Doing it backwards. For more than 40 years of my professional life, I managed teams and employees. While I may not have been a brilliant leader, I was adequate.
Praise often came my way. Employees would say, “Don, you’re not the worst nincompoop I’ve ever worked for.” Today, I want to let you in on a secret. Much of what I understood about playing the role of manager I learned backwards.
Reverse Mentors. Early in my professional career, I was lucky to work for inept men and women who demonstrated, day after day, what not to do. I simply reversed them and said, “If I ever find myself in a leadership role, I’m never going to behave like THAT.”
Sure, I had some good managers too, but the really vivid and memorable lessons came from the fools, oafs, and doofuses I reported to when I was young.
Space limitations prevent me from getting into detail here. Plus the danger of law suits charging defamation encourage me to be discreet. But, here, at a headline level, are examples of some of the lessons those early teachers shared with the young Don.
• When a supplier sends a gift basket to the office, the boss shouldn’t hog the chocolate or premium goodies.
• When the team pulls all-nighters to produce miraculous results, the boss shouldn’t take all the credit.
• The boss should never engage in hanky-panky with employees...no matter how hot they are.
• The boss should never brag about fiddling an expense report to a staff that can scarcely make their money stretch to the next payday.
• During work hours, the staff should never be forced to listen to the boss’s lame recordings of French folk songs.
• The boss shouldn’t provide inadequate information and then scold the staff for failing to be mind readers.
• The boss should never whistle in the office.
• In a meeting, the boss should not pick through the snack dish plucking out the almonds.
• The boss should never interrupt a meeting to talk to the minions on his or her estate about the squirrel-management problem.
There were many more lessons. I’m not even touching on what bosses wear, the use of jargon, and behavior at meals.
Think back. I believe if you are honest with yourself, you’ll admit that you too owe a debt of thanks to the incompetent, inexperienced, and idiotic leaders you were lucky enough to work for. Feel free to share one of those lessons in the Comments field below.
And let’s all show a little gratitude. During the course of his or her career, a really awful manager can teach dozens of subordinates how not to do things.
Of course, if this trend continues, it will eventually lead to a shortage of bad leaders.
I was lucky to grow up in an era when bozo bosses were abundant. But I wonder where the workers of tomorrow will turn to find enough reverse-mentor knucklehead employers? Tell me I shouldn’t be worried about this impending crisis.
Pittsburgh, May 9, 2019
June 25, 2019
I learned a lot, not from a boss, but from a partner. My partner knew a lot about our medical specialty but most of the patients hated him…I overheard him telling the office manager to not give him his Press-Ganey reviews because they just made him feel bad, but I didn’t realize the magnitude of the problem until he left the clinic and set up his own practice in the same town. As with a divorce, I learned a lot about him after he left…
One patient said, “So Dr. X is no longer part of the clinic, is that right?” I responded, "That’s correct. He is still in town but not in the clinic. She responded, “Good”
The most instructive information, however, was when two patients within 1 week told me that he asked them, “Why are you wasting my time?” After I picked my jaw up off the floor I realized that he was giving me a teachable moment!
This beloved doctor had an equally fine wife backing him up. She is the only person I have ever heard of who was kicked out of the hospital auxiliary…this is an organization that is always desperate for hands to do the work, but she was kicked out after he left the clinic and about a month later she went to every doctor’s office in town, accosting the receptionists and throwing a pile of her husband’s cards on their desks and yelling, “I guess you don’t know where my husband’s office is since you haven’t referred any patients to him, so here are his cards!” Definitely a teachable moment…Oh, all the patients stayed with me and he has now left town, but his house, which was listed at more than 4 times the average house in this area, has been on the market for more than 2 years through two different realtors and several drops in price… I win.