When The Phone Don’t Ring, It’ll Be Me

Some people don’t want to be left alone.

When the phone doesn't ring it'll be


“Screw you & the horse you rode in on.”  He didn’t actually say it, but he came close.  And this unceremonious resignation came from a senior manager whom I really liked (thought it was mutual) and who had a bright future with the company (thought he understood and was energized by the coming challenges and opportunities).  

Why was he pissed off at me?!?  I was his biggest fan.  

Here’s the ugly truth:

  • I tend to chase after the staff and projects that are going in the WRONG direction.  
  • The people going in the RIGHT direction command my respect and appreciation, and I purposefully steer clear of nitpicking their work.  When their phone doesn’t ring, I’m the one calling.
  • For the managers who value autonomy and need only the proverbial high-fives from me, the system works.  They’re generally self-critical and don’t need me piling on.
  • But for others, the act of interrogating [politely] their projects and challenging their plans conveys interest and engagement.  This is particularly true with managers and staff who don’t report directly to me (because we have a regular status meetings and scheduled food fights).  

It’s all a little perverse to my way of thinking, but it cost us a good head.

So, I’m making a couple changes coming out of this incident:

  • Blocking three hours every other week to follow up with a talk, call or note to staff who are doing good work.  (Ideally it would be in person, but we have operations in multiple cities.)  Just a few “nice job” acknowledgements and/or a simple “How are you dealing with this?”
  • Focusing on fewer problems.  I’m probably not more effective than my direct reports in solving the problem anyway.  And it’s better for my mental health.  

Any other ideas on saving me from myself?



Well, tonight when you lay lonely in your king size bed

With a hunger inside you can’t feed

Well, I’ll be the empty place lying next to you

And when your phone don’t ring, it’ll be me.

~George Jones, “When Your Phone Don’t Ring (It’ll Be Me)”


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