by The Inmate
It was steady going all day, yet the feeling at the end was one of pleasure. The pleasantness was due largely to the presence of Jack, the headup man–a highly competent and soft-spoken person. We did an enormous amount of work yet did not feel driven or frustrated. It made me realize again how a single individual can count in the development of a pattern of life.[italics mine]
—Eric Hoffer, Working and Thinking on the Waterfront
In my brief career as a high school football coach I attended a large coaching conference in the early 80’s. Bill Walsh, former head coach of the San Francisco 49er’s, spoke along with a number of college coaches. In one seminar an old collegiate coach, whose name I cannot remember, was asked, “How do you coach kickers?” I will never forget his answer. “Well, if he’s a good kicker,” he said, “I usually walk over to him during practice and ask how his girlfriend is or how his grades are or how his mom and dad are doing. I do not give him any advice on how to kick. Maybe, if I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll pick up some grass, throw it in the air and comment on the state of the wind. But basically, I just try not to upset him.”
The lesson here is obvious: if you manage good workers, people who have been around a long time, who are competent, trustworthy and who know what they’re doing and who, ultimately, are a great benefit to the company, leave them alone. Don’t try to change their habits or focus on some eccentric way they do something that you think they should change. See the forest–it’s there, it’s large and it’s begging for attention. It’s obvious managers have substantial problems with workers who are lazy, irresponsible and incompetent. Fine. It’s an ugly job, but that’s what managers signed up for the day they went on salary. Why waste time on good workers? Enjoy them. Thank God for them and if you don’t believe in God, just pretend–sometimes that works just as well. Allow good workers to have idiosyncrasies that do not conform to company policy. Let them do things their own way. Your job is to keep them happy. Your job is to make sure they stay in the forest and don’t hop on the first logging truck that runs by because they’re pissed off about being harassed for carving their initials in a tree.
In his acceptance speech for Life Achievement at the 70th Annual Academy Awards Stanley Donen, who directed the movies On the Town, Royal Wedding, Funny Face, Damn Yankees, Two For the Road, Singin’ in the Rain and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers had this to say about directing:
I’m going to let you in on the secret of being a good director. For the script you get . . . Peter Stone . . . or Frederic Raphael . . . If it’s a musical, for the songs you get George and Ira Gershwin or Arthur Freed . . . or Leonard Bernstein . . . Then you cast Cary Grant or Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Sophia Loren, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, Gregory Peck, Elizabeth Taylor, Burt Reynolds, Gene Hackman, or Frank Sinatra . . . And when filming starts you show up and you stay the hell out of the way.
This should be the new motto for all managers: Stay the hell out of the way! As a way of contributing to the needs of the corporation I suggest the following: training for managers should consist of one week of the continued repetition of this one phrase: “I will stay the hell out of the way.” It could become the Manager’s Mantra (MM). It could be posted above their desks, in rest rooms, in break rooms, on the dashboards of their cars and even at home on their refrigerators and bathroom mirrors. Meetings could entail a simple daily dialogue between managers and workers that could become a corporate tradition–a meaningful ritual. This could be called the Corporate Responsive Mantra (CRM) and these could be printed up in books so that new workers and new managers could join in immediately. Instead of the usual, unspoken dialogue that goes something like this,
Managers: Good morning. We’re rolling out a new program this week.
Workers: Oh mannnn, not this bullshit again.
Managers: We used to be workers too and we understand your needs.
Workers: The hell you do.
Managers: You people are on the front lines and need to be rewarded.
Workers: I think I’ll have pizza for lunch today.
we would have CRM that might go something like this:
Managers: Good morning, subordinates. Forgive us for getting in the way yesterday.
Workers: High and mighty superiors, we forgive you.
Managers: Today we will stay the hell out of the way.
Workers: Glory in the highest, leave us the hell alone.
Managers: May tomorrow also keep us the hell out of the way
Workers: Praise be to you, leave us the hell alone tomorrow too.
This kind of interaction, though rote, might be the most significant dialogue ever engaged in between workers and management and so completely alter the current state of the corporation that consulting firms nationwide will begin filing bankruptcy. Good workers will start smiling again, not that cynical, dry, sarcastic smile that management is accustomed to, but rather that genuine smile of good will and good humor. A good manager is invisible–at least to good workers So, get the hell out of the way and we’ll get the hell to work.
The Corporate Asylum is selling two new books. The first is, Manager Mantras: Help For the Misguided. Mantras include “I will never say ‘My office door is always open,'” “I will look for the forest,” “Workers have lives outside of this corporation” and “Reality matters, reality matters, reality matters.” Our second book is Corporate Responsive Mantras: Meaningful Dialogues for Employees. This book is filled with 99 CRM’s tailored to the specific needs of your company. Chapter titles include, “Motivational Responsive Mantras,” “Morale Building Responsive Mantras,” and “Responsive Mantras for the Power Hungry.” Here is just one example of what you can expect from this incredible book: Management: We are not dictators; we are human beings. Workers: We are not slaves; we are human beings. Management: We do not know everything, we still have much to learn. Workers: We do know something, you can learn from us. Management: Speak workers, speak. Workers: Listen management, listen. Together: Ommmmmmmmmmm.
- Donen, Stanley, Acceptance Speech at the Academy Awards, “The 70th Annual Academy Awards,” on ABC, Produced by Gilbert Cates, Directed by Louis J. Horvitz, March 23, 1998.
- Hoffer, Eric, Working and Thinking on the Waterfront, Perennial Library, Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc., New York, N.Y., 1970, pp.116-117.