Do you feel like “The Fugitive” at work?

Many movie enthusiasts remember this 1993 American film based on the television series of the same name.  Dr. Richard Kimble, “The Fugitive”, comes home one night to find his wife fatally wounded by a one-armed man, and though he attempts to subdue the killer, the man escapes.

A lack of evidence along with several other factors leads to Kimble’s conviction of first-degree murder, for which he is sentenced to death. On his way to death row via bus, the other prisoners attempt an escape that causes the bus to crash.  Kimble barely escapes the bus’s destruction—but saves the guard’s life by dragging him out of the bus—and flees into the night. The United States Marshals arrive and the hunt for Kimble begins.

The remainder of the movie follows a cat and mouse chase between a US Marshal and Kimble.  Although innocent, he has to feverishly work behind the scenes to eventually reveal his wife’s real killer and ultimately clear his name (sorry for the spoiler if you haven’t seen this flick).

It’s a suspense classic with a happy ending.  But for you and your workplace, do you ever feel like you are in this movie?  You are Richard Kimble – you haven’t done anything wrong but it feels like someone is out to get you.

As with many things, a few leadership lessons can be found in this scenario if we are willing to ponder a bit.  So in the spirit of the movie theme (check out last week’s article for another lesson from the big screen), let’s explore what can be learned from “The Fugitive”.

 Are you Dr. Richard Kimble?
As a leader, you also wear the employee hat.  People may report to you but you also report to someone else.  And it’s that supervisor you can’t seem to please.  Regardless of your efforts, there is an on-going awareness that you will never be successful in your boss’ eyes.  So what do you do?

#1  Don’t fall into the mind game trap.
The battle starts in your head.  Believe in yourself and your abilities.  Stop and recognize the contribution you make to the organization as well as what your team accomplishes (through your leadership).  For some leaders, this exercise is a part of their weekly review as a way to be reminded of progress even when the week seems to lack success.  This exercise is the critical first step, especially if you feel like Dr. Kimble.

#2  Do your job 100%.
Sounds a bit like a cliché but one of the most important things you can do is not give a “glass half empty” supervisor any ammunition.  Be proactive.  Anticipate what needs to be done and take care of it.  Prevent as many surprises to your boss as possible.  Keep him in the loop and speak to him in the language he speaks (timing, details, big picture, potential liability, etc.).  And most importantly, produce results.  Regardless of your supervisor’s hang-ups with you, he can’t argue with performance.

#3  Take an honest look at yourself.
Yes, your supervisor is unreasonable.  Yes, he is ultra picky.  Yes, he will always find the negative before the positive.  BUT…is there any truth to any of his criticisms?  This one is hard.  Our emotions are on edge with a boss like this (because let’s face it, he’s probably a jerk) but if there is any nugget of truth to his feedback, it’s important to focus on improving those skills.  And besides, you take a bullet out of his criticism gun when you remove a target from him.

Are you the U.S. Marshal?
As the supervisor, is it possible you are the type of leader who is making employees feel like they are being pursued and caught doing something wrong?  You are human and let’s face it; there may be people on your team who are difficult to manage.  If we’re not careful, we can slip into the role of our proverbial U.S. Marshal.  Consider these tips:

#1  Does each team member know what is expected of them?
Unless we have taken the time to communicate clear performance expectations, it is likely their performance will not measure up to the standard we have in our minds.  Even for those employees with long tenure, we must take the time to ensure an understanding of what is expected is in place.  It’s fair to the employee and just as important, it may prevent future frustration to you as the supervisor.

#2  Is there anyone on my team, I honestly don’t like?
Before you say “no” (because let’s face it, that’s the “right” answer to this question), consider its implication.  More than likely, you inherited your team.  And just as likely, there may be someone you just don’t “click” with.  That’s okay.  But it does create a potential danger that you don’t give this employee a fair chance –they will frustrate you more quickly, you may be less open-minded with your assessment of their work, etc.  Over time, we may become that manager who is tough to please…but for all the wrong reasons.

#3  Am I satisfied with “my world”?
You personal well-being sets the stage for your outlook to others.  A positive (not perfect) perspective is an important factor as you engage and manage others.  When your personal world (home life, relationships with your own boss and others) is amiss, it will negatively impact how you interact with your team.  It starts with you.

I love a good suspense movie.  “The Fugitive” is one of those movies that makes you cheer for justice.  You want that happy ending.  Guess what?  I’m cheering for you too – whichever character you are playing today.

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