Number 9

Scroll down, if you would be so kind.

Because that is absolutely my experience, and I know it from the other side.  It has been my misfortune, some years ago, to have to work with a couple of people who were B players at best.  I liked them personally, but was incapable of working with them, in the end.  Not working for them, I’m speaking as a volunteer, although in one situation I was, ludicrously, seen as a threat.

The person in charge cannot personally oversee everything and has to delegate.  However, the more you delegate, the more you lose control.  Therefore, the people you delegate to are vital.  If you have inferior people below you, that may be all right as long as you are not so busy that you can’t monitor what is going on, but in the long run you cannot do it all and still keep looking ahead.

It’s easy for me, so let’s get me out of the way, because it’s not about me.  I’ve been a chairman a few times and what seems to me to be the most important thing is to do the job to the best of my ability (passing on as many tasks as I possibly can, because I’m bone idle and expert at nothing), to keep an eye open for someone to take over, to help them get going (either before or after I’d stood down) and, then, to let go and move on and not be missed.  If it fell apart without me, that would be my bad management.  Ideally, not only would I not be missed, but people would say “we thought Z was pretty good, but actually now it’s better, so she can’t have been all that.”  And, even if I was secretly a bit downcast at that, it would be a good thing – and true anyway.

But I’m a volunteer anyway, and a determined amateur.  I am referring to people who are paid to do their jobs.  And, now I think of it, I’m actually thinking about three people, one of whom was very good, but ideally an excellent second in command, and two who were not quite up to it and afraid of being bettered by those beneath them.

The first coped by being extremely hands-on.  Capable, liked and respected, he nevertheless didn’t take steps to build a really strong team and he didn’t have a clear and ambitious vision.  He could keep things going, and build on what was there, but there were never going to be great improvements or innovations because he wasn’t able to step back far enough to see the horizon and what it could hold.  However, he knew both his strengths and his limitations and was absolutely big enough to acknowledge them, and the time came when he stepped aside, having done a good job.

The other two were different cases entirely.  In each situation, they portrayed themselves as strong leaders … but actually, the only way they knew how to lead was to have no competition.  The trouble is, the previous leaders had been A players who had built up a strong team, so the incomer needed to destroy that to seem the strongest person.  In one case, that meant that he became a bully – and, if he hadn’t been removed, all his staff would have left within a couple of years, instead of just a few of them – and in the other, he refused to delegate, insisting that everything be taken to him, that he attend and chair every single meeting, however minor, and that he would do all but those jobs he considered menial.  In fact, he didn’t have either the time or the capability and it wasn’t long before things started to decline quite badly.  If a few people, still enthusiastic, got together to come up with a new idea (and took it to him as a suggestion), he said that they were creating a ‘splinter group’ behind his back.

Neither of these people were personally disliked, certainly not by me, it’s just that they had neither the strength nor the confidence to let someone else shine.  And when there was a success, they claimed the credit, even if it was little or nothing to do with them.

17 comments on “Number 9

  1. PixieMum

    What an interesting post. It helps with hindsight to know what sort of person one is. I know I am not management material, certainly not people management, learnt that early when not voted for as a patrol leader in Guides.

    However, I am more than happy to sit and work away at set tasks, such as cataloguing a pile of books or indexing an illustrations collection. In my last permanent post I endured bullying from my manager who thought, because of my wider experience, I was after her job. Certainly I didn’t, I was happy with my role, wanted to walk away at the end of the day with no worries and knew I didn’t have the skills to organise a bunch of local government people who had been in post for ever, like this manager who had worked there for 38 years. The people at the top of the departmental tree changed so frequently that no one noticed the bullying management style as long as the work was done.

    I quit because I could, had an exit interview with Human Resources, bully went not long after so I hope things were better for those who couldn’t walk away.

    It is often a problem in business that very good professionals have to manage other professionals when in fact that is not their forte. I know a number of teachers who would not become Heads or Deputies as they would be taken from the children and the teaching they enjoyed to move paper and attend meetings.

  2. Vagabonde

    This is an interesting post. In my company most of the managers came to their titles by having been in the company for years, not because they were good at managing people – result – they had no people skills and the department was very unhappy. They certainly could not delegate. I am pleased that I retired in 2008 – the stress was great then – getting older is not so bad…

  3. Rog

    Good managers who focus on group goals and let people shine are rarer than bantam teeth. Most are skilled politicians whose main aim is to protect their own position.

  4. Dave

    I have always said I’m not a visionary leader, but am good at admin, so ought to be a second-in-command, not a captain.

    Unfortunately I’ve had to work under a number of bad captains, and then I get frustrated because I can do most of the job better than them.

    When forced to be a captain I encourage other people to have the visions that I can’t, and see my role as enabling and encouraging them. I’ve no idea what this makes me, other than idle.

  5. Anonymous

    I did not like being a manager. It paid very little more than the workers’ wages with lots more responsibility. The others did not have/didn’t care about their quality of work or production. I’m not the kind to raise a voice and many times kindly asked them to please improve. This would be met with a vacant stare,excuses or quitting without notice. Then the big boss would get mad at me and demand new workers be found. Eventually I quit (with notice). Still have nightmares 12 years later about this job.

  6. Roses

    I loved the link, thank you.

    And having workind the bozo explosion, it’s not great. Leads to werewolf politics which are no good to man nor beast.

  7. Tim

    Oh boy, this has opened up a load of baggage! When I was enveigled into a project management role (because it was the only path to promotion and so more money), I hated it. It wasn’t at all what I was good at. But, given no choice, I learnt it. I became very good at drawing up project plans and reporting variances, etc etc.

    What I never became good at was treating people as ‘resources’. In that number-driven world, where if someone says ’32 days’, then it takes 34, this becomes an issue (which will take at least the extra 2 days to resolve). The fact that the guy had broken up/lost a close person/contracted a debilitating virus, whatever – that was my fault, because I hadn’t factored it into the plan. Eeurgh!

    Sorry Z, shouldn’t be ranting in your space, but … eeurgh!!

  8. 63mago

    I’m late … but like to chip in my five cents. I always am a team player, can keep things together. A good number three or maybe two. This works to a certain extent, there is a breaking point and I saw this two or three times. It can on the other hand develop from good to great too, but also for a time, a little change can have a huge impact. And i have to confess that I can put out the axe too, realised this to my own surprise some years ago.
    Many things can be sorted out, but … there’s a German saying “Der Fisch stinkt vom Kopfe her” – when the head honcho is a graduate from the Heinrich-Himmler-Schule-für-Menschenführung there is nothing left but riot. Nowadays I am free lance and starving, but I can read, write and learn what I want. The job never changed, only the salary. Vita brevis, ars longa.

  9. mig

    This is fascinating. I remember the ridiculous maneuverings and back-stabbing when I worked in a Civil Service research department and I was lucky to be responsible to a good manager who was also a good workplace politician! At the time I just thought he was a nice guy but looking back I realise that he was very good at balancing his resources to get good work done without losing sight of the fact that requirements would change without warning as goverment appointments changed.

  10. Blue Witch

    I’m with Mike&Ann and AQ on this one.

    I find that the easiest way of working out who you’re working with and how to handle things/them, right from the beginning, is to ascertain what their motivation for doing the task/role concerned is. These days I usually do this by asking them. I’ve found that this helps ever such a lot in avoiding future pitfalls.

    I’ve also learnt to walk away from roles (without feeling guilty) if others don’t pull their weight, or are clearly in it for PPG (Personal Praise and Glory).


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