The Great Game of Business – Chapter 2 section 1 (part 3 of 17)

Chapter 2 – Myths of Management

You may wonder if it’s possible to play the Great Game of Business anywhere – in a division of a giant conglomerate, say, or in a factory with a dominant union, or in a company that doesn’t share equity with employees or have an intelligent bonus system. In fact, the Game started in a place exactly like that, in a very small department at the huge International Harvester plant in Melrose Park, Illinois. It was there that I learned most of what I know about managing and everything I’ve tried to forget about leadership. … The practice of management, I discovered, is filled with myths that are guaranteed to screw up any factory or company as badly as Melrose Park was in those days.

Myth #1: Don’t Tell People the Truth – They’ll Screw You. Being honest with people was unheard of at Melrose Park and at most other companies in the 1970s. The whole mentality was, Cover your ass. … We established credibility, and you only build credibility by telling the truth. You simply can’t operate unless people believe you and believe one another. That taught me an important lesson: lying and dishonesty are bad business.

Myth #2: Nice Guys Finish Last. When you flaunt what you’ve got, when you intimidate, when you treat people badly, you lose power.

The Third Higher Law Is:What Goes Around Comes Around

Whenever I see someone take advantage of other people, whenever I see a boss acting like an S.O.B., I know his days are numbered.

Myth #3: A Manager’s Job Is to Come Up with Answers. It’s very common for managers, especially new managers, to think they’re supposed to have solutions for any problems that arise on their watch. That kind of thinking can get you into deep trouble. For one thing, it sets you up to fail because no one has all the answers. For another, it undermines your credibility because everyone knowsthat on one has all the answers. It also isolates you from people. … At the same time, they’re failing managers, because they aren’t doing what every good manager has to do: build confidence in other people.

You all learn faster when you teach each other. … Aside from sharing problems, they taught me about the importance of managing with the downside in mind, of having contingencies and trap doors. Because failure is part of the process. You can’t succeed if you don’t fail sometimes. But if you’re not prepared for failure, it’s going to take you by surprise and knock you for a loop. … The secret is to make contingency planning a habit of mind. It was a habit I developed as I moved up the ladder and found the problems kept getting harder. I would teach people everything I knew, and it wouldn’t be enough, so together we’d have to come up with one more trick.

That was critical because the people in the factory were depending on us. When you have the responsibility to take care of other people, you do whatever it takes to get the job done.

The Fourth Higher Law Is: You Do What You Gotta Do

You drop everything else. You stay night and day on that one thing. You figure out how to motivate, push, sneak, threaten, do whatever is necessary because people’s livlihoods are at stake. Take the hill. You gotta take the hill. … You do that, not by coming up with the answers yourself, but by generating a level of creativity that allows the answers to come out.

Myth #4: It’s a Big Mistake to Promote People Too Quickly. The common wisdom is that people should prove themselves before they get promoted. I always promoted people as fast as I could. … Tunnel vision is a big problem in business. When people spend all their time in one function, they see every issue from a single perspective. … that makes it harder to accomplish anything. I got around this obstacle by getting my people jobs in other departments. In effect, I instituted a program of cross-training for the people I worked with. … As a result, my department could function better. We had our own support system consisting of erstwhile colleagues who understood our point of view and could give us help when we needed it.