Leadership Series (21) How To Cope With Petty Leader. By Victor A. Imhangbe

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Being petty look insignificance in our daily routine, but they can easily put off hardworking people to loss interest. Pettiness by a boss to his/her subordinate is something unimaginable and more practical than theoretical. I will try to define pettiness as treating some insignificant matter, by needlessly hammering on it and to an extent of blowing it out of proportion and holding on to it to inflict punishment against your associates, friends, or subordinates. In most cases person doing this is someone that is held in high esteem and utmost respect and dignity. I usually use petty to mean immature and a definite character flaw. We can use the following analogy as an example of pettiness:

Philip, Andrew, and Benson are working on a project for their end of year party. Philip insists that because the Dean handed him the paperwork for the project, he’s the head of the team, even though he’s not the department supervisor. At every meeting he somehow manages to work in a reference to his being the team leader. When the report is turned in, even though Andrew and Benson agreed that everyone should be listed alphabetically, Philip deliberately altered such agreement so that his name is first, “because I’m the team leader.”

As an aspiring politician which invariably makes you to be an aspiring leader, tolerance should be a virtue that will stand you out. Someone that is petty in character might work on inconsequential agenda or venture and living very important assignments just to connive and spend time doing something that is intended purely to hurt someone else. The reason is because the person was slightly rude to them. However, every individual has the tendency of being petty, but having the awareness will help you to cut it out of your personality.

It may surprise many people why pettiness and short sightedness should be a topic at all when treating leadership. This is so because they are both pervasive in all sizes and types of organisations and they suffocate performance. According to Eric Hansen and Ron A. Carucci, “We’ve seen both everywhere from the village justice court to the boardroom of a $50 billion company. Pettiness and short-sightedness shape behaviour to an almost frightening degree. We’ve seen executives paralyse their teams with a focus on minutia and exact figures so that the big picture never gets discussed. We’ve seen people leave literally three quarters of the money in a potential deal on the table because they refuse to think broadly about all the possibilities. Pettiness and short-sightedness undermine organisation at every level.

This subject matter is a bit technical in nature to be easily comprehended; hence, I would like to lift an excerpt from the work of Jon Mertz titled: “The Political Pettiness Snowball Effect”. The author opines, “There is no need to be petty in politics or in life. The temptation is present at times, but resisting the pettiness temptation speaks to our character”.

Rewind to earlier this week when Paul McCartney received the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. During his acceptance at the White House, Mr. McCartney said the following:

“It’s a fantastic honor (for) the Gershwin family to give me this incredible award and for me to be awarded it by the Library of Congress. And in fact, after the last eight years, it’s great to have a president who knows what a library is.”

Why? In a moment of great honor, why throw a barb at a former president? What was gained?
There is nothing gained by being petty. In this specific instance, it lowers the moment.
In politics, pettiness begets pettiness. People cannot stop. They feel an unnecessary need to respond in kind. And, so it goes… House Minority Leader John Boehner made the following statement:
“I hope he’ll apologize to the American people for his conduct which demeaned him, the White House and President Obama.”
What problem does the statement solve? Does President Obama really feel demeaned? What about the Library of Congress and Gershwin, weren’t they demeaned, too?
There is no purpose in this statement. It is simply petty. Just leave it alone. People recognize Mr. McCartney’s statement from what it was. Why respond with a meaningless statement?
Representative Boehner should know better, and he should rise above petty politics.
Boehner and McCartney need to learn from Joyce and Galarraga; they showed grace, humility, and honor.

The point is this: Rise above pettiness when it occurs. Don’t lower your character standards to respond. Make a better decision. Be a better person.
Sir Paul McCartney should focus on music and be gracious in times of being honored. Representative John Boehner should focus on passing good legislation and serve his constituents in an honorable manner.

There is a fitting quote from a former president. The name of the president will go unmentioned, since it is very ironic in who made the statement. Here it is:

“Remember, always give your best. Never get discouraged. Never be petty. Always remember, others may hate you. But those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself.”

In this case, do as this president said, not as he did.

(Excerpt from By Jon Mertz titled: “The Political Pettiness Snowball Effect”)

What Motivates Petty Leader?

Readers may be wondering to know what the exact motivation behind petty leader is. Personally, I consider power, ego and feeling of self-gratification as the only reward they tend to derived. These categories of leader have probably been fine-tuning their skills since childhood and would have polished their skills over the years. They will also have established plans for handling any kinds of confrontation that may arise from their victims, to the extent that no matter how you confront them,it will be turned back on you which may make your colleagues to accuse you of being overly sensitive, paranoid, and silly and so on. As far as they are concern, power is their ultimate reward. They are rarely motivated to give up their power to make others hopeless; even if doing so makes them unhappy, within them.

How To Deal With Petty Colleagues/Leaders

1. At work place: There is need to firmly confront the individual, otherwise the effect will negatively affect your performance in your team, which will further sabotage the team dynamic. If the person is a colleague, it is unwise to directly confront the individual because it will only enable him/her to add you to their list of enemy. It is advisable to allow the matter to be handle by the manager or team leader. This has been practically acknowledged as one of the toughest test of a manager or leader i.e. are they prepared to firmly deal with the Petty People in the team or department according to Phil Cooke.

2. At Social Environments: When outside the work atmosphere it’s best to see them for what they are: Petty People, best disregarded; and sympathised from a distance. But not worth engaging with. By not having anything to do with them you don’t feed their need for new enemies. You simply are not in their game. And, although they don’t like being ignored, but you have succeeded in creating emotional dispute in their thought to keep guessing your true mind and you make it very difficult for them to turn you into a true enemy.

3. Take the high road: Petty people are attention seekers and always desperate for recognition and will do everything within their power to discredit you. Try as much as possible not to let that bring your morale down. Your day will surely come. You will find out the reasons why they are desperate for credit is because they are bereft of original ideas on their own; and that is why they need you.

4. Avoid being pulled into their games: Don’t be naive, but be creative. Whenever they try to lure you into gossip or other petty discussion, be ahead of their game plans by gracefully find a reason to leave that scene.

5. Refused to back down: There is one thing to take the high road, and refused to be an object of humiliation. Don’t ever allow petty people to run you down. Even if it’s your boss, stand up for yourself. Be smart and don’t be confrontational; let your body language revealed to him that you are highly aware of their game, but don’t be too quick to back down either.

6. Maintain a written record of their folly: The petty person may be your colleague or team leader. At some point, you may want to discuss them with a higher authority. You must keep these two things in mind; first, the person might be very close friends with the boss. Secondly: it’s mandatory you’d better have valid data to back up your claim. You need to be able to prove that their petty and insecure conduct is unruly, unproductive, or a distraction to your performance, a good boss will take action.

7. Try to find out the reasons behind their pettiness and insecurity: It could be as a result of their upbringing, might be cause by an arrogant father. It could be the only word spoken into their life is failure. Possibly it’s covering something else. Many individuals aren’t imprudent because they want to be, but because they are unable to change. There is every likelihoods, if you can find out the underlying cause, you’ll be more compassionate, considerate, and in some situation, you could be the instrument of their freedom.

8. Change environment: There is a limit you can put up with insane people. There is need to move to where you are valued, not where you are tolerated. This advice is pertinent, bearing in mind that most organisations are a family business. Consequently, there is no time your petty superior or co-worker is ever going to be fired. Bid your time and use your current place as launchpad to build your resume and move on.

The above discussion has shown that the petty colleague or leader can create disillusionment at work place and negatively impact the organsiation and the leader performance. Our next series will reveal the important of an engaging leader. Your opinion and feedback is appreciated on the comment column. Do you like the piece? It’s always good to share.

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