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righting the ship after a leadership mistake

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Hi All

Made a mistake last week on one of my projects.   I have a difficult Procurement guy who is running the tender process to buy some software system.  I am the project manager and this procurement activity is happening inside my project and we have all been working on it together.  This guy is strangely oppositional.  He seems to want to be in charge but at the same time take no responsibility for anything.   We have all the vendor's presenting to us soon and its a big event with Exec coming.

My mistake was I had a meeting with this guy and two managers on Thursday and at the end of the meeting when I started organising some details about this presentation he said it was a procurement event and I stupidly went along with that to preserve the peace.

That is wrong.  His areas of responsibility are: the evaluation process (i.e. how we choose), making sure we follow the procurement rules and communicating with the vendors.

I am responsible for the outcomes in the project, i.e. making sure we get a vendor with a good product who can get it delivered.  I am also responsible for making sure we are an effective team and removing any roadblocks.

Then this guy cracked out next day, emailed our whole team, exclamation marks everywhere, saying me and another manager were giving him different instructions and as a result he had to go back to one of the vendors and change some dates.  Frankly small potatoes.  The arrangements were corrected same afternoon and on a Friday afternoon I very much doubt the vendor would have locked in any of their people.

He selectively attached my email where I was saying yep it was a procurement matter.  He did not attach the full trail which included me asking him some questions about what was going on which he never replied to.  He said we had discussed but left out the factthat the discussion was still in progress.

So that's the what happened.

Now for who are we dealing with:

This guy is very shifty.  He writes cryptic emails and talks in riddles in meetings so he can twist meanings.   He complains about too many meetings (so he can use his email tricks).  And only uses chat when it benefits him.  E.g. if I go to him on chat he goes from available to 'away' straight away but he will drop things into group chats. He also overtalks and tries to monopolise air time. So I’d say in PU terms his Modus Operandi is combination of dominant and stickler for the rules.


Next onto what I did about it.   Remembering the PU principles of keeping things light with difficult people and keeping emails clean.   The same afternoon he sent out this blaming email to the whole team I replied:

Hi Nitish

Thank you for organising this for the Team - amazing work 🙂

Sounds like there is a bit to unpack there.  I will book a meeting for us on Monday.

Then I sent a meeting invite for Monday that was just us getting on with organising the presentation.   Taking the Exec attitude of I ain't got time for this petty shit let's get on with it.  And I included plenty of detail on to point out that procurement isn't so special and I know about it too.



Now onto the next moves.  Procurement will finish in a few weeks so no need to take this guy down just move him to win/win thinking and stop making noise.

  • I have to get this guy into meetings so I get more intel and limit his email traps (keep enemies closer)
  • Need to make sure he doesn't take over the key activity on the project and make me look weak in front of Exec at this preso.

Soo... what I was planning.

At beginning of this meeting tomorrow with this guy and other 2 managers.  Say:

Look before we get into it there seemed to be some confusion about lanes last week -  came up a couple of times which I don't want because we're all mates here. 

I wear the overall accountability for the team and the work in the project.  (Empower myself)   Nitish you  have lead on the vendor evaluation process procurement rules and own the relationship with the vendors.  And you have been doing an amazing job while juggling many things. (Re-empower him)  Does that make sense Nitish?

I'm thinking say the above at the beginning of the meeting because this guy might opt for a power showdown anyway so might as well take the high ground.

And I'm going to book in with this guy weekly to monitor the procurement.  Meeting invite will say:

Hi Nitish

Here's a placeholder catch-up for us.  

You've run a great procurement process.  I find emails can easily get misunderstood or overlooked and you're so busy we seem to have trouble connecting on Teams.

We are all on multiple projects but Procurement is important - want to make sure this gets my focus.  That we're running well and you get any support you need.   We will only use this slot if we need it.  If we both agree that everything is on track on a given week can give the time back.

Not an easy one.  Would be happy to hear any thoughts guys.

Doh!  Sorry Ali  - should have posted this in work or leadership subs.  Please feel free to move.

My two cents based on my understanding of the situation:

  • he seems to me the classic psychopath. Signs are: manufacturing situations to frame others; leading you into buying his "frame" and then reversing back on it faking that you were the one to suggest what he led you to; not wanting to be in multiple people meetings (classic sign, so that he can manipulate what was said); writing in an unclear way to engender misunderstanding on purpose and then twist things to blame others.
  • I wouldn't buy into the manipulative frame you made any mistakes here. Based on what you write, I don't see any mistakes.
  • I personally would tone down any friendliness in your responses. I wouldn't compliment him: if you do, he later will use your compliments to imply the blame sits solely on your shoulders. Instead I would be at the very least neutral.
  • I would consider answering his email with the "YOU MADE A MISTAKE!!!" content with something super-polite, but also super pushing back. Something like:

"Hello X,

[warm introduction to ease-in the pushback]

That said, I have read your email below with much surprise on my side.

From your tone, it seems you might be implying that I didn't get the details correct because you write ...

Instead, I clearly remember me asking you more than once, via email and in person, if ...

Then on ... you said ..., which of course could only mean...

Now, as to how to proceed, it's perfectly fine if you want to go back on your prior decision to ...; however I would appreciate if next time you could..., because the worst thing for me is having these misunderstanding which we could easily solve by streamlining the process a bit more.

[warm closing to ease-out the pushback]

* click on blockquote to expand

You could also consider saying something similar to the above in person in front of him and others (to whom he sent the email) at the earliest next time, if you already answered it neutrally.

From now on, I also would consider starting doing the following:

  • refuse one-on-one meetings with him;
  • document everything in writing (if he tells you to do something, from now on you send him an email with what he told you clearly spelt out)
  •  ask for clarifications in writing (as you did) and if he doesn't answer, you send him a follow-up email saying that since you didn't receive an answer in time, you'll interpret his instructions as meaning ... (clearly spelled out so you later have a defense)
Lucio Buffalmano, Transitioned and 2 other users have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoTransitionedKavalierDGX37

Thanks Bel

The bit about interpreting his non response as what I want is gold.  I haven't hit a non responder for a long time forgot how to deal.

The challenge with this situation is its a very nice nice conflict avoidance culture. If I can keep the rants and legalistic  on his side.  And give friendly explanations like to a small child.  That s my initial  thinking but very open to other approaches.   Good case study actually because these situations with super collaborative environments where still have to deal with the occasional abusive take no prisoners player are quite common.

I think it's a great answer from Bel.

Some 2 cents on my side (I'm too far away from thsi situation to give anyting more than 2 cents):

  • Agree don't over-compliment this guy. If you must pass a positive judgment, then simply say "your responsibility are X, and so far good job", no more
    • May be used against you
    • May be seen as a sign of weakness
    • May be seen as a poor judgment from a leadership point of view
  • Good idea on weekly meetings, see if that helps puling ranks. It's possible a stronger oversight will send the message he can't fuck around
  • Limit emails to this type of person.
    • Ask for emails, as Bel says, but you use them more sparingly
    • Talk more in person or call. The weekly meetings are perfect in that sense
  • Good call on opening the meeting with the exec and setting the right frame

As for answering his initial nasty power move email blaming you, I'm more in line with your approach of ignoring the power move and moving to solutions than Bel's approach to escalating in this case (except, without the compliment, which felt out of place there).
Since he's out in a few weeks, it may be just simpler and lower risk to let him fizzle away.

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Hi Lucio,
I am curious as to this point:
Quote from Lucio Buffalmano on May 15, 2023, 11:47 am
  • Limit emails to this type of person.
    • Ask for emails, as Bel says, but you use them more sparingly
    • Talk more in person or call. The weekly meetings are perfect in that sense.

In my mind, speaking more in writing is a way to get proof of what was said by both parties, but now I suppose writing less may be a way to avoid escalations, or to avoid being tied down oneself on what one writes.

EDIT: I also suppose it's a way of avoiding creating opportunities for conflict.

Yeah, you're right in terms of recording and "properly CYA".

My approach is to limit the scope for time-wasting with games.

One can always reply emails by adding various CCs and create an annoyance, but they cannot do that with a phone call (and they'll look a lot worse if they start the annoyance via email themselves, without replying to your email).

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Got it, thank you Lucio.

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