Ressler’s Rules # 9: “It is OK to be stupid and it is OK to be arrogant, just don’t be both”
Let me start this discussion with a bit of a digression – During the Vietnam War the phrase “Fragging” was coined to describe the practice of injuring or killing a superior officer who was overly harsh, inept or overzealous thereby being viewed by subordinates as threatening their lives in combat. While certainly the workplace is not nearly as threatening or dangerous as a war zone, I have always been a bit amazed that employees rarely if ever take willful steps to destroy the careers of their boss even if they fear that their bosses’ ineptness may negatively impact the career of others.
Most subordinates, in fact, go to great lengths to support, protect and nurture a boss for whom they have little respect. In my own career I once had a boss whom I not only didn’t respect as a manager, I didn’t respect as a man. In spite of a visceral loathing toward this individual, I continued to attempt to protect him from himself. Another manager I once had was extremely bright but his arrogance caused him to make occasional decisions that were definitely not in his best interest or that of the organization. In spite of his disdain for the opinion of others, all of us who reported to him continued to try and temper his decisions and shield him from the negative consequences of those few of his decisions that were clearly wrong. I often wondered why I felt compelled to be loyal and supportive even in those instances that I clearly disliked and did not respect my manager.
My belief is that all of us have an innate identification with and loyalty to our organization and this sense overrides whatever difficulty we are having with our immediate manager. When a relationship with our manager degenerates beyond repair, we normally seek employment elsewhere. Rarely if ever do we consider what might be called “business world fragging”-the willful undermining of our boss’s position or career. Please don’t confuse this action with “whistle blowing” which is much more of a rationale response to what is viewed as immoral actions on the part of others.
Having said all this, what is the connection to rule #9, what does it have to do with your career or more importantly how does it affect the way in which you would lead an organization? First of all, as a manager you must expect and honor the loyalty that accrues to your position and by extension, to you as an individual. Employees want to “follow you into battle”, and want to work for a manager who is reasonably intelligent and not an egomaniac. As a manger you do not have to constantly demonstrate you have the highest IQ in the unit (most of the time you probably don’t) and unlike a medieval prince there is no “divine right of kings” which ensures all your ideas and decisions are infallible. Learning to include input from others in the decision process while accepting the managerial responsibility for consequences; is a difficult balancing act that is learned over time. New managers and managers in new positions; must acquire the fine art of cautious assertion. Cautious Assertion I define as rapidly grasping the key issues and problems facing the organization while determining actions based on as much data and input as can be acquired in the time available.
As a manager, if you are incredibly brilliant, insightful, intuitive and rarely make mistakes, your career will rise like a rocket in a brilliant and colorful explosion –shock and awe will surround you and you will live happily ever after. In the real world where the rest of us live, this never happens. We all do dumb things occasionally, make bad decisions, leap to wrong conclusions, and embarrass our subordinates and ourselves. Mistakes can be rectified if we don’t let our ego get in the way. If your arrogance prevents you from recognizing and addressing mistakes your career will flounder no matter how much subordinates try to protect you. Managers are rarely as brilliant or as inspired as the highest praise they have received nor anywhere as bad as their worst critic believes. Temper your confidence with occasional reflections on your mistakes. Double clutching before major decisions is not necessarily a sign of weakness but rather an opportunity to gain additional insight. Remember the old adage that it is better to remain silent and have people wonder if you are stupid then open your mouth and prove it. You can overcome stupidity but you can’t overcome it when it is combined with arrogance.
Rule #5 – Coordinating a Subordinate’s Work Can Either Be Demeaning or Educational
Rule #4 – Little Transfer of Knowledge Occurs When the Boss Makes All the Decisions
Rule #3 – Never Ask a Subordinate to Do What You Wouldn’t Ask a Boss or Peer