Us and Them

Categories Leadership


If there is ever to be an “us or them”, you need to know who “them” is…and it’s not management.

Estimated Reading Time: 4 Minutes

Point #1: There Are Social Consequences of Joining Management

Early on in my management career, I was attracted to any information I could find that would “clue me in” on what I was supposed to know and do as a manager.  One of my early experiences was a set of cassette tapes of a live recorded seminar by a speaker named Steve Brown, loaned to me by my boss.

There were many lessons that I learned from listening over and over to that set of tapes as I drove.  One of the topics was about the social consequences of transitioning from individual producer to management.  Your peers would now become your reports, and the relationship would be altered forever.

Point #2: You Will Be Tempted To Take The Easy Way Out

You will be tempted to take the easy way out and blame your boss, “the company”, or someone else in a higher level of authority.  This became evident when “changes” were handed down from the executive team to front-line managers like myself, with the expectation that we would deliver the news, good or bad, to the troops.

Delivering good news was an opportunity to endear myself to my direct reports, but delivering bad news was no fun.  Because I was newly promoted, and empathetic to the plight of the individual producer, I found myself agreeing with those I supervised about how certain changes would make their jobs more challenging.  Sometimes, I’d even agree publicly that the executive team was “out of touch”.  I found it easier to empathize with the producers and agree with them when delivering bad news.  That way they still like and trusted me, or so I thought.

Point #3: Taking the Easy Way Out Won’t End Well for You.

I came to understand that while it was easier to appear to be on their side when delivering the bad news, in the long run it doesn’t end well.

Eventually the people who report to you will consider you weak and not to be trusted.  Let’s face it, who would work on a management team if they didn’t agree with the policies and decisions?  What does that say about you?

One of the roles you play is to be the liaison between the front-line and executive management.  If you continue to deliver bad news and claim you had no “say” in the matter, it doesn’t make you appear very effective at representing the front-line view or influencing executive management.

Your people are smart.  They will figure out that you just pass the blame on anytime you have to deliver news that will not be popular with them.  And eventually one of two things happen; they will go over your head to argue the case for themselves, or they end up leaving the company because they don’t get good explanations of the “why” behind the news, and just end up assuming management is uncaring and incompetent, starting with you.

What Should You Do?

First, understand that when you join management, you are no longer a part of your “old group” of producers. Everyone knows that so stop trying to convince your people you are still one of them.

Second, understand that if there is to be an “us and them”, then the “us” is management. You can never refer to management upstream as “them” or you are sending the signal that management is not unified.

Third, in your role as a manager, those in executive management want you to participate in decisions. Be a front-line manager that is a trusted source for the “brutal truth”. Look for, and create, opportunities to participate in important decisions that will ultimately impact your people.

Fourth, not every decision will be popular with the individual producers. Make sure you truly understand the “why” behind the decision so that when you deliver the news, you are firm in your belief that this is how it must be and you can explain it.

Finally, be empathetic and a good listener when your people react less than positively to changes. They will be less likely to go over your head, or leave the company, when they know that they are being heard, and they feel they are getting the straight scoop on the “why” behind the changes.


Management, for better or worse, must be unified no matter how much effort that takes.

Transformational Exercise

Write down several examples of recent “unpopular decisions” handed down for you to implement, where you found yourself faced with a decision to either defend the decision or lay the blame on “them”. If you choose the later, write down some actions you could have taken that would have been better choices.

2 thoughts on “Us and Them

  1. This is one of the most difficult things to understand and hardest transitions for managers to make. Thanks for the practical advice and tips!

  2. This is one of the most difficult things to understand and hardest transitions for managers to make. Thanks for the practical advice and tips, Joe!

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