Monday, October 10, 2005

 

Stupid Manager Tricks, Part II

I was surprised (heartened, yet depressed) at the feedback to the previous entry, on how to be a horrible manager. A few more ways to do damage from the top:

- Never hire anybody remotely as smart as you. They could be threats.

- Information is power, so hoard it jealously.

- Try to end every meeting with “okay, so I’ll wait for you to get back to me with...”

- Avoid conflict at all costs.

- Credit is zero-sum. Grab as much as you can!

- Customize everything you say to whomever is in front of you.

- Tell exhausted underlings to “work smarter, not harder.” That way, you show both ignorance and arrogance, the lousy manager two-fer!

- Punish ambition.

- Get prima donnas out of your office by appeasing them with goodies.

- Remember, it’s all about you!

- When assigning projects, don’t ever share your vision of the final outcome. Wait until a subordinate has made a presentation before letting an uncomfortable silence go by, sighing heavily, and whipping out the red pen.

- Schedule long meetings that overlap lunch. (Variations: start two-hour meetings a half-hour before quitting time; start long conversations just as people are packing up to go home; announce on Friday that everyone has to come in on Saturday.)

Reader contributions:

- Send long, info-packed emails, esp. with the not-at-all-cumbersome Word templates.

- Only come around when you want something. (Variation: dump bad news on people when they spontaneously drop by your office. Works better than Off as a repellent.)

- Give courtesy interviews for jobs that have already been eliminated.

- Lack self-awareness. Examples: invite questions, then punish them. Promise support, don’t offer it, then blame the non-supported for failing. Say things you don’t mean, then blame subordinates for not clairvoyantly sussing out your true meaning.

- Divide and conquer. Make subordinates bash each other, like Trump in the boardroom.

- Emails? What emails? I never got your emails...

Sadly, Dilbert inhabits the walls of academe.

Comments:
Oh god. See, the thing is, don't we ALL do some of this, without meaning to?

I think one of the ways I've changed the most since I became a head of department is that I actually have some understanding of how damn HARD it is to be a good manager. Yes, my bosses do really stupid stuff and they don't follow up things the way they should, but it's almost inhuman to expect them to be perfect at managing not only the things that are important to me, but all the other stuff they're supposed to do as well. And there are so many bureaucratic details (aka reasons things don't work smoothly) you simply don't see when you're not stuck administering those details.

It's rather like the way you only forgive your parents when you've had a few years parenting yourself. Or at least, I needed a good few years of motherhood to really understand that my mum (who by the way is awesome) did the best she could and a damn fine job of it too.

Ah well.
 
What's sad is that I recognize some of these tricks as my own... not many, thank God, but enough to make me ashamed of myself. ("It's all about me"; "Avoid conflict at all cost").
 
99% of managers learn on the job. Some of them never learn. I was on our search committee this spring to hire our new Dean. When we hire faculty we observe their teaching. But that's the problem with admin: you can't observe them managing something, or administering something. You hire people you like. Some people work out and some don't. Personally I don't want any part of it, despite the nice raise and sweet health insurance plan that it would offer.
 
Jill -- You're absolutely right. Bureaucracy is hard to manage because so much of it is about trying to squeeze the flow of random events into regular patterns. Entropy is the enemy of bureaucracy, which is kind of like saying gravity is the enemy.

Camicao -- if you can recognize it, you're probably among the better ones. "Lack self-awareness" is the real killer.

Dr. S. -- Yeah, it's tough to measure managerial performance. I think that's why it becomes such an insular club: outsiders don't want in, and experience substitutes for performance. So we recycle the same names, over and over again. It's a measurement problem, mostly, but a really nasty one.
 
Some more for the collection.

Send emails to the whole college with inane comments such as:
'My dog died last night, her name was xxx. She was a good dog, I am sad."

Or send frequent emails to everyone saying that you want more ideas and initiative, and in another email note that not answering emails is very rude. Then don't answer emails with proposals sent to you. This one is a great demotivator.

Forward stupid chain mails to the whole college, send emails at midnight to show how hard you are working, ...

Send emails to the whole college complaining about the quality of people's English - and make mistakes in your email.

Send an email with a pasted review of a book, telling everyone to read the book; but don't bother to cite the review at all.
 
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