If so, it’s time to look closely at what’s going on around you.
Whether you’re a supervisor, a team leader, or a coworker, you need the cooperation of others to get your work done.
There’s always information, a decision, a deliverable, or a resource needed to bring an assignment to closure. The employee who controls any one of them has the power to help or hinder us.
To be held hostage by our employees and coworkers is to be manipulated by them for their own purposes. They withhold what we need to get what they want.
For some employees, it’s a tactic to insulate themselves from criticism or position themselves for reward.
It may be a sign that employees think their managers or coworkers are naïve, uninformed, unfair, or self-serving.
It can also be a self-preservation tactic, an effort to protect their turf or to avoid changes that will expose their weaknesses.
The 7 signs
Hostage-taking at work doesn’t unfold like it does on the high seas. It’s gradual and often unnoticed until we’re stymied.
To avoid being ensnared, we need to pay attention to what we see and what we hear, asking questions and intervening when there are signs.
You know you’re being held hostage when:
- You never get a straight answer—Information you request is never fully available, requires additional analysis, and can only be untangled by your employee.
- You’re told, “No one else can”—Your employee or coworker is the only person in your work group who has the knowledge, technical capability, experience, or access that is needed to complete the assignment. If s/he can’t do the work, you’re stuck.
- Your employee has the clout—An employee, not you, has the political pull with department heads, regulators, community/political leaders, and key customers. (This often happens to new managers who take over established departments of veteran employees.)
- You can be easily undercut— When your employee is perceived as knowing more about process mechanics, coworker issues, and customer concerns, s/he can marginalize your credibility.
- You’re out of the loop—When your employee gets sensitive and/or important information before you do, s/he is in a position to take action in a way that enhances his/her stature and diminishes yours.
- Employee loyalties shift—When employees have more confidence in the insights, direction, and knowledge of a coworker than you, that employee becomes a default leader, capable of supporting or undermining you.
- You can’t get things done—When your employees are pulling the strings, they are deciding what will get done and at what pace. Without you knowing it, you’re suddenly reporting to them.
It’s an odd thing when an employee holds us hostage. We can try to ignore it, but I guarantee you, it won’t go away. I know because it’s happened to me.
The solution is to break free from the employee actions that are working against you by:
- Holding employees accountable for delivering information/results as requested
- Cross-training so there is always capability back-up
- Building your own credibility with key players and influencers
- Understanding the specifics about how work is done and the issues
- Building strong internal relationships that will keep you informed
- Working with your employees to build their trust and confidence
- Developing a “get it done” culture and driving it
You can only get caught in a hostage situation if you make yourself vulnerable.
Employees don’t set out to undermine their supervisors or coworkers. Just like us, they want to succeed in what often looks like a tangled jungle to them. We all do what’s needed to keep our careers safe.
Part of our job is to be a catalyst for the kind of shared success that comes from working together instead of being at odds.
What have been your experiences? I’d love to hear from you.
Photo: Duckie Hostage Crisis #001from jdsmith1021 via Flickr