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The Best, Manager, EVER! Tales from the Management Crypt

December 3, 2009

Updated November 27, 2013

Integrity Compass We’ve all had good bosses, and more probably bad bosses that outnumber the former. This post is a more provocative commentary on leadership, but has important lessons for those people wanting to become effective, well-rounded leaders.

Your feedback and input is therefore important. Share your experiences of managers you’ve had: the good, the bad and the ugly.

If anyone’s brave enough, share where you’ve messed up as a manager but how you learned from the experience. And yes, yours truly made his share of mistakes as a new manager – so the kimono’s open. My sins?

When I was in my early thirties, some 25 years ago, I was appointed to a management position in the area where I had worked for over six years. Yes, I knew the work technically. However, leadership, as opposed to management, is not an appointment; it is earned. Due to my own insecurities and wanting to do a good job as a manager–especially in the absence of any formal management training – I was a micro-manager. When I’ve given presentations in the past on leadership I share this experience. And when I ask the audience how many people like working for a micro-manager, surprisingly no one has yet to raise their hand. Hmmmm. So that tells you something.

A couple of my team mates who were younger than I didn’t like this style of management and figuratively slapped me on the head. I still thank them to this day, because many micro-managers – and there are lots out there – never “get it.” The result is high staff turnover, weak productivity, and the absence of creativity and innovation.

Fortunately, I got the message really fast back then. I’ve been working over 35 years and always hated micro-management. But once I got over it when I was about 33, I became a delegator and, as I evolved as a manager, someone who believed in sharing the leadership. THAT is my personal leadership philosophy.

So let’s shift gears and turn to one of my heroes: Henry Mintzberg, a professor of management at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. If there’s one leadership book you buy, make it Mintzberg’s book entitled Managing. It’s brilliant and builds on his empirical work over the past 35 years. He’s one of the few really grounded authors on management. Too much of the literature over the past two decades, unfortunately, has consisted of excessively fluffy, feel-good stuff. Mintzberg, who may be perceived as a bit of a curmudgeon, is a provocative thinker and writer. But I promise you’ll love his new book.

One story he recounts in a footnote in his book is that of a British CEO who refused to allow employees to walk past his office door. The result was that they had to take a set of stairs to another floor. When employees met with this CEO in his office they had to sit on a chair that was at a lower level; that way the CEO could look down upon them. Unfortunately, and unbelievably, this guy not only got promoted but received a knighthood from the Queen! Upon his departure from the company, his advice to his successor was: a) dress properly, b) don’t smoke and c) maintain control.

The end of the story? The CEO’s successor went into his first board meeting, took off his jacket, lit a cigar and asked: “What would you like to talk about?”

Now that’s my kind of leader (minus the cigar). This new CEO was about to demolish that company’s corporate culture and build a new one.

So now it’s your turn. Share your experiences.


The medium of leadership is the energy of other people.

– Dick Richards


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3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 27, 2011 1:19 pm

    Thanks Geoff. A good example of bizarre behavior, considering how your former boss became rational later on. Perhaps your story is also a good example of Emotional Intelligence, and the lack of it.

  2. April 27, 2011 12:52 pm

    My all-time favourite management approach that I have ever personally faced?

    I had a boss who’s first reaction to anything was almost always to “shoot the messenger”. It was funny – if you brought any issue to him – regardless of size, complexity, or impact – he would yell at you. Didn’t matter if you were male or female, young or old, old-hand or green-as-a-grass, high-performer or wildly incompetent. First reaction – anger.

    That, in and of itself, isn’t all that unusual.

    The best part was that he would then go home, think about whatever the issue was, return to work the next morning, and have a calm, logical, even-handed discussion about whatever the topic was.

    Of course, many of my peers were terribly frightened of him, and the predictable turnover followed. However, when I realized that the reaction was always the same, I just took it in stride. I’d march into his office, deliver the message, take the blast, leave, and wait for tomorrow. In very short order I became his “go to guy” and learned quite a lot from a sharp fellow who seemed utterly clueless about how his reactions were impacting his staff.

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