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Offsets: Bully, Buffoon, Silent Partners and Associates.

January 24, 2003
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Having a degree in Organizational Management has been an interesting asset when working in the surveying and engineering professions. It can also be a detriment because I so often witness ridiculous management techniques by owners of civil/surveying organizations. Sometimes I cannot help but reflect on how poorly organized a group can be. Because many of you can probably relate to this topic, I’m writing about some of the ridiculous things I’ve seen owners of so-called professional companies do. I hope we will all look at our own performance and that of our supervisors, and consider appropriate changes if needed.

Abraham Lincoln said, “If you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” I think this is a very true principle. Power can corrupt politicians, corporate executives and even clerks at local government offices. When one has power, there is temptation to use it over others. Often, this power is used in an attempt to prove that one is in control—and for no other reason. Sometimes this abusive use of power causes repercussions for an organization.

I knew a very dictatorial person who ran an organization. He constantly insulted those under his charge in front of their peers. He made fun of their questions and purposely answered them in a techno-babble manner, forcing them to spend more time trying to decipher the coded answer. Why would anyone run an office this way? The result was amazing: the employees feared this man. They refused to ask questions and played “smart” rather than go before the “Great Oz” for help. Could one shoot oneself in the foot any more effectively than this?

A friend of mine worked in an office managed by a man who was more interested in swinging his ego around than cooperating with his own business partners. Because he was a larger shareholder than the other owners, he constantly placed his work above his partners. His answer to any claim of bullying was, “It’s my company.” It was a brutal environment and very inefficient. When the company went through five surveying managers in four years, you’d think they might wake up and smell the coffee! But no, when ego is in charge, logic, fairness, profitability and efficiency are all sacrificed on the altar of the Almighty Bully.

Bullying can be a sign of arrogance, dishonesty and an effort to hide a weakness. The coverup might include a corporate communication problem, non-trusting partners and brow-beaten employees. The bully manager makes up for these “problems” by dealing harshly with others (including clients) and demanding respect from underlings, albeit undeserved.

But there are other offices in the mismanaged company. The position of company buffoon always needs to be filled. Many companies fill this post without realizing it. These are people who are socially retarded, lack people skills, and manage by intimidation, denial and by twisting words. Often denying they “ever said that,” they play employees against one another in order to meet their subtle private agendas.

The buffoon is often recognized by his or her inability to produce a good professional product. This is because buffoonery is a cover for incompetence and ignorance of decency and equity in management. This position creates a bad taste for employees and helps spread a less-than-desired reputation for the business. I knew a person who produced terribly incomplete and under-designed plans. Yet, when anyone tried to convey this problem or resolve it, he simply shot the messenger. What a bold and dynamic manager!

Both of these management styles are akin to the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. These bullying managers march gallantly down the office aisles convinced that the employees are completely enthralled with their wonderfulness. But most of us see right through them.

Another owner type is the silent partner. The big boss also intimidates the partial owners of a company. So, while the silent partners may bad mouth the boss in the back room or voice support for employee concerns, they suddenly turn silent when the boss goes down a path of inequity, loss of profit or poor decision making. They do not dare show any dissension in the ranks. The result is, again, the discouragement of the employees.

If you own or operate a business, it is a good idea to take a long honest look at how you manage people, including partners. Do you have the confidence to ask an outside party to assess your management style? Are you able to candidly see how your management style is affecting your professional product, your professional reputation and your personal reputation? Throwing speeches or money at problems does not solve them. Making new policies or becoming a control freak will not solve problems either.

There are many resources available to the manager or owner who has no experience or training in management or supervision. Have you considered taking classes and sharing concepts with experts in this matter? It is very useful to examine your definitions of right and wrong. The positive traits you need for good, strong management were not taught in school. Many people do not bring these traits with them into a management or ownership role. Many civil/surveying managers (private and government) are in desperate need of formal training. And some should simply be removed.

As with many professions, we may be really good at the technical things, but that in no way ensures that we are good managers. To manage people requires special training, appropriate changes in motivations and a fair heart. So, how do you manage? Are you a partner in Bully, Buffoon, Silent Partners and Associates?

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