12/1/14

Your bosses always seem like idiots? Maybe you’re the idiot.

     Ever notice how many books, seminars, videos, etc, there are on improving leadership, being a better manager, and improving your company’s processes?  Could this be because the people in charge are all stupid? Could it be because the employees are all apathetic and pre-occupied with social media? Maybe a bit of both, maybe none of the above. Depends on where you are.

     Follow me for a minute here. This holiday weekend was pretty quiet for me as my family gatherings all took place on Thursday and my wife had to work the rest of the time. I used the time to make a list of leadership topics that I would like to write about for Linkedin. As I glanced back through the topics, I realized they were all about how to improve leadership and that my previous post was blasting Best Buy’s executive team. This slid my brain into a thought about how we, as a general populous, tend to complain that the people in charge of anything, are idiots. Whether it be our politicians, our corporate leaders, your direct manager (not mine), or the poor kid running the carousel at the mall during the holiday madness. We always tend to think, no matter what situation we are in, we can do it better, faster, with more pizzazz, and for less money (maybe) than the current regime. Is that always a bad thing? No. Are we always wrong? No.

     However, what is the common factor in every situation we are in? It is us. You are the only person in every situation in your life. So if everyone around you seems like an idiot, maybe you are the problem. Maybe you are being impatient. Maybe your expectations are too high. Maybe you just all around suck. If you laughed there, we would probably get along. If you feel insulted, know I am joking. Or am I. Maybe the sentence isn’t offensive, maybe you’re just over-sensitive.  Anyway, I think you get my point.

     My go to quote for topics concerning reactionary behavior is from Charles Swindoll. He wrote," Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it." I first heard that from a local small business owner who runs a tanning salon and spa over in Miamisburg, Ohio. I’ve adopted it for my own now. My point is rather than just assume someone is an idiot, take a second to assess their perspective. This must be a rational exercise and not an emotional one. 

     Now, let’s apply this to being an employee. How many of you are guilty of getting directions or feedback from your manager that upsets you, then at the first available opportunity, lash out emotionally declaring your boss is the pointy-haired devil incarnate? Is he really that bad or are you being the idiot? If you were in your manager’s position and had to deal with the situation in a non-biased, corporately homogenized methodology, would you act similarly?

     Let’s take this from another perspective. Everyone knows how you are supposed to park your car in a parking space. You have 3 lines. You pull your bumper up to the front most line while centering your car in between the two perpendicularly parallel lines. Or some variation of those directions based on the augmented version of parking you might be doing. Most people also get some version of annoyed/aggravated/enraged to the point of homicide when other people don’t park correctly. Now what happens to you when you don’t or can’t park 100 percent correctly? Personally, I feel a little guilty but move on. So why is it that I feel much worse when I see people who have parked poorly than when I actually park poorly myself? It is about expectation and control. We expect people to behave respectfully and responsibly, but when they don’t and we can’t do anything about it, that powerlessness moves us to emotion. Mine is typically some form of anger.  Parking is so simple and common. Yet multiple times a day we see people who can’t seem to or don’t car to get their car in the spot correctly. Your boss’s job is to make sure you park correctly each and every day without being mean or emotional about the situation when you do it wrong. Would you get mad if there was a person in the parking lot making sure people parked correctly? Most people would say probably not. Now would you get mad if the parking manager made you correct your parking? Most will say of course not, but we know better, don't we.

     Taking this example a step further, let’s image you are the parking manager for the United States of America. Your job is to ensure that everyone in the country parks exactly within specification and manage the human factors that lead to parking deviations. Your duties will include training people how to park in specific situations, listening to excuses on why situations fell outside of the allotted directions, dealing with people who just don’t care, and hopefully remembering to thank all the people who actually do what you ask them to do. How do you ensure everyone follows directions while trying to be as nice as possible about it? How do you do that when you find yourself repeating yourself over and over and over and over again? How about when that repetition is directed at the same few people? Do you ever repeat the same mistakes...if yes, see tagline.

     Now let’s take the parking metaphor and apply it a typical manager’s job. Everything that seems simple and straight-forward, gets complicated when you add people. As the number of people involved increases, so does the difficultly of doing everything. Hopefully, your manager doesn't want to make every decision for you. Good managers typically want high-performing, independent, experienced people working for them so the need to manage them is minimal. Do you think your manager feels like she is managing a fleet of highly trained, precision drivers for her parking lot or ya’ll a bunch of orangutans hooting and honking at each other?  Do you feel like you make your manager’s job easier or harder? Be honest.

     Remember, leaders/managers/bosses are people too. They are not perfect. On days when I find my smugness fogging the mirror, I recall what Chuck Palahnuik wrote for his character Tyler Durden to say. “You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, and we are all a part of the same compost pile.” While that may seem depressing to some, I see it as liberating. I see it as permission to set aside hierarchy, eschew the class system, and ultimately see everyone as an equal. I’m betting if you try to be less emotional employee and see things from your manager’s perspective, you may just start having better days at work.  As Charles Franklin wrote, “No one gets out of this life alive. So leave a footprint of your choice. You are writing your epitaph.” Let that foot-printed epitaph be some world changing solutions. If nothing else, start working with your boss, instead of just for your boss.

**Note: I use Leader, manager, boss, and supervisor interchangeable here. They are not the same. In this article, they are used to mean the person to which you report. 
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