them. I have always been very successful asking questions, instead of stating a position.

A question is less confrontational. I may start out the question by saying something like, "Let me play devils advocate for just a minute ... " Then I would ask the question.

Leadership Stories - The Unreasonable Request

This should be a standard routine process when especially when changing or implementing policy that has a large impact.

If I would not have challenged his demand and put out a policy making every manager work a minimum of a ten hour day, I can tell you that productivity would have gone down, not up.

He was letting his emotions drive his actions. I was there to help him see that in a respectful way.

Thank you and May God Bless you!

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