Managers Who Are Happiest Doing Nothing

By Bob Morrell on October 4, 2017

Many years ago I worked for a sales department of a local newspaper. This was in the late eighties and all the salespeople had their own booth. It was cork lined so you could pin all your prices and dimensions of advertisements to it, and you had a typewriter – not an electric one – a manual typewriter. We were taking adverts over the phone and the phone never stopped ringing. So you had to be quick. The quicker you were, the quicker you sold adverts and the quicker you earned a meagre commission per ad.

In the middle of the room, on a raised dais, was a single desk that contained the manager. She was a lady called Pauline. She LOVED being a manager. She loved the position – high above us, where she could see and hear every conversation and also dispense wisdom, advice, terse comments and anger, in equal measure. Over time, as I became accustomed to the system I began to observe this fascinating example of the human race in more detail. She lived in a perpetual state of concern. Worried about the paper, the deadline, the prices, the language, the tone of the conversation, the number of calls taken in a morning.

She would lead occasional development meetings (this was way before coaching – they were shouting matches) and in those meetings after half an hour of raised voices about lateness, time on the phone, something you said, how we should be concerned about our position etc, we would go back to our booths and she would transform into our new best friend – joking about an advertiser, telling war stories about her time as a salesperson etc. Nothing happened. Nothing changed. There was no direction – just production and shouting.

Over the last 15 years of selling training we can safely say that there are still some managers who are not far off this. They cannot make a proactive decision, Everything they do is rooted in the past – and so is mired in mediocrity. They think their way is the only way because they have no notion of any other way forward. They are actively scared of personality and innovation because there lies ‘risk’.

There are managers who join organisations with massive promises of change, and then deliver a year of meetings which achieve nothing. There are some who commission studies and create working groups which means they can abdicate responsibility for making decisions, and again – next to nothing happens.

This is also the responsibility of Senior Managers who create management positions and yet will not endow those in them with any power. So in order to create the façade of power, the manager concerned engages in the things we’ve mentioned, a semblance of busy-ness which amounts to very little.

The most successful managers, by far, are those who seek forgiveness after taking bolder decisions. Incidentally if those decisions are about generating growth they probably won’t need to apologise.
If you want to test your own power, then ask these questions of your line manager:

  1. What is my sign off limit for business development investment?
  2. What can I do to reward innovation and risk taking in my team?
  3. What can I do to get your sign off limit?

This is the definition of management – the power to make positive change. If you’re there to caretake and procrastinate then that’s not management – that's a business choice.