Managers Behaving Stupidly: Five Results Killers

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One of the advantages of experience is that you start to notice common ways to succeed and common ways that people can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Here are five results killers that I’ve seen over and over again.

Cargo Cult Management

During World War II, US forces took over islands in the Pacific where the residents had never see airplanes, or canned food, or any of the tons of material that a military force needs. When the war ended, the military went away and the cargo stopped coming.

But some of the islanders figured that they could make the cargo come back. All they had to do was exactly what the US military people had done. That’s what they did, but without understanding.

Those islanders were members of something we call “cargo cults.” They were bright, observant people who copied a behavior they believed would bring back the cargo.

It’s easy to fall into the same trap as a manager. You see a successful practice at another company and copy it.

But beware. You won’t get the results you want unless you understand the process, the culture and the environment. Study them all before you adopt a new policy, practice or procedure.

Playing “Guess What I Want”

One friend of mine described communication with her ex-husband this way. “I could tell that something was wrong and so I’d ask what it was.”

“What would he say,” I asked, knowing my part.

“He would say, ‘If you don’t know, I’m not going to tell you.'”

Too many managers act that same way. They don’t lay out their expectations for behavior and performance. Instead, they let their people guess.

That’s deadly. If people have to guess what you want them to do, one or both of two things will happen.

Some of them will guess wrong and do things that you don’t want. Some will decide not to do anything until they know what you want.

Neither of those is a good outcome. Set clear and reasonable expectations for your people. Then follow up to assure understanding and compliance.

Feedback Avoidance

This isn’t just a manager’s game. It’s a favorite human pastime.

That’s because feedback is often uncomfortable. Most of us judge others by their performance, but we judge ourselves by our intent.

The problem is that you can’t grow and improve without feedback. You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken. You can’t build on strengths you aren’t aware of.

Feedback is the breakfast of champions. Learn to make asking for it a habit. When you get it, say, “Thank you.”

Half a Loaf Decision Making

We can blame this one on all those books that describe decision making in great detail, but leave out the part about implementation. Without implementation, you’ve only got half a decision.

We’re not smart enough or objective enough or informed enough or thorough enough to plan the error out of things. So most things don’t work the first time. You’ve got to adjust the original decision to make things come out right.

One old cartoon showed a child sitting on the toilet with the caption, “The job isn’t over until the paperwork is done.” Modify that to “The decision’s not made until the implementation is done.”

Potemkin Village Reporting

Grigory Potemkin was a soldier. He achieved immense power in the Russia of the late 18th Century first by becoming the lover of the Empress Catherine, and then by being very good at power games.

Catherine appointed him the Governor of what was then called “New Russia”- the Southern Ukraine. Potemkin sent back reports about what he accomplished. But he often reported accomplishments that he hadn’t gotten around to yet.

When Catherine came to tour the territory and see Grigory’s accomplishments for herself, Potemkin erected facades of prosperous-looking villages for the Empress to pass through. That’s where we get the term Potemkin Village for “a pretentious facade designed to cover up a shabby or undesirable condition.”

Potemkin Village reporting displays the good, the beautiful and the profitable. It hides the bad news deep in the verbiage in the middle of the document. Sometimes the bad news is left out altogether.

You’ll be tempted to do Potemkin Village reporting. You’ll be tempted to make your work seem better than it is. Don’t do it. Your reputation is the most important thing you have in business or in life. Potemkin Village reporting will tarnish it.

There you have it, five powerful and common results killers. Now that you know about them you can avoid them, neutralize them, and overcome them.

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