A lot of professionals consider promotion to a management position as a final destination rather than a start of a journey. Incompetent management comes in a variety of forms. I am sure you can think of a bunch of them yourself but here are my favourite 9 types:
- The Omniscient Manager: Once a budding manager assumes leadership role, he magically acquires “omniscience” so everyone in his team must hang on to every word he says and preferably make notes of the pearls of wisdom emanating from his mouth. There are managers who believe they know everything or at least, they, by definition, know more than any of the people who work for them.
- Pointy-Haired Boss: Those who are familiar with the brilliant Dilbert Series will know his manager known as Pointy-Haired Boss who is the master of responsibility deflection. This man believes his role is to do nothing other than to transfer responsibility elsewhere. In one famous sketch Dilbert and a colleague go to his office reporting the project they were working on was late, ran out of money and lacked resources. Pointy-Haired Boss solution to the problem was to demand a daily report on the matter until the situation improved; thus loading them with more work without doing anything practical to help them.
- The Football Coach: This is the manager who thinks shouting abuse is motivational. He doesn’t care for risk management and avoidance of problems before they arise. Instead, he waits for a crash to happen so he can deploy his most powerful management technique: shouting at his staff for allowing the situation to happen and criticising every action taken, including those ideas he put forward as best course of action.
- The Royal Walker: I am sure you have seen royalty take a walk about amongst the crowd engaging with random individuals in the crowd in brief conversations. They typically ask interesting questions like: “Have you come far?” or “What do you do?” or “You must be exhausted”. They never have time to listen to the answer and when they occasionally do, they don’t know how to process the information, anyway. I worked for a manager who used to walk the open plan floor doing just that by asking: “Hello, how is it going?” As a dare, a colleague once answered: “very badly, everything has gone tits up”. His reply did not vary from all the replies he gave to others: “Good, very good. Carry on”.
- Margin Notes Manager: This may not be familiar to everyone but I am sure it will strike a chord with some. This manager takes evasive action at the last minute and tries to pretend he had put in a great deal of effort in to the subject matter. He collects an impressive set of responses to show attendance to his duties like: “I have been chasing this matter non-stop for weeks”, which means he has been sitting on it for weeks; or “but I sent you an email on this subject ages ago, please check your Junk mail”, and he has no qualms about wasting your time searching through your emails for the missing non-existent email. My favourite one is when he turns up for a meeting clutching the thick report he is supposed to have read but didn’t. He dramatically flicks through the report with question and exclamation marks in the margins of a few pages he will have hurriedly inserted just before the meeting and says something like: “On page 11, I am not sure I understand what you are trying to say there, can you please elaborate?” or “Page 17, I have my doubts about the calculations there, are you sure this is the right formula for this?”
- The Coat Tail Manager: He is the one who is so clever at working out where the power lies in the company and he clings on to them for dear life. He agrees with everything they say, he defends them in their absence, and he reports to them those who brief against them. He even quotes their lines, including their witticisms. What is so frightening about this manager is the speed with which he is able to switch allegiance when there is a power shift.
- The Coveting Manager: As the 10th Commandment stipulates; “Thou Shalt not covet thy neighbours house / wife etc.” this manager is constantly investigating his peer group and comparing what they have accomplished, not so much in terms of work but status, office size, number of employees, budget and so on. It really eats at him to think he is at a status disadvantage. A work colleague once came to my office and measured up the size of my office in terms of number of floor tiles, and was distraught when it turned out my office was 4-tiles bigger than his.
- The Signature Manager: I was guilty of this one in my first role with the title manager in it. My first action upon promotion was to sit down and practice my new “Manager Signature”. This goes beyond the smart signature though. The moment he is promoted or has a change of title, he is quick to order the new stock of business cards, he dives in to the company policy book on car allowance, size of office and other privileges before he finds out what his new terms of reference are.
- Major Major Major Major: If you have read Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 then you know what I am talking about here. Major Major Major was named thus by his cruel father as a joke. He joined the army and an IBM machine promoted him to Major because it too had a cruel sense of humour. The man was so out of his depth as a base commander that he isolated himself from everyone under his command and instructed his secretary, Sergeant Towser, to tell visitors they can only go and see him when he is out and never when he is in. Our equivalent manager is the one who closes his door and does stuff. What this stuff is no one can be sure because there is never any evidence of this stuff making a difference to anything the company does. He is also adept at sending emails to his staff on the other side of the wall asking them to do things instead of walking over and asking for it in person. The one habit I hate with passion, bordering on homicide, is when they ask their secretary (sorry, PA) to call someone for them and then making this someone wait while they are connected to him. It is bad enough to be called by someone who doesn’t want to speak to me but then to be asked to wait while they connect me to “His Managementness”, is beyond my tolerance.
There are a number of disturbing aspects about these managers, of course. However, what they all have in common is the immense amount of effort they put in to being incompetent managers than many people do to become competent ones. Why, in the name of sanity, don’t they apply this considerable energy to become better at being managers?
I guess it is the same type of question we ask when we see the ingenious schemes some criminals come up with to rob a bank or embezzle their company by saying: why don’t you use your undoubted resourcefulness on a legitimate endeavour?
The answer lies in the story of the “Scorpion and the Frog”. A scorpion once asked a frog to give him a ride on his back to the other side of the river. The frog was not sure it was a good idea as the scorpion might deliver a deadly sting. The scorpion argued reasonably that it would be stupid of him to do so since his action would guarantee the death of them both. Convinced by this line of logic, the frog agreed to carry the scorpion. Halfway across the turbulent river, the scorpion stung the frog and as he began to weaken from the deadly venom of the scorpion the frog asked: “You stupid scorpion, why did you sting me?” The scorpion replied: “ I could not help myself; it is in my nature.”