The Culture of Nice Versus Real Leadership

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Dear Bev,

I work for a large asset management company and recently took over our sales support team. I now work closely with one of our longer-time product specialists; I’ll call him “Bill.” I see he has been negligent for the last two years in this role. When I mentioned there were some areas I felt he could improve, he became very angry. He told me that the guy who had my role before was “hands-off” and “trusted” him and now he is being persecuted by me. I looked in his file for notes from the former person in charge and everything there was glowing. His (very light) review describes him as a team player who helps wherever possible.

Since I’ve taken over sales support, Bill has missed several important meetings (including one directly with a client) with no excuse other than he “got busy with other things,” and he has neglected to follow through with one of our larger clients with information they were promised. The rest of the team has told me they won’t work with Bill because he is so unreliable. I wanted to have a frank discussion about areas for change, but Bill shut down on me immediately saying I have always been “out to get him.”

I have never had a close enough relationship with Bill to want to “get him,” but I have often wondered why he was allowed to get away with doing so little when others around him work very hard. The person who vacated the role before me was known around here as Mr. Nice Guy. He was the one who would let you leave anytime you felt stressed and didn’t require much from people when they were here. We have an in-office policy of three days per week, but it was never enforced so I am often here with just our office manager to talk to.

Am I doing the wrong thing to try and get Bill to be a better performer? This isn’t a low-level role; he makes over $150 thousand per. We are not based in a major city so this is a highly competitive salary. I don’t know where someone would go to replicate it in our area. Seems to me like Bill should care a lot more than he does.