In many ways, Janet was a great boss. She spent time with
her people and knew them and their work. She cared about people, helped them
grow and develop, and protected them from the random acts of stupidity by the
bosses above here. There was just one thing, one phrase, really.
“How hard can it be?”
It was Janet’s signature phrase. She’d call a team member in and review some
new project or assignment. Objections were met with, “How hard can it be?” Team
members left Janet’s office frustrated, but they put up with it because Janet
was such a good boss in so many ways. Until Ellie.
Ellie transferred into the department because she wanted to work with Janet.
Around the end of her first week, Janet called her in and added an assignment to
Ellie’s already long To Do list. When Ellie objected, she got the normal
response. “How hard can it be?” She got it more than once. She left the office
frustrated. So far, things were normal.
On Monday morning, Janet walked in to find a piece of paper on her desk.
There were three columns on the paper. The first one was labeled “What I had to
do this week before my new assignment.” The second was: “Everything I have to
add to make this assignment work.” The third was: “What my week looks like now.”
Each column had time estimates for every item with a total at them bottom. Below
that was a single sentence.
“That’s how hard it can be.”
When she stopped fuming and then stopped laughing, Janet called Ellie. “OK,”
she said, “I get it, now come in here and let’s see what we can do about
It didn’t take long to take care of Ellie’s issues, but Janet was savvy
enough to realize that this wasn’t only a problem with Ellie’s workload. She
sent an email to the whole team, and then spent the next couple of days meeting
with each one to look at their workload. And she added a sign to her desk where
she could see it easily. It said, “It can be very hard. So listen.”
Boss’s Bottom Line
Sometimes good bosses get away with bad behavior because their team members
like them and don’t want to upset them. Try to be especially sensitive to the
problems you create for your team. If you catch yourself creating the problem,
apologize and fix it.