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Are You A "Squeaky Wheel" Leader?

Several years back I managed a group of very high-energy, spirited, vocal managers. One of the managers was particularly vocal on just about every issue. This manager, who I'll call "Vox", frequently complained to me about other managers, about how Vox's organization wasn't being rewarded appropriately, and how Vox's organization needed more people than Vox's peers.

I did a lot of discussing with Vox about the issues that Vox faced but found that I would frequently give in to Vox's demands. Vox's peers became very frustrated not only with Vox but also with me because I was showing preferential treatment to Vox. Vox was the squeaky wheel, and I would grease it just to stop it from squeaking. Bad on me.

As leaders we've all had that one employee who was overly vocal about any number of issues and saw to it that you were going to hear every detail about his plight. Many times, just as with a crying baby, the tendency is to give the employee what he wants just to stop his whining. While this may bring some short-term relief, it only reinforces the whining behavior. The employee now knows that the next time he wants something all he has to do is be the squeaky wheel and he'll get what he wants.

The answer is clear: don't grease the squeaky wheel. As leaders it is important that we listen to our employees but that we don't show favoritism or preference toward a particular employee simply because he whines the most. Listen to the squeaky wheel's concerns, make rational decisions regarding his concerns, and explain not only the "what" behind your decision but also the "why" behind the decision to the squeaky wheel. Most importantly, don't just give in. If you reward the squeaky wheel, you'll not only reinforce his behavior but you'll create other squeaky wheels in your organization because they will see that you grease squeaky wheels.

Put the oil can away. Don't oil the squeaky wheel.

Best to you -