Wednesday, August 10, 2011


”He likes his butt scratched. People will come up to him and pet his head. He’ll turn right around and show them his butt.”

-Georgetown University professor Father Christopher Steck describing Jack the Bulldog, the school’s mascot, to “Esquire”

Something about that quote makes me think of a certain category of manager. But first, let’s put management into perspective:

Odds are, you have a mediocre boss, who has a mediocre boss, who has a mediocre boss. There’s no escaping the math – there’s a 90% chance that your managers are not in the top 10% of managers.

Knowing that, perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised that the response of the business community to the economic crisis has been so uninspired.

What got me thinking about mediocre management was hearing from Keith McLeod, the Tucson consultant who inspired many of you when I passed along his suggestions on dealing with the economy. (If you missed that column, go to and there, under Columns, you’ll see “Finding Value in Chaos.”)

This time, McLeod reminisced about a second-rate manager: “I was coming up with new ideas and was a threat to my boss. He called me in and said, ‘You aren’t fitting in. If you don’t change within 30 days, you’re gone.’ It was jarring. I thought I was being called in for praise. My reaction was to check with him on everything I did for his input while I searched for a new job. At the end of 30 days he called me in and said, ‘You’ve made a remarkable turnaround.’ I countered with, ‘Well, thank you, Al. I’m giving two weeks notice. I’m moving to Michigan to run a bank.’”

This is relevant because in a time when managers are anticipating the need to lay off employees, many began to second-guess their employees’ work. Should you find your work being questioned, the natural reaction is to avoid management. However, the correct response is just the opposite – to seek out massive amounts of feedback. Doing so, the manager becomes one with your work, including being able to take credit for it and/or you. Meanwhile, find a better manager.

Here are McLeod’s reflections on his escape from mediocrity: “Too often idiot bosses are so focused on themselves they lose valuable employees. (The sad part is some of the employees think something is wrong with them, and never leave and flower elsewhere.) Instead of empowering employees, these bosses are self-focused, and should be shot.”

There is something appealing about the idea of shooting lousy managers – it would open up jobs without increasing unemployment, and I suspect the funeral industry has the highly desirable “multiplier effect,” the economists’ Holy Grail.

But setting that aside, you can now see why I thought of Jack the Bulldog offering his butt for scratching. It’s like that with bad bosses – it’s all about them.

Which takes us back to the bulldog’s caretaker, Christopher Steck, who added: “I once received a thank you note from a student that described me as ‘one of the Georgetown’s biggest celebrities.’ I thought that was a bit over-the-top, but then I realized that the note was addressed to Jack, not me. I feel like I live in the reflected glory of a dog. But sometimes the most important thing you do in life is to help others shine.” And there it is in that last sentence, the attitude common to those managers who made it into the top ten percent.

Thursday, August 04, 2011


To attract, retain, and obtain the most from Awesome Talent, organizations will need to offer an Awesome Place to Work, a place where people not only get paid their due, but also get to initiate and execute Great Things. A place where they can add Awesome Entries to their WOW Project Portfolio and add equity to their Brand Called You.

–Tom Peters

The Age of The Employee is over. Gone. Get used to it.

The New Economy is about a lot of things and “jobs” isn’t one of them. Companies don’t hire employees anymore; they hire time or talent. That means they hire hours or skills. You don’t want to sell your time – too many people will gladly do what you do cheaper. So all that leaves is selling skills, which takes talent.

I was recently listening to an audiobook by Peter Saccio of Dartmouth and from him I learned the origin of the modern use of the word “talent.” It was once just a unit of money, like the peso or the dollar. However, the Parable of the Talents eventually changed that.

You may remember the story from the Book of Matthew: A rich man goes on a journey and entrusts five talents to one servant, two to another and one to a third. When the man returns, he finds that the first servant invested wisely and doubled the money. The second servant did likewise. However, the servant with just one talent buried it for safekeeping and thus returned just the lone talent.

Jesus’s conclusion does not offer any sympathy for the third servant. The first two are praised and given more responsibility, but the third is not just criticized, but the boss instructs the others to “…throw that worthless slave into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Yikes.

As I say, our use of the word “talent” derives from this parable because it was clear that Jesus was talking not about money, but about making use of one’s gifts. To ignore (bury) your gift (talents) is not some minor offense – it makes you unworthy of being in the company of those who know how to build upon theirs.

If you needed any further encouragement to discover and redouble your talents, there you have it. And, looking a bit further, what does it say about being the boss? The boss in the story doesn’t say to the third man, “Oh well, you did the best you could.” And he doesn’t say, “Let me sign you up for a training course.” No… it’s straight to the gnashing of teeth.

We often hear the expression “God-given talent” and if we think of talents as a gift from God – a literal birth-day gift -- it’s good to remember that when the Big Guy stops by your place to say hello, if he doesn’t see the gift out and being used, He gets testy.


Having started working with companies on creating a Culture of Innovation, I was forced to consider all the other types of cultures. Inspiring by my architect pal, John Ball, I put together a hierarchy of cultures. I wonder, Do you recognize your organization somewhere on the pyramid?

©2011 by Dale Dauten.