Speaking Up & Out

Little Miss Busy - Roger Hargreaves

We always begin meetings in my ACE leadership group with problem solving. Someone describes a sticky situation at work, and the group as a whole helps talk through the situation, draws upon collective knowledge, and by the end, the originator has some ideas to put into action.

The first person to volunteer—I’ll call her T—had a personnel issue. One of T’s employees wasn’t performing up to standards…in fact, the employee had been moved several times during her time with the organization, and this final move was considered the final straw before termination. According to T, the problem isn’t simply a performance issue. The employee lacks self-awareness, to the point where nearly all of her managers and coworkers have stated that they just can’t work with her to bring her skills up to snuff because she doesn’t even know that she’s underperforming so badly. T’s quandary was how to deal with the employee. She didn’t want to fire her; but, at the same time, it doesn’t help her to have someone on the team with whom no one can bear to work, and can’t pull her own weight. And T’s department is too busy to add

The second person to volunteer—I’ll call him Z—continued the *busy* issue. His line of work is coming into increasing prominence, and many projects at his organization want to bring him on. However, Z’s already overloaded as it is, and honestly doesn’t have time to take on more projects. His fear, though, is that if he says yes to more projects, his overall work will suffer and people will won’t find value in it anymore. But if he starts to say no to projects, people will think he’s being selective and stop seeing value in his projects. People ask him how he is, and his standard response has been “Busy. What’s up?”

You can imagine the responses to both problems varied widely. Both T and Z seemed pleased with the advice and feedback they received. From my point of view, it continued a trend that I’ve seen continued throughout the course of our meetings: while the various issues brought up in our opening exercise might vary widely, and inspire mild debates and agree-to-disagree responses, the most common answer to the issues can be boiled and reduced down into a single word:


Talk to your employees, your supervisor(s), your constituents. Articulate what the situation is—positive, negative, whatever it may be—and gain their perspective. Why is T’s employee so uninformed regarding her performance? Why is Z’s supervisor allowing his workload to explode?

They don’t know.

So when someone asks you how you are, don’t leave it at busy. *Busy* has become a default status. Like one of the moderators stated, “…busy doesn’t help you out, and it doesn’t tell me anything.”


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