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Golden Oldies: Lousy Managers Can Never Lead

Monday, April 11th, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over the last decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written. Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

The value of the “good” in “good management” has always been hard to measure. Although there are some hard metrics, “good” has always been subject to a strong, subjective view. Now, new research from Harvard Business School provides solid, quantitative metrics that prove the value and ROI of “good.”  Read other Golden Oldies here.


Did you know that you can’t lead if you’re a lousy manager? No matter how many leadership classes you take, books you read and seminars you attend if you don’t build good management skills you won’t lead anyone anywhere.

(By the same token, and I’ve said this many times, if you don’t practice so-called leadership skills you’ll have a tough time managing today’s workforce.)

Steve Wyrostek, in a guest post at Brilliant Leadership, has a list of actions so you can figure out if you’re a bad boss or a good one. He says “that a managerial jerk can never achieve good, sustainable results.”

True, although bad managers are known for bringing lots of fresh blood into their area—and then spilling it.

The trouble is that you can be a lousy manager without being terrible, a jerk or downright evil.

Call it lousy by benign neglect.

These are the ones who leave their people alone to find their own way with little guidance and less feedback.

Rather than manage they often focus on the big picture, providing their people with a detailed vision of what the future holds, but no operational map of how to get there, how far they’ve come or how far is left to go.

Leadership skills are important, but they can’t come at the expense of good management.

Flickr image credit: Kayce L.

Debunking Warren Bennis

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/29233640@N07/13265854343/“There is a profound difference between management and leadership, and both are important. To manage means to bring about, to accomplish, to have charge of or responsibility for, to conduct. Leading is influencing, guiding in a direction, course, action, opinion. The distinction is crucial”  –Warren Bennis

The links below are to a series I did in 2008 refuting Bennis’ thesis.

According  to Bennis

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates.
  • The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.


  • The manager maintains; the leader develops.
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.


  • The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
  • The manager accepts reality; the leader investigates it.


  • The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
  • The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.


  • The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader has his or her eye on the horizon.
  • The manager imitates; the leader originates.


  • The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
  • The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.

(How weird; this post is nowhere to be found.)

  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.


Think about it; would you work for a boss who exemplified just one side or the other?

Wally Bock said it best on Monday, It’s not about people. It’s about different kinds of work. If you’re responsible for the performance of a group you have to lead and you have to manage and you have to supervise. You don’t get a choice.

As to so-called leadership, remember that real leaders are proclaimed as such by those around them, not by themselves.

Flickr image credit: Robert Couse-Baker

Ducks in a Row: Resume Stupidity

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

http://www.flickr.com/photos/triplezero/2617657041/Today is about resume stupidity by recruiters and management and the resulting lies.

It is about the stupidity of a required set of buzz words that recruiters use to screen candidates.

It is about the stupidity of managers providing that list.

It is about the stupidity of lying—even when the lie is a recommended action.

Recruiters like screening lists because it eliminates the need for a lot of up-front work on their part, i.e., they don’t have to talk to anyone who doesn’t use those words.

Forget the fact that there are many ways to describe something and most people describe their work using the words of their current management.

Way back in the late 1970s I worked with companies that built communications equipment (DTS, ROLM, etc.) and most software managers required experience designing real-time switches for telecom.

I had a fabulous engineer who designed real-time switches for a process equipment maker.

The software manager was furious; ranting on that it wasn’t telecom.

That made no sense to me; it seemed logical that real-time was real-time whether a switch was flipped or a valve was closed.

So I asked him to please explain the difference, so I could understand.

He started to talk and then stopped. There was a long silence and finally he told me to have my guy there for an interview the next day—he was hired on the spot.

It’s not that I was technically knowledgeable, but real-time is real-time made sense and the other didn’t.

The same goes for many “absolute requirements”—degrees, industry, etc.

As to the lies, I guarantee that sooner or later any lie you put on your resume will come back and bite you—even when it is a recruiter who recommends it.

Flickr image credit:  Frank Jania

Ducks in a Row: Guilt is Good

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

photos-aeu04117-449659020Guilt is a positive force or at least it can be as long as it is the right kind.

First, some background.

When people mess up they have one of two reactions, guilt or shame.

What is important to understand is that they neither the same nor is one the flip side of the other.

Whereas someone who feels guilty feels bad about a specific mistake and wants to make amends, a person who’s ashamed of a mistake feels bad about himself or herself and shrinks away from the error.

In other words, guilt embraces and focuses on fixing whatever, whereas shame runs away and hides.

This is important to you because in both controlled experiments and real-world feedback the guilt prone tend to have more initiative, AKA leadership.

In all the groups tested, the people who were most likely to be judged by others as the group’s leaders tended to be the same ones who had scored highest in guilt proneness. Not only that, but guilt proneness predicted emerging leadership even more than did extraversion,

As a manager, no matter your level, it is important to remember that everybody makes mistakes, causes errors or just plain screws up.

When interviewing, learning about mistakes, errors and screw-ups along with reactions and subsequent actions is often more important than knowing what candidates did correctly or their greatest strengths.

Initiative is one of the most valuable components of MAP and it’s difficult to evaluate when interviewing; after all, candidates are unlikely to say they don’t have any.

And that is why smart mangers hire MAP, not skills.

Flickr image credit: Murray Barnes

Expand Your Mind: Management and Leadership

Saturday, February 11th, 2012

Today is not about the difference (if any) or which is more important (you can’t have one without the other).

Which is more important in a CEO, age or experience? With the advent of the Facebook IPO that decades old question is hot again.

The debate typically pits the benefits of creativity and familiarity with emerging technologies against the need for disciplined decision making and experience dealing with hard times.

It’s funny how inaccurate most assumptions are, such as the supposed power of C-suite leadership teams. (Requires free registration.)

But in actuality, the group rarely conducts its work in unison, as a deliberative body or a source of command. Instead, its power comes from its members’ informal and social networks, their determination to make the most of those connections, and their ability to work well in subgroups formed to address specific issues.

Finally, take a look at the winners of the M-Prize on Leadership along with other out of the box approaches at the Mix.

If organizations are going to evolve from the hierarchical, command-and-control structure that has dominated over the past century to a new model where trust, transparency and meritocracy are guiding principles, they’re going to need to change the way they develop leaders.

Flickr image credit: pedroelcarvalho

Managers Build What Entrepreneurs Start

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Talented managers are taking flack these days for not becoming entrepreneurs.

Whether hinted at or stated outright, their value is demeaned when they choose to stay in corporate positions and they are accused of wasting their talents when they could be out creating jobs by starting companies.

Kindly put, this is a crock.

As Andy Grove pointed out, after the first couple of years job creation is about the same in growth companies as large corporations.

Now Valley legend Esther Dyson, CEO of EDventure Holdings and an active investor in a variety of start-ups around the world, weighs in pointing out that without managers there would be no companies.

The real spur to job and value creation is not turning hundreds of college grads (or dropouts) into entrepreneurs, but hiring thousands – and hundreds of thousands – of people into growing companies that can organize and motivate them and make the best use of their talents.

Thank you, Esther!

This needed to be said by someone with a lot more clout than I have.

Startups are much like marriages.

In marriage, the real work starts after the bride and groom say “I do.”

In startups, the real work starts when the first “outsider” is hired.

There is a reason that very few founders build and run their companies—it’s not what they’re good at.

That’s why we should be celebrating managers with the talent and skill to build the company for the long-term.

Flickr image credit: HikingArtist

Silver or Lead?

Monday, November 14th, 2011

“There is no silver bullet that’s going to fix that. No, we are going to have to use a lot of lead bullets.”  –Bill Turpin (quote source)

5824460045_54bb0ccb55_mAlthough Bill Turpin said this in reference to technical problems at Netscape, I see managers at all levels and across industries spending time looking for silver bullets with which to “fix” their people.

There are two reasons that this is a major waste of time.

First, I can categorically state that there is no such thing as a silver bullet. No matter what you are trying to do there is no tool or methodology that can be guaranteed to work in every situation and under every circumstance.

Second, No manager, past or present, has ever fixed anyone. The best that any manager can do is identify the problem, present the information and offer support, but any change or ‘fixes’ must come from the individual.

Lead bullets, however, are how most problems are solved and behaviors changed.

By some measurements lead bullets are expensive, since they cost time and effort over a longer period, but they typically have the highest ROI of anything a manager does.

So, time spent searching for a silver bullet fix or time spent chipping away at the problem with lead bullets?

As always, it’s your choice.

Flickr image credit: mdanys

Quotable Quotes: National Boss’ Day

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

Today is National Boss day and, contrary to what some think, it was not conceived by Hallmark to sell more cards. It was actually registered Patricia Bays Haroski in 1958 in honor of her boss, who was also her father. So in honor of all bosses out there, from team leaders to CEOs, I offer up these quotes by and about bosses.

According to H. S. M. Burns, “A good manager is a man who isn’t worried about his own career but rather the careers of those who work for him.” There are plenty of managers that still meet that description, but they don’t make good media fodder.

Culture is proof that likes attract, which is why you find so many managers who fit Peter Drucker’s description in the same company. “So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.”

Not to mention the truth of as spoken by General Joe Stillwell, “The higher a monkey climbs, the more you see of his behind.”

Sam Walton saw bosses in a different light, “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” What Walton didn’t see is that workers are also customers of their boss and they, too, can vote with their feet.

And Robert Frost offers up irreverent advice for those who want to become bosses, “By working faithfully eight hours a day, you may eventually get to be a boss and work twelve hours a day.”

After spending more than a decade as a recruiter I can attest to the truth of John Gotti’s comment, “If you think your boss is stupid, remember: you wouldn’t have a job if he was any smarter.”

Finally, for all those stuck in a Dilbert-like world there is Homer Simpson’s fantasy to fuel yours, “Kill my boss? Do I dare live out the American dream?”

Flickr image credit: ilovememphis

Quotable Quotes: Interview Questions

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

6125709344_89863bae81_mInterviewing; everybody’s favorite thing, right up there with root canals and ironing. Having spent more than ten years as a headhunter (my term of preference) I’ve heard a lot of off-beat, weird and totally illegal. That was a long time ago and by comparison the list on BNET is tame, but still outside the ordinary.

A number of the questions were from high tech companies and turned on math, but I wonder if they use the same questions for marketing and other critical non-tech functions—or maybe they don’t consider them critical.

  • How do you weigh an elephant without using a weigh machine? (Reportedly from IBM)
  • Given the numbers 1 to 1000, what is the minimum number of guesses needed to find a specific number if you are given the hint “higher” or “lower” for each guess you make? (Reportedly from Facebook)
  • How many basketballs can you fit in this room? (Reportedly from Google)

The next question strikes me as a hot potato, at the least, or a political grenade depending on the response.

  • Why do you think only a small portion of the population makes over $150,000? (Reportedly from New York Life)

The supposed point of this question it to see how candidates would handle a job for which they had no preparation or experience. I wonder how well it works, especially since so many young people work in pizzerias during school—but maybe not in Germany.

  • What would you do if you just inherited a pizzeria from your uncle? (This question comes from Volkswagen.

I like this one, but you have to wonder what happens when the candidate names a superhero and the interviewer isn’t familiar with it.

  • If you could be any superhero, who would it be? (Reportedly from AT&T)

Considering the above questions, perhaps this one should be asked of the interviewers and not the candidates.

  • Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 how weird you are (Reportedly from Capital One)

Image credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

Entrepreneur: Solving People Problems

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

3085491268_9b8b16bbcf_mIt has always amazed me how many entrepreneurs honestly believe that the people they hire will morph into a creative, productive team with no management effort.

They class themselves as “leaders,” but see “management” as a need and function of large/old companies—not startups.

They say they hire self-starters and these people don’t need to be managed; as long as they understand the vision they are self-propelled.

They talk about connecting their people through social networks, Twitter, texting and other modern tools.

And if (when) that doesn’t work they term them fools and dump them.

But the old adage “give a fool a tool and you still have a fool” still applies.

First, for them to actually be fools means you hired fools.

If you don’t believe that you are guilty of hiring fools then what you have are talented lost souls looking for a path to productivity and personal satisfaction.

People want to do their work well and they want to feel good about what they do; they care about their company’s success.

It’s not simple or easy or even much fun, but your real job as a founder is guiding your people out of fooldom and into becoming a powerful team.

Not every startup succeeds, but no startup succeeds sans management—whether you call it that or not.

Flickr image credit: PUBLISYST Comunicaciones

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