Personal Conflict

A large part of my job currently is project management. I did not apply for nor campaign for such a thing. I believe it was mainly because I was doing a good job being an engineer, and part of a project team, so they asked me to start leading project teams. The thought of being in charge of people, and sharing the responsibility for what they do and how they do it is quite distasteful to me.

But is there not a priesthood or church calling parallel here? When we accept the priesthood or a church calling are we not agreeing to take a stewardship or accountability of others? Do we literally become responsible, even eternally, for the behavior of those we are called upon to lead. Jacob in the Book of Mormon seemed to think so. I posted on a passage from Jacob that has to do with this subject at Blogger of Jared here.

For the remainder of this post I might generally describe a situation I am currently going through.

I have been asked to lead a team in the development of a new machine line for our company. It is a large and difficult project, and very high profile. Expectations are extremely high. I am working with an engineer who was assigned the role of the software engineer. His primary task was to write the computer control program for the machine. This is a difficult job to do, and he has a lot of experience and talent for this type of work. But he doesn't want to do this type of thing anymore. What he wants apparently, is my job.

He has a mechanical engineering degree, and wants to change his job description and tasks in the worst way. So in large measure, instead of writing the computer code, he is being hyper vigilant in evaluating the mechanical aspects of the machine and my management of it. He is spreading his opinions to any who will listen, and at times appears to be doing all he can to paint a negative picture of it.

I believe that he is being sincere in that he really believes that the company would be better off, as well as this project, if he were a mechanical designer and a project manager. And by raising awareness to possible problems perhaps he will open up opportunities for himself. For the betterment of all.

This has all brought about a high level of conflict between him and I which at times has been unbearable for me. I am trying to be objective about things, but this has been one of the most difficult times of my career. Any advice?

Anyway, to make myself feel better I would like to dedicate a song that reminds me of this situation. It's 'What You're Doing' by Rush.

Well, I see you standin' there
With your finger in the air
Everything we do, you wanna leave it up to you

Who do you think you are?
You think you are a star?
Tryin' to run the town
Always tryin' to put us down

Well, you think that you're right
You think you're out of sight
Tell me something, mister
Why'd you have to make us so uptight?

Well, you say you've been tryin'
You know that you're lyin'
I think you need some groovin'
Who do you think you're foolin', now?

Well, you better start changin'
Your life needs rearrangin'
You better do some talkin'
Or you better do some walkin' now

Yeah, you think that you're right
You think you're out of sight
Tell me something, mister
Why'd you have to make us so uptight?

Hopefully I'll get over this and be back to normal soon.


At 6/06/2006, Blogger Bradley said...

I left this post up after I read it because I wanted to ponder it a bit further. I came to this conclusion: Bummer.

The people you work with make the biggest difference in how much you enjoy your work. It looks like you're going through a rough spot.

The best advice I ever heard about dealing with conflict is to state your observations rather than your conclusions. I'm not very good at doing it, but it seems like good advice. "I noticed you didn't turn in your report." rather than "I really wish it was important to you to submit your reports on time."

It is so hard to know another person's motives. Just trying to ask the person their motives can be a powerful tool in helping them recognize the problems.

It all works in theory. In practice... well, good luck.

At 6/07/2006, Anonymous Bret said...

I've never replied to a blog site before, but when my dear wife (your sister) sent me the link today I found it an interesting personal conflict. I too have been faced with many interesting leadership challenges in my engineering/management career. Anyway I thought I would offer a couple of lessons learned.

1) Being responsible sometimes means making others uncomfortable. However, good leadership involves responsibility to the welfare of the group which means some people will get angy at your actions and decisions. It's inevitable, if you're honorable. Trying to get everyone to like your decisions will force you to avoid the tough decisions, you'll avoid confronting the people who need to be confronted, and you'll avoid offering differential rewards based on differential performance.

2) Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier. The ripple affect of a leader's enthusiasm and optimism is incredible. Keep the focus on the project success and others will see through individual political agendas.

3) Have fun in your command. Your team can't always run at a breakneck pace. Take leave when you've earned it, and surround yourself with a team who take their work seriously, but not themselves. Find those who can work hard and play hard.

4)Organizations don't really accomplish anything. Plans don't accomplish anything. Theories of management don't much matter. Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved. With this in mind spend the time required to build the team, and the results will follow.

5) Organization charts and fancy titles count for next to nothing as it relates to getting the job done. At best these things advertise some authority, but mean very little when it comes to real power (the capacity to influence and inspire). This influence comes only through proper leadership.

6) A final thought from the LDS GEM of the day....Whatever
God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire." Keep the faith and if all else fails I know a company in AZ that is looking for engineers/program managers.

At 6/07/2006, Blogger Eric Nielson said...


Since you are a newcomer, and my brother-in-law, I will respond to you first. Thanks for reading this and providing such a thoughtful response.

1) I see you understand.

2) I hope you are right. I have always been optimistic of this project. So far in major battles I have turned out to be 'right' for now. I hope upper management see's through as you suggest.

3) This is important stuff. Unfortunately our small company does not usually have the resources to pick who you work with. We are pretty much stuck with each other.

4) I hope I am doing this. In large measure I am letting him be involved to a very high degree in mechanical design decisions and concepts. Perhaps I should look at it as if his development is part of the success of the project.

5) Ah, I still have to take some responsibility for this. Great :).

6) Thanks. I may take you up on that and look into your place closer. I'm about ready for a change perhaps.

At 6/07/2006, Blogger Eric Nielson said...


Thanks for your comments here. I particularly like the part of assuming the motives of others. I may be exaggerating these motives.


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