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Coach Paradise: Slack Subordinates Dragging Supervisor Down

Dear Coach Paradise,
I am a supervisor in a government agency. I like my job and take pride in doing it well. I have eight more months until I will be vested, so I have been here for nearly 10 years. My problem isn't the work, it is the people I supervise. They are lazy, used to getting away with doing the minimum and don't respond to cajoling, threats or appeals to their integrity. Most of them are sitting pretty because their positions are due to whom they know and politics. My manager doesn't want to rock the boat and won't support my efforts to clean up the ship and make changes. He just piles the work on me and looks the other way. My hands are tied, and I spend a lot of time feeling resentful and angry and frustrated. Outside of work I am a positive, warm, cheerful person, and it irks me to have to spend so much of my life in this kind of an environment.
Stuck in Supervisory Hell
Dear Stuck,
Thank you for your letter. I know that you speak for many people who work (and/or live) in environments full of people who just won't do what you want them to do and whose behavior and attitudes serve as roadblocks to progress, productivity and joy.
I include here your manager as well as those that you supervise, and I offer my condolences, because you sound like you are the kind of person who has the vision and energy to see how things could be if everyone cooperated, cared about each other and about the job at hand. Many companies are seeing the light, bringing in business coaches and inspiring people at all levels to become more engaged. Sad to say, but government agencies often have seemingly built-in incentives to maintain the status quo, cast a blind eye (have you read about the $20 million embezzlement scheme? — government workers!) and turn security and benefits into disincentives to creativity, commitment and positive change.
I am sure you have thought of this but, once you are fully vested you can think about moving on — quitting. You and I both know its not going to get better in the foreseeable future. You might look around for a job that taps into and rewards your intelligence and positive energy (a promotion?) or start your own entrepreneurial venture. This might be a great opportunity to consider what you really love and are good at, and where these talents would also provide you with a good living. Sometimes just realizing that there are possibilities allows a breath of fresh air into an otherwise stagnant cubicle. Change your perspective, change the world. Could be pretty exciting, and how lucky you are to have a job to tide you over while you imagine and plan and even start up something on the side.
Your current situation reminds me of the serenity prayer: "God grant me the wisdom to accept the things I cannot change, change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference." You can never change other people. You can change how you see things and you can choose your focus. You can also take advantage of a situation like yours to sharpen your picture of what you really do want, as highlighted by what is frustrating and driving you crazy. Keep asking yourself, "So, what would I rather be feeling … what would I rather be doing … what kind of people would I rather be working with?" The essential ingredients for creating the change you want to see in your life are your desire for a new reality, clarity about what it will look and feel like and the faith that it will happen. Playing with this will also bring some inner relief to your beleaguered supervisor self on a day-to-day basis.
On a final note — while you are planning your escape and next chapter, you can focus on what you do like about your coworkers and manager, and about your job. As hard as it may be, I know that you can find something to like about everyone. Notice — just for fun — how this new focus impacts how you feel and influences others.
Wishing you freedom and great joy,
Coach Paradise
Editor's note: Coach Paradise (AKA Anne Nayer), Professional Life Coach, is a member of the International Coaching Federation, an MSW clinical social worker-psychotherapist and a medical case manager with 30 years experience working with people of all shapes, sizes and challenges. For further information about her services, call 774-4355, visit her website or email her.

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