Friday, October 8, 2021

2015 - Leaders and Managers Who Practice "Lord of the Flies"

"Let's go around and share what I just told you to tell me"

(Fifty Nifty Years in the United States Series)

Un-named Manager (s) – While I have made every attempt to celebrate this year, I have not always learned or gained from amazing and wonderful people. There have been those who along my journey have added to my challenges and created different opportunities to learn. Those who know me well, know how I am a visual learner and sometimes the visual learning has been repeated over and over until the lesson sunk in.

I mentioned before that I had learned how best to NOT be from lowering the bar (previous BLOG Law of the Lid) for a co-worker as well as myself. I’ve also learned how to forgive them and forgive myself. It was only recently that I realized that one of my best coping strategies in life has been my imagination and how I apply it often in difficult situations.

Another lesson from Richard Bach (also a previous BLOG) when he describes taking a journey of how life can play out in his book “The Bridge  Across Forever; A True Love Story.” The quote goes, “That’s what learning is, after all; not whether we lose and how we’ve changed because of it, and what we take away from it that we never had before. To apply to other games. Losing, in a curious way is winning.”

In 2015 I began another creative and imaginative task of looking at those challenging folks who I allowed to push my buttons in a different way. GRATITUDE. (And another BLOG) It was a manager that I had been working with for some time that always seemed to bring back anything that I submitted for a revision and correction. My story on this person was that no matter what I did, there would be a change or different interpretation of what needed to be completed. Every time this person showed up in front of me, I would say to myself, “What gift does this person bring me today?” And not in snarky manner, but in a genuine moment of gratitude and blessing.

They reminded me of others who I allowed to challenge me before and I gave them the power to do so. When I became the official Director for my first camp, an old Y guy told me this about my staff training. Let’s call him Dan. He said, “Make sure you hire someone that you know that you are going to fire during that training week. That way you make a point with the rest of the staff and they will do what you want.” I thought this was great.

Dan, who I greatly admired, was sharing what I thought was a secret bit of knowledge that he thought would make me a better director. (notice I didn’t say leader). So, I did. And during that week, I knew that Gus was that person. He was having a tough time with direction and he was likable. I knew he was going to go in a matter of days. And when the time came, I made it very public and I thought that I orchestrated this so well. We were in the middle of a session and he was getting riled up and I kept prodding him along until he blew up. At that point I told him, ”Gus, you’re done. Thank you very much. I’d like you to go and pack up. Your services here are no longer needed.” I won’t describe what happened from there and it was not pretty, nor am I proud of any of it.

I felt like a real “BOSS” that day (and not the kind I wrote about from 2003). I felt like my staff would now listen to everything I would ask of them and for a short time they did. I can also tell you that later, I threw up. (That seemed to always be the pattern in these situations.)

I can’t tell you that I changed that practice. I thought this is what you do, and you must stomach through it all. Dan would not have told me to do that if it wasn’t something that should happen. And ladies and gentlemen, for several years, I did just that.

And to Gus, and Debbie and Mike and Pete and Simon and Shirley, let me apologize here and now. It took me some time to realize that directing from a place of fear and intimidation was not at all where I wanted to be as a leader. I can’t say that I have had to fire others. But I can say, that for the last 27 years or so, I have never hired someone to be limited in my expectations. I have been their biggest fan.

These manager's who have come into my life in what seemed the most difficult times have taught me that top down leadership does not work. Several times I have sat around a table at regular "leadership" meetings where you quickly learn that when asked for an opinion, it often became repeating back what you had been told. Those managers seldom want new ideas (even though they may ask for that). 

As Suzanne Lucas wrote if her piece, "The Perils of Top Down Management,"You're paying people to do the work; you should listen to their ideas as well. You need to actively encourage their input so that they own the plans and progress." I was amazed when managers who promoted the concepts of listening, seldom did that in their own management system. After a while at the end of meetings when leaders where asked to go around the table and share, it became a series of, "I don;t have anything new today," comments from nearly every leader expect those who where in favor.

.I have personally referred to this style of management as the "Lord of the Flies" school of management and often taking turns in who would play Piggy.

In another management lesson on a series of retreats to grow and build "teamwork" a series of competitions where devised to help the team bond. These retreats (Like many in the United States) also involved consumption of adult beverages. Often times, the senior management would talk about and bet on younger and new team members as to who the lonely gazelle maybe in the group. It was a bold and brazen approach to see who may not be cut out by signaling their inability to stay with the group and this be targeted by the cheetah.

Lonely gazelle attack in managing others.

Richard Bach also said, “Argue for your limitations and they’re yours.” A tough lesson I learned in the most difficult manner. If you limit your team or yourself, they will live down to those exact limitations.

These lessons have been a blessing as well along the way to 50 plus years in these United States. I am grateful now for those difficult leaders that tested who I have become. (Sometimes the gazelle and trying to avoid being the cheetah.)

I sincerely hope that those I have been that difficult leader have grown from my example as well. I cannot imagine being better at leadership without having seen the worst of leadership, myself included.

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