There’s a Reason They are called “Managers” and not “Leaders”

Some of you (I’d say “many”, but I don’t have enough of a reader base for that) have been waiting for this. This missive is about the little financial drain on society that I like to call “management“. You know you’ve got one (probably more than 3, actually). In a perfect world, you would be responsible for doing your job, but that isn’t the society that we live in today. For the Managers reading this: I make no apologies. Uh…it ended up being really really long, so I suggest you open it in a tab in your browser and just read a page or two at a time.

I’ve always been a “bottom rung” sort of employee (not a ranking of my performance, but in a corporate-ladder sense). I enjoy results-oriented work where at the end I can look at something and say, “Yup! I did it!” I got my start in construction where the evidence of my employment was available to me at a whim. There was always progress to be made, and as long as I was working there was progress made. I liked it. I got paid for the work that I did. If I didn’t do the work, I didn’t get paid. It was a simple arrangement – one that even the biggest idiot could grasp.

The US ARMY tried to promote me (oh how they tried) to a management position while I served. I was young, but even I was able to recognize that until I could manage my own life, I probably shouldn’t be managing anyone else’s. I neither wanted nor needed additional responsibility. It was just about all I could handle, frankly (after all, life is kind of a big, complicated thing), and I wasn’t interested in babysitting someone that was less responsible than myself. Not interested at all.

This was my first outright refusal for a management position – one that eventually led to my discharge(the link represents a current problem, not the issue that I personally dealt with – just being clear) That was followed by a series of desk jobs, culminating with an IT position (still a desk job, stop being pedantic).

Now, the desk jobs were easy. I had a specific goal to perform, and as long as I performed it everyone left me alone. It was nice, mostly. Oh, sure, every once in awhile you had to deal with Managements’ ego stroking (you can try the stuff in that link if you want, but it never worked for me) efforts to try to prove how valuable they were – a company party here and there, a gift certificate for the biggest ass kisser, and of course the very rare termination of the one person capable of doing the job (who asked “inconvenient” questions). These are trends that I have seen played out in every environment that I’ve worked and they almost always end the same way: My quitting or getting fired. Maybe I’m too idealistic, but I think that’s part of my charm. Below are some observations that I’ve made over the years.

Managers That Want to Help, Can’t

The managers that know the job – the ones that are on the ground floor dealing with the customers, hearing the complaints, working with the “grunts” and generally performing the only layer of management that’s worth a shit – have no power. They’re as impotent as my cousin Olaf after that tragic combine accident and they are so busy chasing their tails for their own Managers that they often times don’t even realise it. (Twenty years ago they just would have been called supervisors, but we’re so flooded with disposable “buffers” (Sr/Jr managers, supervisors, leads, heads, coaches, project managers, coordinators) management space is getting a little crowded) that the upper levels of Management has run out of ideas.  They aren’t terribly creative.

These are usually people that started off as employees – they’ve done the job. They’ve flipped the burgers, pumped the gas, changed the oil, cleaned the restrooms, and had to patiently listen to customer complaints all the while hoping that they wouldn’t get fired for something stupid. They’ve been through hell (so to speak. Obviously it’s not like actual combat or losing a kid or anything – more on this in a minute) and are usually interested in becoming managers so that they have the ability to fix some of the issues that they see every day. Issues that make their job (the Work) more difficult.

They think, “Hey – if I were in charge, I could fix things. I could get the plumber in here to fix the toilet. I could fire Larry, who spends his day on the phone with his girlfriend. I could give Tanya a raise because she completely kicks ass and dedicates herself. Yes, I want to be a Manager and save the day!” and a trumpet sounds in their head and they have a big red “M” on their chest. They know, with an absolute certainty, that they can improve things…they just need to have the opportunity.  And a cape.

So they bust their asses, they suck as much dick as can be healthy for them and they patiently wait until the Management position becomes available. If the stars align (and if it can be assured that they will lose money by becoming salaried employees) they might just get their opportunity to be a Manager.

And then they find out that their “m” is lowercase. Every decision they make has to be filtered through (and explained to) 3 more layers of Management, none of which care if your toilet works. And while Tanya may indeed deserve a raise, there’s no room in the budget because Larry is friends with the CEO and he needs a new house this year. Maybe next year. Maybe. Why don’t you save us some more money and we’ll talk about it.

It doesn’t take long for the young manager to realize that the only way changes can be made are to get promoted, which usually only involves selling a small piece of your soul.

A Capital “M” Costs. Alot.

Good managers end up being in a tough spot. In order to help they need to become Managers, but becoming a Manager is hard to do. It’s hours of dedication and long nights. Years of neglecting your family, friends, hobbies, and self to make that little “m” grow.

Once upon a time I had a manger that was striving to be capitalized. At one point he was cleaning his bosses office (hands and knees, scrubbing floors) at 2am on his wedding anniversary. An IT Director. With staff. Was, himself, blowing off his anniversary to suck up. No, he was not having marital problems at the time (probably not-so-coincidentally, it was behaviour like this that caused his marital problems).  At the time the company was investing a truckload of money into an awful IT project that my boss had been trying to stop/deflect.  His sucking up was an effort to get upper management to see reason. (side-note:  I have spoken with a former coworker – 9 years later, they are still struggling with the repercussions of those decisions.)

You’ll be asked to make difficult decisions. You’ll be asked to fire productive employees who are stirring the pot. You’ll be asked to demand weekend work from people who are just trying to pay the fucking bills. You’ll be told that the road to promotion is hard, and that if you want to become a Manager the price is high. When you have sacrificed your family they know that your sense of reason is completely out of whack and then – if you can avoid getting thrown under the bus – you’ll be promoted.

How much of your soul do you need to sell for the capital “M”? Roughly speaking: All of it.

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3 Responses to There’s a Reason They are called “Managers” and not “Leaders”

  1. 智耶寿 says:

    Like I’ve said but more succinct, and allot of why most Managers are entirely impractical in technical jobs.
    http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation

    • Roknrol says:

      Wow – excellent Talk, and nailed it. I think it’s kind of telling that higher levels of Management don’t understand what motivates people. (for the Managers reading this, the answer is “money”…Cripes….)

  2. 智耶寿 says:

    You pretty much hit the nail on the head. I really wish that I could disagree with you but pretty much everything you described has matched what I have observed.

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