Taking the heat is a managers job

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about being a manager.  I was talking to someone about it and I remembered a time when I took the heat for someone working for me.  It wasn’t easy to do but it was the right thing to do and in the end, it was the best thing to do.

When I was an assistant store manager at Macy’s, every few months the big wigs would come out to see what was happening.  I oversaw every women’s ready-to-wear department including cosmetics, so roughly 1/3 of the entire store.  I had 6 managers reporting to me.

One of the managers was a young man who had the leanings of what we now refer to as a “bro”.  He was also out to prove himself without any help from anyone.  No matter what I would say or what advice I would give him, he would do it his way which is fine if it works.

We all knew the VP was coming out to tour the store with the President one particular morning.  The young man’s area was a disaster and I knew it and as much as I tried to get him on track, it wasn’t working so I decided to just let the powers that be come out and see the disaster.  The VP was not happy and ripped into the both of us that day.  It was not pretty.  I took the hit for the entire mess in front of the manager.  Blaming him was not going to get any of us anywhere.

After the VP was done, I met up with him later in my office.  I told him I knew it was a mess and he should come back in two weeks, as we would fix it.  I told him that I was well aware of what was wrong but I would take all the responsibility with the hopes that the manager would shift gears.

The next day, the young man was shell-shocked.  Our relationship had completely changed overnight.  He completely acknowledged that I had been beaten up because of him and that he wanted to succeed here not destroy himself.  We got down to business and he became a star.  The VP came back out two weeks later and the place shined.  It was a transformation overnight for the young man.  I heard from him on and off for years as he grew in his career.  He always thanked me for doing what I did.

What I learned is management is “we” not “I” and if you do right by the people that report to you, that means taking the hits and giving them the accolades as I did when the VP came back in two weeks, that it makes you feel pretty damn good and more importantly you become a star yourself.

Comments (Archived):

  1. awaldstein

    Everything is about the balance of authority and responsibility.If you have the most of both, then it all rolls up to you.

  2. Laura Yecies

    Absolutely correct

  3. lisa hickey

    What a great story! Sometimes people do need to be shocked into comprehension. There is a type of learning, (I thought it was called object learning but can’t find the reference), which says that some people can only learn things by directly experiencing consequences of their mistakes. They simply will not learn by someone telling them, they have to experience it. It sounds like that is what happened with this ‘bro’. Good for you for taking that risk and then stepping up and claiming responsibility.As a CEO, my pet peeve is when a manager comes to me and says “But I TOLD so-and-so to do that!” Sorry—if you told them and they didn’t do that, you didn’t do your job. Tell them. Follow up. 5 times if needed. Make sure they did it. Get someone else to do it if needed. Come to me and tell me about the problem, we’ll figure out a solution together. But just trying to shirk responsibility by telling me you told an employee to do something—-not gonna cut. A manager is responsible for results, not communication.

    1. Gotham Gal

      A manager is also responsible to help their team grow and move forward

      1. lisa hickey

        Yes! Even more important. Thanks! And hopefully the part that is one of the great joys of being a manager.

  4. Dan Wick

    This story rings so true. I was just thinking about the pronouns “we” and “i” on my commute to work today. Not only important words, but an important attitude.

  5. Pranay Srinivasan

    This is such an amazing story.

  6. Joe Wilkinson

    This is hard to do sometimes, but hearing stories like this makes it easier. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Mark Gavagan

    Hmm. I love the principle of taking heat for your team, but in this situation, the person ignored your direction.He should’ve been told to either bring his area up to your standards BEFORE the executive visit, or he’s fired.

    1. TanyaMonteiro

      depends if you want a short term or long term solution for you as a manager and the person whose learning

  8. Elizabeth Spiers

    Yes! I think this is one of the hardest things for new managers to accept because sometimes screw ups actually have nothing to do with them and they need to take responsibility at the top level anyway. But the role of Buck Stopper comes with the title, the authority, (and often, the pay.) I think this is part of why people are really not happy with Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg internally at Facebook right now. Until they address the problems publicly and directly *themselves*, it looks like they’re evading responsibility.

    1. Gotham Gal

      For sure!

    2. TanyaMonteiro


  9. BillMcNeely

    As an officer I was responsible for everything the 65 folks on my team DID or DID NOT do. This lesson was driven home when my folks did not secure some sensitive equipment valued at $6,000. I received the bill for the lost equipment which was quickly taken out of my pay.

  10. TanyaMonteiro

    So respect this story. Managing people effectively is the hardest and most rewarding part of my jobs, always.