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