Oakridge National Laboratory Case

The Phase 2 Manager from Hell

Dwain was, in his own words, a 15 year veteran as a “died-in-the-wool Phase 2 Manager from Hell” still trapped in his Individual Contributor mindset (Phase 2).” A tyrant to his direct reports and peers, he ruled with an iron fist, never coached a soul and kept all the best assignments for himself. He claimed to be proud of his “tyrant reputation”. “Keeps them guessing”, he said.

Forced by a Company wide mandate to attend a leadership training class and then prove he could be Phase 3 (coach, delegate and develop others and build the business), in order to receive next quarter’s budget allocation, he reluctantly returned to his office feeling “manipulated by the system.” The “challenge” put to him was to develop one of his direct reports, delegate a key developmental assignment, monitor (not micromanage) results and then return 6 months later and publicly recount his return on investment. He said the training was all, “nonsense” and that he would not participate. No one was surprised at his attitude or blatant refusal to play along.


Six months later Dwain returned to a class full of his peers who were quite ready to share their success stories of becoming Phase 3 local leaders. A volunteer was asked to begin the debrief and to the shock of all, Dwain first volunteered to report out. He gave this account.


“Believing this Phase 3 stuff to be nonsense, but forced to do something, I chose the least likely person to develop, my Administrative Assistant. She doesn’t care about developing her career or contributing more to the business (so I thought). I asked her the three basic questions we were instructed to use when beginning a development discussion with someone; what do you love to do? … what are you good at? … and, what assignments or projects best fit your interests and skills? I asked her these three dumb questions just to spite you all and prove it was a waste of time. I was amazed to find out she was attending night school in computer programming and was, surprisingly, the best in her class.


“She said she wanted to lead the programming project that was languishing for lack of qualified programmers. She boldly said, “I do your budget and I know you don’t have the money to hire anyone else. Let me tackle the programming, I promise I’ll do a great job and it won’t interfere with my current responsibilities”. I said, no, and explained it was too far outside her job description. She was not happy with me, but she rarely is. Finally, after two months of being pressured by peers to have the programming completed, I relented and reluctantly let her have the project.


“I did not know the programming language she was using but she took work home almost every night and on weekends and had the thing done, debugged and tested by others in the department. I have never seen her so excited and I have never enjoyed my work this much in 15 years. I’m ashamed to say it, but I wonder what would have happened if I had gone about it in with the right attitude? The ROI was well beyond the savings of $80,000 that I did not have in the first place. Since then two other folks have knocked on my door asking for developmental projects like what I gave to my Admin. In 15 years no one has even come to me asking for added work. I’m a Phases convert now!”



Copyright 2018, Next Phase Leadership LLC.