I found this particularly acute as a Senior Civil Servant in UK Government. The main issue is often not capability, or even performance per se, but attitudes and behaviours which bring everyone and everything down.
Perhaps frustrated ambition is a factor. Being constantly overlooked for promotion and not ‘progressing’ can sour anyone over time – not least as promotion is usually the only way to get a pay rise. There are also those with rose-tinted memories of happier times who lament what they perceive, rightly or wrongly, as the ever degrading psychological contract between employer and employee.
Tidying up the other day, I found this list of ‘frequently encountered behaviours’ from my time in central Government. I worked with other senior people and developed a handy guide to tackling each too. That helped. Or at least helped me remain sane.
Re-reading them I’m so glad to be out of that context:
The stereotypes below are behaviours that people can display and do not describe people themselves. Your own behaviour can elicit different reactions and you should be aware of the styles and behaviours you display before challenging them in others. People may adopt a mixture of these behaviours, switch or deploy several at once. Nevertheless, these stereotypes are based on real life situations people have described when managing the behaviour of civil servants.
1) AFFABLE – happily acknowledge shortcomings and performance issues, but either say that’s just the way they are and they can’t really change or say they might try to do something different but don’t follow through.
2) CHOOSY – enthusiastically focus on the list of things they have done, like to do or can do and make you feel guilty about challenging them on other aspects of the job or performance.
3) PLODDING/JOB’S WORTH – argue for narrow definitions of their role, justify performance on historic grounds – “I’ve always done it this way and no-one has complained”, may stress they work to live not live to work.
4) HYPOCHONDRIAC – focused only on themselves and their own workload, don’t recognise context or pressures others face, often refuse offers of help or resource as no-one else is sufficiently able or knowledgeable. (Often comes with Perfectionism as below)
5) HIJACKERS – often deployed by hoarders of information, relationships, skills, processes or technologies, hijacking is implicitly or explicitly threatening withdrawal of key ‘know-how’ with catastrophic consequences.
6) EMOTIONAL BLACKMAIL – using emotions and sometimes tears to stop a discussion on performance and in extreme cases displaying their upset to colleagues and other team members to rebuke you.
7) SUMO WRESTLING – coming back at you hard, challenging or criticising your style or behaviour to try to knock you back and barge you out of the ring.
8 ) PERFECTIONISM – often backed by great delivery, but often at great cost either to the person or those around them, aggressive defensiveness about excessive, exclusive or obsessive focus on their own work.
9) PAIN IN THE @RSE – antagonistic, argumentative, dogged, ignoring your context and time pressures often ultra-critical of the organisation, people or processes.
10) STAR QUALITIES – listening, taking responsibility, offering to help, making suggestions for improvement and change, sharing pressures, offering to lead and deliver. Make time to recognise, nurture, support and reward any of these behaviours at all costs.