Brandt On Leadership -- Worst Practice Management

Dec. 21, 2004
How to be a world-class bad leader.

Years of study and hard-won experience have taught me that most leaders and most companies have no interest -- at all -- in best practice management. How could they, given the terrible shape of employee morale at their organizations? How could they, given the sloppy production processes they put up with? How could they, given the outraged customers who would gladly spend more elsewhere, if only someone would pay attention? Yet for a long time I thought these leaders didn't mean to lead badly. I thought they were just knuckleheads, dopes who knew better but didn't care enough to overcome human nature's innate resistance to change. Surely, I thought, with a little education -- or with a two-by-four to the head -- these bumblers could be shown the error of their ways. Surely, I thought, no one actually wants to be a bad leader. I was wrong. It turns out that bad leaders -- the managerial equivalents of coelacanths, a deepwater fish whose brain hasn't evolved in 350 million years -- really do want to be bad leaders. Bad leadership, they've decided, is the only way to preserve whatever little position they've achieved. For them, the light of good management theory is like the kiss of daylight on a vampire's skin -- uncomfortable at least, and possibly fatal. Only by living in the dark, hoarding information and feeding on the careers of those around them can these leaders maintain a semblance of power. So I give up. After years of promoting management best practices to the managerial undead, I'm now offering tips that they can really use -- management worst practices that, if followed, will make any executive into a world-class bad leader, with all the benefits that implies. To wit: Don't share information: Information is power. Information is dangerous. Make sure your underlings have as little of it as possible, to keep them dependent on you. Don't reveal anything to your peers, either, lest they use it to create new products, which will steal your budget and your underlings. Collaboration is just a buzzword invented by the consulting companies. If you didn't invent it here, don't use it. Don't share decision-making: Command and control works. Respect is based on position and the power to decide the fates of projects and people. Don't give away that power to underlings, or else they may prove themselves smarter than you. In fact, try not to hire anyone smarter than you, so that you will always be needed. Don't invest in technology: Study after study indicates that a large percentage of IT projects fail. Failure means a black eye for the manager in charge. Why take a risk on some technology initiative to benefit customers when your career will hang in the balance? Besides, a slowing economy means your budget will just get cut anyway. Do yourself a favor and keep doing things the way they've always been done. That way, you're still the expert. Don't invite customers and suppliers into your business: If you can't afford to share information and decision-making with your employees, why in the hell would you share it with outsiders? Besides, if you give a customer an inch, they'll take a mile. First you ask their opinion, next thing you know they'll expect you to reinvent your product, your service and your value. And suppliers? They're like children, better seen than heard. The last thing you need is a bunch of whiny vendors telling you how to run your business. Tell them to shut up and be grateful they still have your business. Don't lead for anything other than the next quarter: Long-term value? Stakeholder issues? Corporate citizenship? Community involvement? Please. If any of that mumbo jumbo mattered, then Barney Mr.-I-Love-You, You-Love-Me would be a CEO. Which, of course, would be just absolutely terrific for your career: Yet another dinosaur in senior management. Who needs the competition? John R. Brandt, formerly editor-in-chief of IndustryWeek, now is president and publisher of the Chief Executive Group, publisher of Chief Executive magazine.

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