Monday, July 26, 2010

Systems Ju-jitsu Part 10: Tactic 7. Feed the Neurosis

This week’s Systems Ju-jitsu tactic is called Feed the Neurosis. Neurosis is a manifestation of anxiety characterized by symptoms that include insecurity, irrational fears, hysterical reactions, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and phobias. The systems leader does not have to engage in psychoanalysis here. What is necessary is to identify a pattern of functioning that is counterproductive, anxious, and “irrational.” Some of these behaviors seem to be “learned” while others may appear to be personality-based. The issue here is, how does one address these behaviors in order to be effective in working relationships?

I was once a second-chair leader to a boss who was an insecure micromanager. In addition, his need to know everything that was going on bordered on paranoia—to the point of having “informants” among the staff and engaging in spying behavior (he would use the security systems to spy on employees). Early into our working relationship he insisted on being “kept informed,” by which he meant, I could not make a move without his approval and he apparently needed to know what I was thinking (my intentions).

Obviously this would make for an insufferable working relationship that would render anyone ineffective on the job. A direct confrontation would be ineffective as it would only exacerbate the neurosis. Honest conversation would be received as disloyalty or treachery. What was needed was some Systems Ju-jitsu. In this case I used the tactic “Feed the Neurosis.” I flooded his desk with memos—each of which provided a rational for all actions or asked for action or response on minor insignificant matters. For two to three days every other week or so I’d constantly call him letting him know what I was doing and asking what he thought, if he thought it was a good idea, if he had other suggestions for how to handle the matter. After three months he called me into his office and said he didn’t need all the memos and said he thought I was doing a good job and that the regular once a week staff meeting was sufficient for keeping him informed. At that point I was able to stop feeing the neurosis.

Certainly I wasted a lot of time feeding the neurosis during those first three months, but sometimes one has to engage in purposeful “selective overfunctioning” for a larger goal. Two relatively unproductive months was a good investment in changing a pattern that would have haunted me for the five years I was there—in fact, I probably would not have been able to stay that long if I hadn’t worked at establishing a new pattern for working together with a neurotic boss.  

Next week’s Systems Ju-jitsu tactic: “Kickstart the Resources”

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