The 7 Deadly Sins Of Management
A friend and colleague just sent me a blog post about David Ogilvy, the original Mad Man and legendary American advertising guru, and his ideas on management. Some of them are timeless and sharp; some seem dated (especially the conspicuous absence of any references to women). Some make me think he must have been a good guy; some make him sound pretty terrifying. But my favorite quote in the article is this:
If you ever find a man who is better than you are — hire him. If necessary, pay him more than you pay yourself.
– David Ogilvy
In fact, when I read that quote, I thought to myself – Wow, hiring only people who are less good than you may be the worst manager behavior. But then I immediately though of six other terrible things managers do, those choices that “are, or are felt to be, highly reprehensible.” (from Merriam-Webster’s definition of sin.) Here then, are the seven deadly sins of management – the most destructive, least justifiable actions managers can take:
1. Hire weak people.
The opposite of Ogilvy’s advice. This is completely avoidable and completely selfish. Managers who hire weak, under-skilled people either don’t care, or are so insecure that they can’t bear the thought of someone being (or growing into being) better than they are. And it becomes viral in the organization: weak people hire even weaker people, until the organization grinds to a painful, incapable halt.
There are managers whose basic response to events is “not my fault,” and who are willing to throw anyone and everyone into the fire in order to avoid blame or consequences. These people end up putting most of their energy into self-protection at any cost, and that means they have little to no energy left to do anything positive in their organization. Like the first sin, this breeds more of the same. With a boss who is constantly focusing on making him or herself look good, it’s almost inevitable that his or her employees will try to continue moving the bad things downstream: it becomes a gigantic game of hot potato, with no one taking responsibility for mistakes or failures…which therefore never get addressed and resolved.
3. Steal Joy.
Some managers just can’t let anyone else shine. They seem to feel that success is a zero-sum game; that others’ happiness or victory is their loss. You’ve seen this sin in meetings, where someone’s brilliance shines out, and the boss pokes holes in it or dismisses it. (“I don’t think that will work at all. You clearly haven’t thought it through.”) You can feel the energy and hope draining out of the room. Some other common versions of this crime against humanity: stealing credit for good work; taking away work from someone who is passionate about it and giving it to someone who doesn’t care; responding to enthusiasm with cynicism and/or condescension.
4. Be Mean.
The other day, somebody told me an awful story about her boss. She was going to let someone go in a re-structuring: his job wasn’t needed long-term. But he was a good worker and great guy, so she made a proposal to have him transition out over a three-month period, in order to finish up some necessary projects, and to give him time to find something else. She showed how she could cover it in her budget. Her boss said no, and told her to fire the guy immediately, with very little severance. When I asked her why her boss was being so awful, she said, “Because he can.” That’s the essence of meanness. In the article about David Ogilvy, there’s another wonderful quote – this one from a letter Charles Dickens wrote to his youngest son: “Never be hard upon people who are in your power.” Amen.
5. Be Greedy.
Some managers seem to think that whoever dies with the most toys wins. The shiniest toys, in manager-land, are resources, power and loyalty. Greedy managers want everyone to report to them, everyone to defer to them, and everyone to agree with them. It creates an environment where people fight simply to hold on to some semblance of independence: the greedy manager is like a black hole of “I want.” And as with actual black holes, nothing escapes that pull. Whole organizations can disappear into one person’s greed. (see: Leona Helmsley).
6. Don’t Listen.
The most egregious instance of this I ever experienced happened about ten years ago. In a team meeting, I watched a very senior executive make an articulate, impassioned case for something about which he felt very strongly, while his boss, the CEO, doodled on a pad of paper. When the guy finished, the boss turned to the person next to him, and asked (I am not making this up), “Do you know when they’re serving lunch?” He never acknowledged what his employee had said, or even that he had spoken: it was as though he were invisible. Not listening is not only enormously disrespectful and demoralizing to the speaker, it ensures that the boss doesn’t really know what’s going on, and has to rely on assumption and past experience to operate the business: a dangerous and ineffective combination.
7. Rule By Fear.
Fear is the bad manager’s go-to emotion. It does work (which is why people keep doing it), but it works in the same way crash-dieting works: you can definitely take off 5 pounds in a week by drinking coffee and eating banana peels – but it’s not sustainable, and it will eventually probably kill you. Managers who operate through implicit or overt threats of harm will get what they want, for sure – but the best people will leave as quickly as they can find a way out, and any true creativity or innovation will be stifled almost immediately. When employees are worrying about whether they’ll be fired, humiliated or blamed at any given moment, their brains and hormones are in survival mode, not inventing-the-future mode.
We’ve all seen (and hated) these behaviors. And though it can be entertaining (just as with any bad behavior) to decry these things in others, the important thing about recognizing and cataloguing these management sins is that it gives us the opportunity to:
1) Commit to ourselves to never knowingly act like this,
2) Find people in our lives who will tell us immediately if they see us doing these things, and
3) Do everything in our power to be a role model to others of the virtues that are the opposite of these sins: hire great people; take responsibility; be kind; be generous; listen; and rule by hope and clarity.
Erika Andersen, Contributor
I cover how people & organizations work, and how they can work better