August 31, 2007
Originally published June 19, 2002
I found an interesting observation on LYNN UNLEASHED today. She talks about BOSSES.
"I caught part of a discussion on NPR about bosses. I didn't like the way the moderator kept trying to excuse the bad behavior of some bosses, saying that employees needed to be more understanding of the pressures that managers have to deal with. I'm sure there's some truth in that but to me it sounded a little too much like typical victim mentality. Normal rules of behavior don't apply to me because I have to deal with stuff you don't understand."
I AM a boss, and I believe I'm a good one because I've worked for some TERRIBLE ones in my career. I learned a lot about how NOT to handle employees from them. But when Lynn mentioned "victim mentality," she unknowingly touched on the biggest headache a boss ever faces.
Too many employees seem to believe that "normal rules of behavior don't apply to me because I have to deal with stuff you don't understand." And when a boss tells them that normal rules of behavior, standard operating procedures and safety policies apply to EVERYBODY, they immediately decide that they are being singled out and picked on, not because they violate the rules, but because of something personal. How many times have I heard, "What have got against ME?" or "You're only messing with me because I'M BLACK and YOU'RE WHITE" or "If so-and-so did the same thing, you'd leave him alone 'cause he's you're buddy and I'M NOT." That's a self-styled victim talking.
They never say "I didn't do it," (well, some do, even when caught red-handed, but mostly they don't) or "I wasn't aware of that rule" or "Yeah, I know I screwed up, but I won't do it again." They become aggressive or whiny and do their very best to deflect the conversation away from their actions and onto something personal. The only way to deal with these people is to stick strictly to performance. That's what I do.
I once had an operator tell me "YOU don't tell me how to do MY job," as he jabbed an angry finger about 1/2 inch from my nose. I said, "Oh, yes I DO. That's why I am called YOUR SUPERVISOR. I can't MAKE you do what I ask, but I CAN make you wish you did. You've been given an assignment. Now you decide how we're gonna play this game." I turned around and walked off. He probably fretted and fumed the rest of the day and told all his buddies about how he would whip my ass if he ever caught me on the street, but he completed the assignment just the way I asked him to do it. I checked on him about an hour after our confrontation and he was on the right track, so I just said, "looking good," and kept on walking.
Had he not done it, I would have suspended him on the spot and done my level best to fire his sorry, insubordinate ass. But I don't use "insubordination" as a charge warranting disciplinary action against anyone. I use "POOR JOB PERFORMANCE." Cussing me and waving a finger in my face is not a firing offense. That's bad attitude, and I can't change anybody's attitude. Cussing me, waving a finger in my face and then not doing what I told you to do IS a firing offense. That's poor job performance, and I CAN change that, regardless of attitude.
I am not a little Hitler, my-way-or-the-highway dictator on the job. I listen to good advice from experienced operators. If I tell one of my people to do something and they say, "Rob, are you SURE you want to do that?" I stop and listen. If they have a better idea, I'll run with that. And if simply SOUNDS like a better idea and I run with it only to see it blow up in my face, guess what? I take the flack. I have never scapegoated anyone for decisions I made that turned out to be wrong. That's why the good operators still give me good advice.
Here is my philosophy about being a good boss:
1) HANDLE YOUR PEOPLE WITH CARE That doesn't mean "treat everybody the same," because everybody is different. No two people respond alike to supervision, and you're a goddam fool if you believe one size fits all. With some people, just tell 'em what you want and get the hell out of the way. With others, explain it carefully, tell them why the task needs to be performed a certain way, and check regularly to make sure they're doing it correctly. With others, you'd better take them by the hand, walk them through it, then have THEM walk YOU through it, just to make sure they understand. Get to know your people. Every one is different.
2) BE CONSISTENT One of the worst bosses I ever worked for allowed all sorts of safety violations in his area, never enforced the absentee policy and even bought chances in a football pool one of his operators was running on the job. An accident occurred in his area, he got his butt chewed by the Plant Manager, and he became a Born-Again Disciplinarian overnight. He came to work the next day, issued written reprimands to half the crew for stuff they had been doing for months, suspended two people for safety violations he routinely ignored before he got his butt chewed, and confiscated the football pool and had the operator fired for running it. I wanted to puke when I saw that.
I don't treat everybody alike, but I enforce all the rules uniformly. The way I enforce them doesn't change depending on which side of the bed I slept on last night, or whether the Plant Manager chewed my ass the day before. The rules don't change depending on who violated them. We do some things by the book, all the time, and if YOU DON'T, you pay for it. That never changes.
3) KEEP YOUR WORD Never promise what you can't deliver, and never fail to deliver what you promise. That sword cuts both ways and people who work for you need to know and appreciate that fact. If they want improvements on the job, or a new microwave oven for the breakroom or a reward for outstanding performance, such as a free hat from the company store for a record production month, and you say you'll do it, then by God DO IT. Otherwise, don't say that you will. By the same token, if you announce to one and all that "I'm gonna suspend the next person who runs that tank over!" do THAT, too. Never lie and never threaten.
4) NEVER ARGUE WITH A SUBORDINATE You're the boss, so act like it. "SHUT UP AND DO IT" is a last resort and I seldom need to apply that tactic, but even that is better than having every decision you make the subject of debate. A work crew is not a democracy. The supervisor's word is law and that fact should be well understood. A good boss is a benevolent dictator. Behave that way.
5) DON'T MAKE FRIENDS WITH PEOPLE WHO WORK FOR YOU This axiom took me years to figure out, but it's essential. Even if you and your friend know that everything is strictly business inside the plant, the fact that you play golf together and your wives are good friends and you eat dinner at each other's houses muddies the water. That's especially true if your friend is the best operator you've got and you never have to chew his ass about anything. That may be what made him your friend, but other people will see it as favoritism. Don't go there. When people say "it's lonely at the top," sometimes it is.
6) BE LIKED BY THE PEOPLE WHO WORK FOR YOU My God! How can I possibly say THAT when I just warned that you shouldn't make friends with people who work for you? I didn't invent that idea on my own. I got it from Gordon Jackson, who is a magnificent motivational speaker from Atlanta and a man of clear thought about such things. A sad fact of human nature is that we will not do our best for someone we find replusive. If we have a boss we find to be disgusting enough, we'll go out of our way to screw HIM up. In doing so, we screw up the whole operation. Gordon's example was Johnny Majors as head football coach at the University of Tennessee. Majors was a God in that state. The top recruits across the nation wanted to play for that legend. But when they got to school, they quickly discovered that they didn't like Johnny Majors, they didn't play well for him, and the Tennessee football team stunk up the SEC while Majors was there. He was fired, they hired Phill Fulmer, who the players LIKE, and Tennessee is a powerhouse again. If people don't like working for you, they won't work for you.
And that's all I have to say about THAT.
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