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Mainliners who practice their methods on the job are not only difficult but are also dangerous. They can and will put all or any part of your business out of business. Just keep in mind that their play is always for the store.

Understanding the mainliner’s motivations is easy. He does not want to be found out. The mainliner does not know how to do the job needing done and would rather foul everything up than admit the truth. The player’s goal is to bluff his way through, no matter what the cost.

With this in mind, counter play proceeds like this. Do not accept excuses and explanations that are not factual or do not have a ring of truth. If things are getting worse, if problems are getting out of hand, if business is going down the tube, the likelihood is that you have a mainliner at work.

The best counter play starts with a clear notion of what the goal or task is. It then extends to defining what progress is. Finally, counter play sets specific criteria for deciding if things are moving toward or away from the goal.

If there is no movement toward the goal or especially if there is movement away from it, it is time to hold the player accountable. Listen to the excuses and explanations and then hold him responsible.

Much of the time and especially in technical jobs or in complex situations, knowing whether the problems are the work of a mainliner or are unavoidable is difficult.

Much of the time, a single person gets into a position where only he appears to be qualified to judge his work. As in the hospital in the illustration, those to whom the mainliner reports are not able to judge. Those in the hospital who are knowledgeable are potentially part of the problem. The result is that the mainliner has no accountability to anyone who can knowledgeably and objectively judge his work. He has, for all intents and purposes, a free rein.

The issue with mainliners is that no one knows how to separate problems caused by the mainliner’s behavior from situations that are going sour despite reasonable and skilled action. If you have an active problem, the only counter play is to develop a strategy to evaluate the project and the people objectively. The key here is to be sure the plan includes outside people who are experts in the problem area.

For you, the best counter play is to know that mainliners can and will do in your company while they drive you up the wall, given the opportunity. Since you may not detect them until it is too late, any important project should be mainliner-proofed in advance. Built into every important project should be an evaluation or monitoring process separate from and not linked to the project. This process needs to include people who are qualified to judge every aspect of the project. They also must have the proven ability to tell when circumstances are the problem and when the people in the project do not know what they are doing. Just be sure that the monitoring activity is not itself a haven for a mainliner of its own.

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