Wednesday, August 10, 2011
ODDS ARE, YOU HAVE A MEDIOCRE BOSS
”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 dauten.com 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.