Curtis was a leader in vocational education who loved his job. He'd worked hard for 10 years and finally received the promotion he'd been striving for. He was in charge of a vocational education group based in Western Australia.
Curtis inherited a group of people with different personalities and skills on his leadership. His favourite experiences so far in leadership had all been about empowering people.
So he knew this was going to be his best chance yet to invest in a team.
Curtis was excited to be appointed by the board and wanted to make a good impression. So he took the leadership team away for two days within his first few weeks. This way he could get to know them better and learn more about the area they worked in.
The two day offsite went okay. But at the end of it, Curtis felt something was wrong. It was a nagging feeling in the pit of his stomach that made him feel a bit ill.
The feeling only got stronger as the days went on after the offsite.
Every time he would grimace in frustration, he would then talk to a team member and think, "Maybe I'm just imagining it?"
Curtis tried really hard but he wasn't making any progress. He felt like a complete failure. How could he fix the problem if he couldn't identify it?
The nagging feeling that something wasn't right in the team was keeping him up at night.
He didn't know how to bring it up with anyone. It felt like the wrong thing to say to anyone on the board.
He thought about talking to the team about it. But they were the ones he had the feeling about!
Curtis decided to do nothing and wait.
After working with the team for a couple of months, Curtis finally started to see the underlying problems emerge.
In their weekly meeting, Cassandra seemed off. She was clearly unhappy about something but was putting on a brave face.
As the meeting progressed, it finally came out that her team had been undermined by Paul's team. Curtis listened carefully and then pushed Paul about it in the meeting.
They had a discussion and it was clear that Paul had not been supportive of Cassandra on an issue and that had spread to his team. After a few minutes, Paul smiled and apologized.
Curtis knew they'd had a big win.
But that's when the real challenge started.
Two days later, Curtis answered a phone call from the board chair, Marissa. She chatted with him nicely for a couple of minutes but then brought up the issue between Paul and Cassandra's teams.
Curtis was caught completely off guard. Even though she spoke gently and with a nice tone, it felt like she was yelling at him through the phone saying "Curtis you suck and we don't trust you!"
This wasn't Curtis' first rodeo.
He pulled himself together and the next half an hour was a fruitful discussion with Marissa. When he hung up the phone he shook his head. He couldn't believe the conversation they'd had.
He patted himself on the back for diffusing the situation so well.
Curtis had no idea how bad things were about to get...
Look for my email tomorrow to find out what happened next.
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