• < 1 minute read


    Happy Memorial Day to you and your families. I’ll be back next Friday with a new post. 










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  • 5 minute read


    As some of you may know, on page two of the Business Section of the Sunday New York Times you’ll find a weekly feature called “Corner Office.”

    It’s curated by Adam Bryant, and each installment consists of an interview with a different “top executive,” in which the two discuss management and leadership. And as you might expect, much of what is said consists of advice on how to best manage a business.

    So for this edition in myParadox of the week” series of posts, a closer look at Mr. Bryant’s series and what it has to offer. But this time around I’m not going to focus on the contradictory statements or paradoxical assertions frequently offered by the executives he interviews – although there would seem to be no shortage of them. For instance:

    • In Mr. Bryant’s interview with Alexandra Wilkis Wilson (CEO of Glamsquad, an app-based beauty provider), Ms. Wilson confessed that one of the things she liked least about investment banking (her previous career) was the “long hours.” But when asked about what she looks for when hiring, she replied: “I look for people who are willing to put in the hours.”
    • In her 2016 interview, Jane Rosenthal (movie producer, founder and Exec Chair of Tribeca Film Festival) had this to say about her childhood upbringing: “She [Rosenthal’s mother] also always said to me that you can absolutely do whatever you want. It never occurred to me that ‘no’ was an option.” And yet later, Rosenthal explains why she majored in film and television in college, instead of acting: “My parents said no.”
    • And Beth Comstock (Vice Chairperson of GE) went on record as saying: “When you get teamwork right, its like magic because everyone has a role. You’re different, but you come together [my emphasis]…” But later she explains: “Tension is actually good. If everybody on the team thinks something is good, it’s probably not that good… I’ve lately tried to incorporate more tension…”

    So yes, the contradictions are there if you look for them.

    For this week’s post, however, I’d like to offer you something a little different. I’d like to take a moment to point out that contradiction and paradox seems to have become entirely acceptable to the management advice world. Far from being unaware of it, there would seem to be many out there who actually embrace it. And based on his column, I’d argue that Mr. Bryant’s is one such individual.

    Here’s an example of what I mean: In October of last year, Bryant interviewed Austin McChord (CEO of Datto, a data protection company), and Mr. McChord is quoted as saying:

    There is this trend, especially with millennials, where everything is awesome all the time. At Datto, very few things are awesome, and it takes exceptional achievement to receive an honest pat on the back.

    And as a result, Bryant made an editorial choice to title this particular piece: “It’s Not Awesome Till It’s Awesome.”

    Clever, to be sure. Catchy even. And it obviously calls to my mind the sort of homespun wisdom that former New York Yankees manager Yogi Berra might have offered. (Remember “It ain’t over till its over”?).

    But does this really say anything useful/meaningful/insightful about managing?

    No – of course not.

    Consider it: What would be the reaction if an engineer or building inspector were to reply “It’s not ready until it’s ready” when asked whether a particular structure is safe to occupy? Or, imagine what might happen if your company’s chief financial officer were to stand up at a shareholder’s meeting and assert: “We won’t make any money until we turn a profit.” That might get a chuckle from the audience (if you’re lucky), but my guess is that those shareholders would expect a pretty robust analysis of the company’s finances to follow.

    In other words, in either case such comments wouldn’t satisfy anyone, and would likely be considered inappropriate.

    And yet when it comes to managing, these sorts of paradoxical quips seem to be seen not only as acceptable, but are often viewed as savvy business advice.

    Here’s another one. After his 2011 interview with Robin Domeniconi (senior vice president and chief brand officer for the Elle Group), Mr. Bryant titled that “Corner Office” installment:

    “Say anything, but phrase it the right way”

    Sure, it sort of makes sense…I guess. But technically speaking, if you have to phrase things a certain way, you can’t really say anything.

    My own introduction to this sort of contradiction/paradox being passed off as bona fide management knowledge came when I first read In Search of Excellence (1982), which is still considered one of the most influential management advice books of all time. In it, authors Tom Peters and Robert Waterman Jr. articulate 8 “core management practices” of successful companies. And one of those—the final, “summary principle”—is “Simultaneous Loose-Tight Properties.”[1]

    Simultaneous loose-tight? What could that possibly mean?

    According to Peters and Waterman, it is “the co-existence of firm central direction and maximum individual autonomy.” Or as they explain “having one’s cake and eating it too.”[2]

    Well, forgive me for saying so, but I don’t buy it. Not because I think Peters and Waterman aren’t being sincere, though. I’m sure they mean what they say. But to me—as a scientist—it just doesn’t make sense. Or at least it doesn’t make any more sense that telling someone to “whisper at the top of your lungs.”

    So how did it come to this?

    Why, in other words, is it that what wouldn’t be acceptable in many other disciplines (such as math, engineering, or physics) not only seems to be tolerated, but lauded as insight by the management community?

    In my opinion, it’s because when it comes to managing, no one has yet to figure any of it out in any sort of meaningful way. Good management. Bad management. We know it when we see it (sort of), but that’s about it. We have yet to come up with a defining principle (or principles) for what it really is, and how to practice it.


    That’s my thought for the week. But before I go, here’s a few more titles crafted by Mr. Bryant for his “Corner Office” interviews. I consider them all to be just as contradictory/paradoxical/nonsensical as those others – but let me know what you think. Or, if you’ve come across something similar in your own reading, or in your experiences as a manager, please let me know as well. (You can post your responses in the comment section below.)

    And so…

    Learn to See the Plan A in Your Plan B” (October 21, 2016)

    The Truth May Hurt, but It Also Heals(March 18, 2016)

    If it can’t be done, you haven’t tried” (Feb 12, 2016)

    Find the Questions in Every Answer” (December 17, 2015)

    Lead With Strengths, and Weaknesses” (June 30, 2015)

    A Believer and Skeptic in One” (June 26, 2015)

    Achieving Breakthroughs in Small Bites” (June 20, 2015)

    Your Imperfection can be Your Strength” (August 9, 2014)

    On putting it together (after taking it apart)” (July 5, 2014)

    On achieving the unachievable” (May 15, 2014)

    On making judgments instead of decisions” (May 3, 2014)

    On putting your followers first” (March 22, 2014)

    On embracing ‘organized chaos’” (February 8, 2014)


    See you next Friday.


    [1] Peters, Thomas, and Robert Waterman, Jr. In Search of Excellence. (1982) New York: HarperBusiness, p. 318.

    [2] Ibid., p. 318.


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    Two weeks ago I published a post titled: “100 Days (Or, 26 Habits of Bad Managers).”

    As you may recall, my inspiration for those “bad habits” was behavior or actions taken by President Trump and/or his administration during his first 100 or so days in office.

    And perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve gotten some pushback. For instance, one of you wrote:

    I would love to see specific examples of the 26 bad habits you attribute to Trump. …I don’t see how a lot of these are accurate labels for [the President].”

    So this week, I offer you just that for your consideration.

    What follows are examples of specific actions (or tweets) by Trump or his administration, that I believe can be fairly interpreted as evidence of each one of these behaviors.

    Now to be clear, I’m not saying that every single one of the 26 is necessarily a habit of Trump’s (although many appear to be). I would therefore hesitate to characterize them as “labels” that might be assigned to the President. Telling a single lie does not make someone a liar in my book. What I am saying, however, is that on at least one occasion during his time in office (or shortly beforehand), Trump has acted in a way consistent with each.

    Perhaps my disclaimer from that post two weeks ago is worth repeating here:

    • I’m not saying Trump is a bad manager necessarily; it’s possible that he doesn’t manage his businesses the same way he seems to be running the country
    • I’m not saying that Trump does all of these things, or behaves this way all of the time
    • I’m not even saying that it’s not okay to engage in some of these behaviors on occasion. (It is, however, probably a bad idea to make them habits.)

    And so…


    Bad Manager Habit #1: Lack of credibility.

    For evidence of Trump’s lack of credibility, one need look no further than Day One of his Presidency. Trump (and his spokespeople) repeatedly claimed that attendance at his inauguration was greater than Obama’s: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/two-pictures-that-prove-donald-trump-is-lying-inauguration-crowds-washington-dc-womens-march-barack-a7539876.html.

    …and that he won by the largest electoral college margin since Reagan: http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/16/politics/donald-trump-electoral-victory-claim/,


    #2: Doubling-down on a poor decision.

    Here, the two deeply unpopular (and failed) attempts by the Trump administration to ban travelers from certain Muslim-majority countries will suffice: https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2017-03-15/trump-s-second-travel-ban-is-blocked-by-u-s-judge-j0bk602s.


    #3: Thinking/pretending you know more than you actually do.

    In this video compilation, Trump claims he is better than anyone else at 24 different things, including “the military” as he puts it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzbHXKp6Y6I.


    #4: Not taking your position seriously. Trump’s refusal to divest from his businesses while serving as our nation’s President smacks of putting personal interest above patriotic duty: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-finance-idUSKBN14V21I.


    #5: Blaming others for your mistakes. When the Republican Healthcare Bill (AHCA or “TrumpCare”) failed to pass the majority Republican House the first time around, Trump assigned blame to the Democrats: http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/24/politics/donald-trump-health-care-blame/.


    #6: Talking too much. His rambling press conferences: http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/02/donald-trump-press-conference-media.


    #7: Thinking that everyone is against you. In October of last year, Trump claimed there was a “global conspiracy” against him: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/10/13/donald-trump-leans-in-hard-to-the-conspiracy-theory-of-the-2016-election/?utm_term=.29dcb1e2fcc7.


    #8: Taking yourself too seriously. His gleeful interest in how poor the ratings were for the “The Apprentice” while Arnold Schwarzenegger was host suggests to me that he takes himself a bit too seriously: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/03/04/trump-tweets-schwarzenegger-fired-by-his-ratings-not-by-me.html.


    #9: Not listening. Trump’s decision to forgo daily intelligence briefings could be seen as an unwillingness to listen: http://www.cnbc.com/2016/12/12/trump-claims-he-doesnt-need-daily-intelligence-briefings-because-hes-a-smart-person.html.

    And according to some, Trump may not be listening to US Generals: http://www.defenseone.com/politics/2017/02/winning-or-not-trump-doesnt-seem-be-listening-his-generals/135781/.


    #10: Not following through on what you say. Trump seems to have decided not to prosecute Clinton, after all but promising to: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/22/us/politics/donald-trump-hillary-clinton-investigation.html?_r=0.

    And then there is his reversal/flip-flop on Medicaid:


    #11: Poor organizational skills. This is admittedly difficult to quantify, much less prove. Nevertheless, it seems at least some management “experts” feel Trump is anything but an able administrator: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/02/business/donald-trump-management-style.html.


    #12: Poor work ethic. Trump golfs a lot for a new president. A lot. http://www.businessinsider.com/how-often-trump-golfed-during-first-100-days-compared-to-obama-bush-and-clinton-2017-4.


    #13: Making threats. Idle, veiled, or otherwise. I’m tempted to cite Trump’s repeated threats to sue people, or threatening judges who rule against him, but his tweet on May 12 (8:26 am) referring to the recently fired FBI Director will suffice: “James Comey had better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”


    #14: Blaming your predecessor for your own problems. “I have to say that the world is a mess. I inherited a mess.” From: https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/politics/2017/04/06/how-much-longer-can-trump-blame-obama/ocaP2Kis0dkWumAzA9wBKO/story.html.


    #15: Lack of transparency. Trump’s recent threat to discontinue press briefings: http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2017/05/12/trump_suggests_he_ll_end_press_briefings_threatens_comey_with_an_allusion.html.


    #16: Spending a lot of time out of the office. Trips to Mar-a-lago have become somewhat of a norm: http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/328203-trump-on-pace-to-spend-more-in-first-year-on-travel-than-obama-did-in.


    #17: Feeling threatened by your own employees. Trump’s decision to remove Steve Bannon from the National Security Council is thought by some to have been in part a response to feeling upstaged by him: “’I am my own strategist,’ Mr. Trump told the New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin…a pointed reference to what aides described as his growing irritation that Mr. Bannon’s allies are calling him the mastermind behind Mr. Trump’s victory…” From: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/12/us/politics/steve-bannon-white-house-trump.html.


    #18: Creating a crisis to distract from other issues. Fairly or unfairly, the April bombing of Syria has been seen by some as a way of distracting the public from the struggles of the new administration: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2017/04/donald-trumps-symbolic-strike-syria-170407122029617.html.


    #19: Refusing to apologize when you’re wrong. Trump has refused to apologize to Obama for his baseless lie that the former President had Trump’s phones wiretapped (not to mention that whole birth certificate thing): http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/03/trump-refuses-to-apologize-drags-germany-into-wiretapping-lie.


    #20: Repeated shake-ups of your closest advisors. April 7: https://www.wsj.com/articles/donald-trump-considering-major-shakeup-of-senior-white-house-team-1491588185. May 15: http://nypost.com/2017/05/15/white-house-counsel-could-be-first-to-go-in-staff-shake-up/.


    #21: Nepotism. Trump has named his daughter Ivanka as an official White House advisor: http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/29/politics/ivanka-trump-white-house-job/.

    …and son-in-law Jared Kushner as senior White House advisor: http://fortune.com/2017/03/27/jared-kushner-white-house-roles/.


    #22: Making promises you can’t keep. Believe it or not, at one point Trump promised healthcare for everyone: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/03/13/trump-promised-insurance-for-everyone-trumpcare-would-leave-52-million-without-it-cbo-says.


    #23: Ignoring the facts. Trump’s executive order concerning climate change would seem to fit the bill here: http://www.ucsusa.org/news/press_release/trump-executive-order-on-climate-policies#.WRurX1KZM1g.


    #24: Shouting down those you disagree with. (Media) “Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election.” From: http://money.cnn.com/2017/02/06/media/donald-trump-poll-denialism/.


    #25: Boasting about “your” accomplishments. It’s not uncommon for a President to laud one’s own accomplishments, but Trump has done so in a way that is perhaps particularly self-congratulatory. For example, on Feb 16, 2017, he couldn’t seem to help himself from pointing out that “I just got here” before going on to list his administration’s presumptive achievements: http://www.msnbc.com/hardball/watch/trump-brags-about-accomplishments-in-office-879189571517.

    And on April 6, 2017, he boasted “I think we’ve had one of the most successful 13 weeks in the history of the presidency.” http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/04/trump-boasts-historically-successful-13-weeks-of-presidency.html.


    #26: Gloating. Trump continues to bring up his election victory well into his term, including at a recent rally in Kentucky: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/20/us/politics/donald-trump-louisville-kentucky.html.


    And finally, a word to those of you who might be tempted to argue that Obama did something similar on occasion, or that Clinton would have behaved similarly in these circumstances. Keep in mind this isn’t a partisan thing; it’s a management thing.

    Bad habits are bad habits.


    See you next Friday.



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  • May 12, 2017

    8 minute read


    In the previous post in this series, I offered some background on the organization chart. How they came into being, and why their use has become so widespread.

    But for all their apparent utility, these diagrams remain deeply unpopular.

    According to David Packard (the late CEO and co-founder of the Hewlett-Packard Corporation), “after you get organized, you ought to throw your organization chart away.”[1] Robert Townsend, the former president and chairman of Avis Rent-a-Car once cautioned “never formalize, print, and circulate (your organizational chart).”[2] And according to biographer Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs once exclaimed: “These charts are bullshit.”[3]

    So why does the organization chart seem to rub so many people the wrong way?


    Same as it ever was

    To be sure, organization charts have been the subject of criticism virtually since their invention.

    For example, in 1922 Henry Ford lamented that it “takes about six weeks for the message of a man living in a box on a lower left-hand corner of the chart [to reach top management].”[4] His complaint is a familiar one; the often painful sluggishness with which most corporations make decisions is frequently attributed to the process of passing information up and down the various “chains of command” that the org chart describes. As a result, the diagram has become a de facto symbol of the stifling bureaucracy and needless red tape that seems to plague so many companies.[5]

    There are also those who blame org charts for inhibiting organizational improvisation and flexibility,[6] qualities thought to be increasingly important in today’s ever-changing marketplace. The rigid lines used to connect the various boxes on these diagrams all but project an unwillingness to collaborate, cooperate, or otherwise accommodate new ideas. Others would argue that most org charts are out-of-date almost as soon as they’re drawn up, such is the “speed of business.”[7]

    And then there are some who would simply contend that organization charts don’t represent the “true” structure of a business, and thus are essentially irrelevant. As Warren Bennis (Distinguished Professor of Business Administration at the University of Southern California) observes, the org chart “masks as much reality as it is alleged to portray.”[8] This is perhaps particularly true when it comes to where real power and authority resides in an organization. For instance, the familiar anecdote that the boss’s secretary has just as much (if not more) power than the boss herself may cause you to smile not because it’s ridiculous to think so, but because it’s so often true.


    The thing is not the thing

    Of course, these criticisms aren’t really being leveled at the organization chart itself. Rather, it’s what they represent—namely, hierarchy—that so many people seem to object to. And organization by hierarchy is, of course, a much, much older concept.

    An early reference to this organizational paradigm can be found in the Old Testament (~1491 B.C.). In the Book of Exodus (Chapter 18), Jethro advises Moses to organize his duties as a tribal elder along hierarchical lines, proclaiming:

    21 Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.

    22 And let them judge the people at all seasons and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee.

    The legendary warrior/general Sun Tzu also endorses organization by hierarchy in his treatise The Art of War, penned around 500 B.C. In it, he advises that an army be organized “in its proper subdivisions, (with) the gradations of rank among the officers.”[9] And around 400 B.C., the philosopher Socrates alludes to the concept of “management” as universal endeavor unto itself, as opposed to a set of skills specific to any particular enterprise. “The conduct of private affairs,” he writes, “differs from that of public concerns only in magnitude; in other respects they are similar.”[10]

    These days, however, management by hierarchy is the subject of as much criticism—if not more—than the organization chart.[11] For example, given its underlying “command and control”-type mentality, hierarchy is a notion that many find offensive given modern society’s increasingly egalitarian and democratic views.[12] As Jack Welch (the former CEO of GE considered by some to be the greatest manager of the modern age[13]) once wrote, hierarchies “tend to make little generals out of perfectly normal people who find themselves [responding only to rank].”[14]

    Harold Leavitt (Professor Emeritus of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business) is even more critical. He argues that hierarchies “breed infantilizing dependency that generates distrust, conflict, toadying, territoriality, backstabbing, distorted communication, and most of the other ailments that plague every large organization.”[15] He furthermore contends that they’re “inefficient,”[16] “slow, unresponsive, and inflexible,”[17] and that the reason we might not like hierarchies is because “they don’t like us.”[18]


    The matrix has you

    Given such widespread disdain, it perhaps not surprising to learn that over the years efforts have been made replace/modify/alter the org chart and/or the hierarchical form.

    However, few to this day endure.

    One of the more ambitious attempts was undertaken in the 1970’s, and resulted in what is known as a matrix organizational chart. According to this management paradigm, the hierarchical notion of “unity of command”—idea that each and every employee be assigned one, and only one supervisor—is relaxed. Employees, in other words, can be assigned multiple managers in a “matrix” organization. This modification was thought to more accurately capture the complex nature of organizational function in which authority is ambiguous, and divisions of responsibility are not always clear. It was also hoped that it might encourage cooperation and collaboration throughout the broader organization.[19]

    In practice, however, the matrix-style organizational chart seems to lead to as many problems as it is intended to solve. For example, the overlapping bosses are thought to encourage turf wars instead of facilitating discussion and consensus. “Matrixed” organizations have also been blamed for fostering a general lack of accountability, as well as adding another layer of bureaucracy to organizational processes. In their studies of this organizational archetype, Raymond Hill and Bernard White concluded that matrix organizations are “exceedingly complex, ambiguous, and often frustrating environments in which to work and manage.”[20]

    Another alternative to the pyramid-shaped organization chart worth mentioning is the “wagon wheel” or pizza-shaped org chart. Here, the CEO or business owner is located in the center of the diagram, with lines of authority emanating out from a central hub like spokes on a wheel.[21] Symbolically at least, this suggests that the CEO is not so much “the boss,” but a sort of grand facilitator, or hub of information. The more recent “holacracy” movement might be included as a variation on this theme. Here, authority does not reside so much with people, as with a “process.” And workgroups are referred to as “circles,” with “links” instead of managers.[22]

    But again, these efforts have also proved to be short-lived, problematic, or simply have thus far failed to catch on.[23]


    Flatter is better?

    Perhaps the most enduring “re-imagining” of hierarchy is the so-called flat organization.[24]

    As the name implies, this approach requires that all but the most crucial “layers” be removed from an organization’s hierarchy, thus rendering the chart as “flat” as possible. There are few (if any) middle managers, and even titles are discouraged.[25] Proponents of this organizational form maintain that it encourages decision-making at the lowest possible level – i.e. by those individuals closest to the problem or issue, and perhaps best suited to address it. Flat organizations are furthermore believed to encourage greater employee engagement at all levels, as well as a sense of “ownership,” thereby increasing overall productivity and efficiency.[26]

    Nonetheless, precisely how “flat” an organization can be made remains an open question. Obviously, reducing the number of “layers” in any given hierarchy necessitates that those who do have management responsibilities be assigned more direct reports. Take that too far, however, and you either overwork your managers, or compromise their ability to be effective.[27] It is also worth mentioning that this organizational form is not really an alternative to hierarchy to begin with.[28]

    Hierarchy is hierarchy, after all – no matter how “flat” you make it.


    A necessary evil?

    And then there are those who have simply come to embrace the concept. (Besides the prophet Jethro, Sun Tzu, and Socrates, that is).

    Either having experimented with other organizational structures and found them wanting, or never having abandoned hierarchy in the first place, its proponents do not so much necessarily sing this management paradigm’s praises, however. Instead, they simply seem willing to accept its inevitability.

    Organizational psychologist Elliott Jacques writes, for instance, that “managerial hierarchy is the most efficient, the hardiest, and in fact the most natural structure ever devised for large organizations. Properly structured, hierarchy can release energy and creativity, rationalize productivity and actually improve morale.”[29] But his is a guarded enthusiasm: “(we) might almost say that successful businesses have had to succeed despite hierarchical organization rather than because of it.” And this, of course, is faint praise at best.

    Surprisingly, Professor Leavitt also appears to be an advocate. In Top Down: Why Hierarchies Are Here to Stay, he offers a number of reasons for hanging on to this notion of hierarchy. Organizing this way may fulfill certain basic human psychological needs, he offers, like “providing ladders for us to climb,” granting us a certain “illusion of security,” and may “add structure to our lives.”[30] Leavitt furthermore speculates that hierarchies could be “hardwired into the human brain” and therefore organizing according to bureaucratic principles may even be “inevitable.”[31] In his view then, management by hierarchy may not be so much a choice that we make, but something we must just learn to accept.


    The elephant in the room…but not on the chart

    So what are we to think?

    Is the organization chart the single most helpful and efficient (if not necessarily most popular) management tool ever invented? Or is it an outdated symbol of all that is wrong with the modern corporate workplace?

    The answer, it turns out, is neither.

    The fault isn’t with anything the modern, pyramid-shaped, hierarchical organization chart depicts. It’s not what’s on the org chart, in other words, that is the problem.

    It’s flaw lies in what (or who) is perhaps conspicuously absent.



    Next in the series: Who’s your boss?



    [1] “Lessons of Leadership: David Packard,” Nation’s Business, January 1974, p. 42.

    [2] Townsend, Robert. Up the Organization. 1970. New York: Alfred A Knopf Publishers, p. 134.

    [3] Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. 2011. New York: Simon and Schuster, p. 223.

    [4] “Origins of the Organization Chart” by Alfred Chandler, Harvard Business Review, March-April, 1988, p. 156-157.

    [5] Bozeman, Barry. Bureaucracy and Red Tape. 1999. Prentice-Hall.

    [6] “Org Charts: Finding what works for you” by Barry Moltz, American Express OPEN Forum, Feb 19, 2015. (Retrieved May 11, 2017.) https://www.americanexpress.com/us/small-business/openforum/articles/make-organization-chart-stronger/.

    [7] “What is an organization chart?” (Subsection: Limitations of Org Charts) from Lucid Chart at https://www.lucidchart.com/pages/organizational-charts. Retrieved May 11, 2017.

    [8] Bennis, Warren. Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge (2nd Ed). 1997. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, p. 47.

    [9] Tzu, Sun. The Art of War. 2002. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications Inc., Mineola. p. 40. (Estimated to have been written around 500 B.C.)

    [10] Shafritz, Jay M. and J. Steven Ott. Classics of Organizational Theory (Fifth Edition). 2001. Philadelphia, PA: Harcourt College Publishers, p. 36.

    [11] “Hierarchy is overrated” by Tim Kastelle, Harvard Business Review, Nov. 20, 2013. https://hbr.org/2013/11/hierarchy-is-overrated. Retrieved May 11, 2017.

    [12] Leavitt, Harold J. Top Down: Why Hierarchies Are Here to Stay and How to Manage Them More Effectively. 2005. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, p. 24

    [13] “The Ultimate Manager” by Geoffrey Colvin. Fortune Magazine (archived), November 22, 1999. http://archive.fortune.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/1999/11/22/269126/index.htm. Retrieved May 11, 2017.

    [14] Welch, Jack. Winning. 2005. New York: HarperCollins, p. 116.

    [15] Leavitt, op. cit., p. 1.

    [16] Ibid., p. 22.

    [17] Ibid., p. 24.

    [18] Ibid., p. 25.

    [19] Hill, Raymond E. and Bernard J. White Matrix Organization and Project Management Michigan Business Papers #64, 1979, (Division Of Research, Graduate School Of Business Administration, University Of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI).

    [20] Ibid., p. 4.

    [21] Johnson, William C., Richard Chvala, and Frank Voehl. Total Quality Marketing. 1996. Boca Raton, FL: St. Lucie Press, p. 108.

    [22] Robertson, Brian J. Holacracy: The new management system for a rapidly changing world. 2015. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

    [23] “How a Radical Shift Left Zappos Reeling” by Jennifer Reingold, Fortune (online), March 4, 2016. http://fortune.com/zappos-tony-hsieh-holacracy/. Retrieved May 11, 2017.

    [24] Lemons, Jane Fullerton. “Flat Management.” Issue: Flat Management. 2017. SAGE Publishing.

    [25] “The Five Types of Organizational Structures: Part 3, ‘Flat’ Organizations” by Jacob Morgan, Forbes (online), July 13, 2015. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jacobmorgan/2015/07/13/the-5-types-of-organizational-structures-part-3-flat-organizations/#1e3e83c96caa. Retrieved May 11, 2017.

    [26] “What Kind of Leadership is Needed in Flat Hierarchies” by Viviam Giang, Fast Company (online), May 19, 2015. https://www.fastcompany.com/3046371/what-kind-of-leadership-is-needed-in-flat-hierarchies. Retrieved May 11, 2017.

    [27] This is a fundamental management paradox that I’ve discussed repeatedly in previous posts, including: “Flatten that span??” [Video post] and “It’s not what you do. It’s when you do it.

    [28] “The Five Types of Organizational Structures: Part 2, ‘Flatter’ Organizations” by Jacob Morgan, Forbes (online), July 8, 2015. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jacobmorgan/2015/07/08/the-5-types-of-organizational-structures-part-2-flatter-organizations/#63b798686dac. Retrieved May 11, 2017.

    [29] “In Praise of Hierarchy” by Elliot Jacques. Harvard Business Review (January-February 1990).

    [30] Leavitt, op. cit., p. 32-36.

    [31] Ibid., p. 44&13, respectively.


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  • 3 minute read


    Like many others, with the passing of the 100-day mark, I feel it is appropriate to take a moment to assess President Trump’s performance, and that of his new administration.

    As many of you will know, however, I don’t typically weigh in on political topics (with certain exceptions). I blog about management issues, and workplace practices.

    You see, governmental organizations and for-profit businesses are very different beasts in my opinion. For instance, both types of organizations approach “growth” from an entirely different perspective. Think about it: The growth of a business is generally seen as good thing. But growth in government is widely viewed as bad – or at least something to be avoided.

    (Which makes me wonder: Why would anyone ever want a businessperson to be the head of government?)

    What I do feel qualified to assess, however, is Trump’s abilities (or lack thereof) as a manager. Given his (apparent) business success, and my own interest in good management practices, indeed I feel all but obligated to evaluate his performance during his short time occupying our nation’s highest office from a management perspective.

    And, well…so far, it’s not good.

    If his current behavior is any indication of how he managed (or manages) his many businesses, my own conclusion is that he’d be a very bad manager to work for. In fact, in many instances I would characterize his actions as precisely the opposite of what they should be.

    Unfortunately, however, there’s just too much to say about what he seems to be doing wrong, and why – far too much to cover in just one post.

    So in the interest of brevity, I’d like to offer for your consideration my “26 (and counting) Bad Manager Habits” inspired by the first 100 or so days of the Trump administration. (If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you will undoubtedly have seen them popping up in your feed from time to time – but you probably weren’t aware of their inspiration.)

    Let me know what you think – whether you voted for Trump or not, and whether you agree with me or not. You can do this either in the comments section below, or by emailing me at insubordinate@insubordinationblog.com .

    Or, simply try to guess which action on the part of Trump or his staff inspired a particular “bad habit” from the list.

    But before I get to that list, I’d like to offer the following disclaimer in hopes of avoiding any angry comments or emails:

    • I’m not saying Trump is a bad manager necessarily; it’s possible that he doesn’t manage his businesses the same way he seems to be running the country
    • I’m not saying that Trump does all of these things, or behaves this way all of the time
    • I’m not even saying that it’s not okay to engage in some of these behaviors on occasion (It is, however, probably a bad idea to make them habits)

    All I’m really trying to say is this: I wouldn’t want to work for him.

    Would you..?


    26 Habits of Bad Managers

    #1 Lack of credibility.

    #2 Doubling-down on a poor decision.

    #3 Thinking/pretending you know more than you actually do.

    #4 Not taking your position seriously.

    #5 Blaming others for your mistakes.

    #6 Talking too much.

    #7 Thinking that everyone is against you.

    #8 Taking yourself too seriously.

    #9 Not listening.

    #10 Not following through on what you say.

    #11 Poor organizational skills.

    #12 Poor work ethic.

    #13 Making threats. Idle, veiled, or otherwise.

    #14 Blaming your predecessor for your problems.

    #15 Lack of transparency.

    #16 Spending a lot of time out of the office.

    #17 Feeling threatened by your own employees.

    #18 Creating a crisis to distract from other issues.

    #19 Refusing to apologize when you’re wrong.

    #20 Repeated shake-ups of your closest advisors.

    #21 Nepotism.

    #22 Making promises you can’t (or don’t) keep.

    #23 Ignoring the facts.

    #24 Shouting down those you disagree with.

    #25 Boasting about “your” accomplishments.

    #26 Gloating.


    Again, let me know what you think. Otherwise…

    See you next Friday.


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  • April 28, 2017

    4 minute read


    “Listen to your customers.”

    Of all the tried-and-true management principles that I’ve attempted to debunk, this might strike you as the most formidable.

    As you may recall, in other installments of myUnconventional (mis)management wisdom” series of posts, I’ve found those who argue in favor of micromanaging your employees on occasion (Bob Sutton), someone who thinks you should avoid hiring all “superstars” (Margaret Heffernan), and a CEO who harbors misgivings about the use of stock options as incentives (Phil Knight of Nike).

    I’ve furthermore identified management “experts”/advice-givers/scholars/gurus who have cast doubt on what would seem to be infallible management dogma, including the notions of teamwork, sticking to a budget, and goal setting.[1]

    But ignore your customers? That could never, ever be a good idea…



    The innovator’s dilemma

    Well, not so fast, according to Harvard Business School professor and author Clayton Christensen. In his best-selling business book, The Innovator’s Dilemma (1997), he asserts precisely that:

    The popular slogan ‘stay close to your customers’ appears not always to be robust advice.[2]

    As Christensen explains, successful, well-managed companies often miss important, industry-altering developments by listening to their customers:

    Precisely because these [successful] firms listened to their customers, invested aggressively in new technologies that would provide their customers more and better products of the sort they wanted, and because they carefully studied market trends and systematically allocated investment capital to innovations that promised the best returns, they lost their positions of leadership.[3]

    As evidence, Christensen offers a number of real-life examples, including one from the tech industry: In the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, established manufacturers of disk drives repeatedly lost out to initially less profitable, but more innovative start-ups because they focused on increasing the storage capacity and lowering the price of their drives—improvements that their current customers were telling them they wanted—instead of making those drives smaller, which is where the industry eventually headed. Once those smaller drives became competitive in terms of performance and price, however, those same customers then abandoned the drives these manufacturers were making, forcing them to play catch up – often unsuccessfully.[4]

    Paradoxically then, paying attention to your customers may leave you vulnerable to being overtaken by smaller, but more innovative competitors. Or, as Christensen sums it up, in certain circumstances:

    “Doing the right thing is the wrong thing.”[5]


    It depends

    Now to be absolutely clear, I am not suggesting that ignoring your customers is a good idea. Far from it. A business that doesn’t respond to the wants, desires, and needs of its customers is sure to fail.

    But nor do I disagree with Mr. Christensen. He offers ample evidence to back up his claim that listening to your customers can, on occasion, lead to organizational demise.

    Instead, the broader point I’m attempting to make with this, and all of the posts in this series is simply the following:

    For each and every pearl of management “wisdom” that you might come across, or have otherwise come to believe, there exists an equally convincing counter-argument, or equally sincere observation that advocates for behaving in precisely the opposite way.

    So the question isn’t whether you should, or should not listen to your customers. (The answer to both is a definite “yes.”) The better question is: When should you listen to your customers? And when might that be a mistake? Or, to put it more generally, when is it appropriate to follow a certain management “principle,” or act in a certain way, as opposed to doing the exact opposite? This is the critical issue, I’d argue – and as I have also argued in the past.

    Nor is this a realization lost on Mr. Christensen:

    What this implies at a deeper level is that many of what are now widely accepted principles of good management are, in fact, only situationally appropriate.[6]


    Inherently unpredictable?

    To his credit, Mr. Christensen makes it part of his book’s aim to get to the bottom of this question. Specifically, when is it appropriate to listen to your customers, and when might doing so blind you to what he calls “disruptive innovations.” (Like the development of smaller disk drives, to use the previous example.) His stated goal is to eventually help entrepreneurs and companies predict when and where new, industry altering innovations are likely to occur “at a rate that wasn’t possible in the past.”[7]

    But is this realistic? Or will disruptive innovations continue to frustrate companies because they are “inherently unpredictable”? As Christensen himself concedes, he and his colleagues were “still honing in on” on this goal even some 13+ years after his text was first published.[8]

    I can only hope that they are eventually successful.

    In the meantime, however, it is interesting to hear some of Christensen’s thoughts on how established companies might address disruptive innovations in the marketplace, and/or successfully encourage the development of their own innovative products and strategies. Spin off an independent organization, Christensen “strongly” advises in one instance[9] – one that has its own resources, and furthermore isn’t beholden to outside pressures or “efficiency analysts.” This sort of independence is important, he writes, so that the market can do its work. As he explains:

    I want my organization’s customers to answer the question of whether we should be in the business.[10]

    Presuming, of course, he’s willing to listen.



    See you next Friday.



    [1] Please see my post “Is nothing sacred?

    [2] The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen. 1997. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press, p. 54. (All cited page numbers refer to the 2011 paperback edition published by Harper Business.)

    [3] Ibid., p. xv.

    [4] Ibid., Chapter 1.

    [5] Ibid., p. xxxiv.

    [6] Ibid., p. xv.

    [7] Ibid., p. xxxv.

    [8] Ibid., p. xxxiii.

    [9] Ibid., p. 249.

    [10] Ibid., p. 250.


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