Dennis Hastert has a tough job. I’m not talking about the complications of trying to pass legislation he wants and stop legislation he opposes. That’s the easy part. The hard part for him would be all the people he has to manage. The New York Times headline reads:

Hastert Fights to Save His Job in Page Scandal

I’m not going to go into details of what this page scandal is, but suffice it to say it does not involve books or magazines. I’ll just let you go here or here if you want more information.

This is about managing people. Hastert has it tough. He has to manage a bunch of people who were chosen by other people (the voters in their hoome districts), have their own agendas (get re-elected), are trying madly to take over his position of power (every last one of them) and who have a tendency to do phenomenally stupid things. Oh, and he can’t directly fire any of them. He can ask them to resign, but if he wants them fired he either has to convince their voters or get the entire House to vote to expell the person.

This is one of the many reasons I took my degrees in political science and headed into Human Resources rather than Washington D.C. But, politics happen in the corporate world as well. Managers are ultimately responsible for what their employees do. In most cases, however, they aren’t fired for the bad things done, they are fired for how they respond to them.

His response (or lack thereof) is exactly why Hastert is in trouble. Voters consist of a lot of people with experience managing others (either employees or children–same difference, really) and they know you can’t stop stupid or just plain creepy-wrong from happening all the time. But they know that you don’t just hope it goes away.

You have an employee who sexually harasses someone else? How you handle this could cost you your job and, potentially, your company a huge sum of money. You have an employee who is embezzling funds? I don’t care that he’s your brother-in-law, bust him or you’re going to jail with him. You have an employee that does sloppy work? Get it corrected or you start to look bad.

Theoretically, managers should be able to hire and fire who they want to. That’s the theory of at-will employment. In practice, it doesn’t work that way. When you get a job as a manager, you are handed a staff. You can’t fire them because your company has policies and procedures you must follow (mostly good). The lawyers are concerned about discrimination law suits, and everyone wants to be nice. (Nice is good, but it can make managing people difficult.)

When I interviewed for my first job where I would have an actual staff reporting up to me, the HR VP asked me, “Why do you want to manage people?”

I responded cheerily and enthusiastically with something along the lines of, “I have a lot of experience and I believe I can grown and develop the department. I enjoy working with people and am looking forward to taking this next step in my career.”

She laughed at me and said, “Managing people is a pain in the [neck].” I got the job, but she was right.

Fortunately, for me, I’ve never had Hastert’s problems. Hopefully, I never will.

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