Management Trial and Error

Now that I have been in Government service for nearly thirty years I can comment with authority on trends I have seen. And they come and go. Remember Total Quality Management (TQM)? Remember ISO 9000?

Various Government Departments embraced these systems like couch potatoes embrace the latest fad on the Home Shopping Network. They love that new diet pill until nine folks in the mid-west die. Then the ads disappear from television and no one remembers it. Like old sugar substitutes, remember cyclamates? Or maybe the nifty fat substitute Olestra? It made low fat potato chips possible, but caused uh… leakage.

Management fads are like that too. Gone and forgotten and only the memory of the hoopla they made when they rolled them out remains.

One thing I’m convinced of, someone has the personality and ability to lead or they don’t. And if they don’t there isn’t a program, training course, or pill to take that will give them magical powers of supervision. I’ve worked for some truly great managers, folks that could make you WANT to perform and do the best job you could do. And I’ve worked for some trainwrecks you could see coming from miles off. Thankfully they didn’t stay long.

Have you ever heard term “seagull” manager? They fly in squawking, crap on everything, and fly out again. They immediately want to “leave their mark” on things. One favorite tactic is reorganization. (Commonly referred to as “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic”). They will attack a system that all ready works and change it to resemble something they were taught in management school. If it is a decentralized system, they centralize. If it is a centralized system, well, you get the idea.

A few years ago our division products were handled by the various divisions. Each outfit knew who their customers were, knew all about the products and could answer any question, and knew how many disks, tapes, books, or what have you, to have on hand. A seagull arrived and claiming the cost-benefit gains of an economy of scale, centralized the process creating an office of clerks who knew nothing about any of the products; who wants them, or how many of each to stock. Well, the seagull flew away and now I hear they are working on decentralizing the process again.

Folks wonder why I often stop at a bar on the way home from work…

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Allen Sheaprd


I understand why you stop at a bar on the way home. I can understand why under some managers people leave their hope, laughs and energy in the car each morning before they go into work.

Ever notice there is guilt by association but not innocence by association ? IMO good managers do not drage bad managers up. Instead bad managers drag others down.

Why? Im not sure yet.

Ed Albetski

It’s all related to this truism: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”
– William Shakespeare, from Julius Caesar.

The bad things, like bad bosses, folks remember.

Allen Sheaprd

Ed, do we assume “The needs of the many out weigh the needs of the few – or the one” (Spock) and vote bad managers off the department for the good of the many?

The 360 assessment is a good starting place where those above rate a person as well as those below.

Actually I hope managers do volunteer work. Motivating volunteers happens without using money, threats or punishment. Those with rough personality often do not get any volunteers. If a blood drive, habbitat for humanity or some other group benifits – all the better.

Don Jacobson

Ed – I agree with you completely that no training course can by itself make a bad leader into an effective one. Leadership training can’t “fix” anyone; the students must want to learn to become effective leaders.

I think what we typically see in government is that technical experts often get promoted into supervisory roles because they are really good technical experts. Many of them could learn to lead if they really wanted to, but many fail to “promote” themselves, i.e. make the psychological leap to recognize that they have a greater scope of responsibility that requires additional skills that they need to learn and take seriously.

Basically, they haven’t yet made the choice to lead.


Ed Albetski

Thanks for the comments!
Allen, volunteer work as a management test is a brillant idea. Business schools should jump on it.
Trica & Don, Segull are obviously not just on the coast. Yes, the most competent clerk in the world is not necessarily a good supervisor. In the old movie and TV show MASH, Radar has an encyclopedic knowledge of all Army rules and regs, but remains a corporal. I’ve had supervisors who were promoted techies. In general, they tended to be “bean counters”. Not good for an office full of diverse personalities. Good point.