Over my career I’ve seen many bosses chastise employees over a lack of dedication and effort that they, themselves, didn’t demonstrate. As a boss, you can’t exhibit a weak work ethic and expect your subordinates not to skip out on their obligations at every opportunity.
That kind of behavior simply doesn’t compute for most people.
trictly speaking, Groupthink is the unwillingness or inability to challenge the thinking of the group. It tends to narrow down intellectual exploration of an issue/problem and limits the available options. And while there can be some advantages to Groupthink in speed of decision making and the ability to marshal people behind an accepted plan of attack, it is likely to lead to blind spots and sometimes even fatal errors.
My best boss was adept at applying his strategies, a process he often described as “placing bets.” From his perspective, adding value was all about trying new things and making improvements to the business, but he also knew that not everything would work.
Stopping a project in mid-execution is tantamount to confessing to imperfect management ability. In most large corporations that comes with a steep political price tag -- at the least a loss of confidence, at the worst the loss of a job. If an employee admits to an error, they are likely to be punished. And the more the organization focuses on finding the guilty (and trust me, they all do, at least to a degree) the bigger the stakes become.
As human beings, we seem extraordinarily adept at self-deception. We can quickly find the “fatal flaw” in a peer – the thing that is preventing him from being promoted – but we rarely see our own. In fact, even when someone hints around at our biggest weaknesses, most of us find a way to rationalize away the feedback. It seems that only through direct confrontation do we really get a glimpse at our biggest shortcomings.
Four years ago I read an interesting article passed along by a friend, one which discussed why large corporations – despite their advantages – often fall victim to smaller upstarts with limited resources. The author, Luke Johnson, a UK private equity firm president and entrepreneur, makes a number of excellent observations with which I personally agree, having seen all of them in action in big corporations in one form or another. In fact, one of my old bosses used to describe these things as “Aenergies,” at least when he was referring to the merging of a large acquisition into the “mother ship.” I think the term applies to “bigness” in general quite nicely.
Beyond both skills and a willingness to share, the boss has to actually have an interest in helping you improve your perceptiveness skills. The intersection of high skill, low apparent risk, and a willingness to help already tells you that getting this kind of instruction from your boss is going to be rare.
If you've been in a corporate environment for any length of time, you've undoubtedly noticed Clock Watchers. I'm not talking about an occasional early departure, I'm talking about a systematic pattern of behavior where the employee either arrives at the last minute, leaves in the first minute after the end of their "shift," or more probably, engages in both.
Of all the characteristics my best boss showed, his willingness to collaborate on important work, rather than criticize while stepping back, was one of the most important in making our relationship work. While the standard in business might be a boss that casts employees into the void, forcing them to succeed or fail on their own, a boss that lives with you in the trenches is worth her weight in gold.
The problem with the “Suggester,” is that all she typically offers are ideas. The “Suggester” invariably stops at that point, leaving the remaining 99% of the work of implementation to someone else – normally management. The “Suggester” doesn’t normally rest with this, however, instead she goes on to blame management when her idea (which is often unworkable, impractical, or downright dumb) isn’t immediately implemented, and/or doesn’t transform the business.
This notion – that employees need an opportunity to fail – is undoubtedly counter-intuitive for many people. Over time I have come to realize it was one of the key things that made my best boss great.
And you know, it was actually enjoyable.
Hiders hide things from their boss (typically, bad news,) for a variety of reasons.
It's pretty clear what's going through the head of a "Hider" when he engages in such behavior – he is afraid. Afraid of being blamed for that project headed for the ditch. Afraid of the damage getting tagged with a failed effort will do to his reputation. Afraid of taking responsibility. Afraid of admitting the truth.
Over the two years we worked closely together, we spent quite a bit of time talking about multiple aspects of the company’s “the big picture.” During these discussions, I learned how our business strategy was designed to foil a key strength of a particularly difficult-to-dislodge competitor, I grasped what absolutely needed to happen to personally succeed at the company, and I learned about a number of potential pitfalls that could undermine a career – both there and in the corporate world, at large.
Blamers take failure avoidance to the extreme. A Blamer will find reason or rationale to fob off the responsibility for anything that didn't go well. And to make matters worse for the boss, Blamers often direct culpability toward the manager for whom they work.
In contrast to issuing orders or exhibiting benign neglect, my great boss was involved but not directive. This was a touch that was undoubtedly challenging to achieve – offering advice, insight, rationale, but still leaving me room to develop my own approach. Most of the time he was able to get this complex equation just right, allowing me to do some of my most effective work and achieving more than I ever had while enjoying my job immensely.
Over the years, I’ve been quite stunned by the number of employees I’ve encountered that seem to have absolutely no idea how the business works.
It doesn’t require deep insight to realize that managers suffer from a significant time deficit. Bosses make demands, peers scheme, subordinates need direction. As I’ve said in the past and will undoubtedly say again – the task of management is all about prioritizing and paying attention to the right things.
When a manager actually attempts to explain to the clueless employee “how it really is,” the employee usually gets defensive, complains, becomes angry, argues, or simply blames everything on the manager’s “incompetence.” Once a difficult performance discussion is finished, a good portion of clueless employees run back to their co-workers looking for affirmation of their “superior” performance. Coworkers, also wanting to maintain relationships and avoid conflict, usually take the easy path and simply agree with their clueless peer.
During my years as both a manager and as a subordinate, I’ve worked for two bosses that were different. Both of them earned my loyalty and respect. And of those two, one in particular stands out as my one “great” boss.
It is often difficult to grasp how one’s contribution fits into the big scheme of things. And as conscious creatures, we are intimately familiar with the blood, sweat, and tears we pour into to our jobs, while at the same time only having a superficial understanding of similar efforts exerted by others. It is a problem of perspective that is difficult to objectively overcome.