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Captain Marvel – Deflect and Defend!

I recently went to see the movie Captain Marvel and was astounded by her ability to save the planet, and her super powers that included flying and deflecting anything that came her way with a raised arm in her magic suit! I started to think, are there Captain Marvel’s in the workplace? The answer is yes!

HR1 During my career, I have worked with people that I thought had superhuman powers as extraordinary leaders and managers and I will remember them for the rest of my life and be grateful that our paths crossed. On the other hand, there are Captain Marvel “not” employees in the workplace that deflect and defend everything that they do. These situations can be challenging because the employee does not take accountability for their own actions. Unlike Captain Marvel, their powers may not be used for good.

glennaGlenna HechtI recently had a “Captain Marvel” experience that challenged my leadership logic. A manager met with an employee to deliver a warning for performance and I was asked to participate and offer insight and act as a witness. The employee had an excessive number of errors, significantly more than other members of the team. This had financial impact and resulted in a loss of productivity as others had to double check the output from this employee. The team was getting frustrated and this was affecting the morale of the department. The manager explained the issue and provided back-up data to support the warning. The employee defended and tried to minimize their actions but understood and signed the written warning. As the employee got up to leave, the employee looked at the manager and said, “I am not mad at you.” I was surprised and confused and turned to the employee and said, “I am sorry I do not understand what you mean by that comment, could you explain?” The employee said, “He’s the manager, I do not hold this against him.” The employee then turned and walked out of the office. The manager and I looked at each other and realized this employee took no accountability for their action. Instead, the employee tried to deflect the responsibility for bad behavior to the manager. Captain Marvel “not!”

On another occasion, a manager asked me to participate in a counseling conversation with an employee who exhibited poor customer service. The manager was very clear that the employee had to maintain the standards of the company, and this behavior could not happen again. The employee repeatedly said “whatever,” shielded the coaching with his magic “superhuman” deflecting gloves, and got up and walked out of the room. I told the manager, you can hold him accountable to the policies and procedures of the company. This continuous deflection or lack of accountability often results in escalating conversations and ultimately a redirection of the employee’s career.

How can you minimize this behavior in the workplace? Create a culture of accountability. It is difficult to deflect and defend when people are clear about their role, desired results, and your expectations. Ask yourself the following:

Do you have up-to-date job descriptions?

Do your descriptions include detailed metrics that detail desired results?

Do your descriptions include expectations regarding values and teamwork?

These job descriptions are the starting point for your recruiting process, job postings, and behavioral interview questions. During the interview, review the descriptions with potential employees to communicate expected results. By communicating this information to prospective employees, you may eliminate candidates who don’t believe they can accomplish the results. Once you hire an employee, share the job description during onboarding to reinforce your expectations and gain alignment.

In the instances above, the employee did not do their job but, perhaps, neither did the company. This bodes the question, are your employees clear about your expectations or is this open to interpretation? If it is open to interpretation, then the employee will continue to deflect and defend until you clarify or redirect their behavior.

Expectations and roles change, and this means constant coaching and communication is required. Talk to your employees on a monthly (if not weekly) basis to ensure they understand the direction and results for their role. This provides an opportunity to correct behaviors in the moment and avoids misunderstanding, frustration, errors, and potential performance issues. The job description is like the “mothership,” when you update and put these in place you will “Marvel” at the results you will achieve.

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