• 2 minute read


    If there is one type of manager that’s universally reviled throughout the business world, it’s the “micromanager.”

    Employees and managers alike have come to view micromanagement—which Merriam-Webster defines as managing with “excessive control or attention to detail”[1]—as a singular evil.

    For employers, the problem is its effect on worker productivity. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology demonstrates that, in general, the added pressure that comes from excessive scrutiny adversely effects performance.[2] Rebecca Knight furthermore warns that “Micromanaging dents your team’s morale by establishing a tone of mistrust—and it limits your team’s capacity to grow.”[3]

    For employees, being on the receiving end of any sort of micromanaging can be exasperating. As Muriel Maignan Wilkins writes for the Harvard Business Review “Absolutely no one likes to be micromanaged. It’s frustrating, demoralizing, and demotivating.”[4] But it isn’t just annoying, or inconvenient. As Amy Gallo observes, micromanagement “can stunt your professional growth.”[5]

    And so in light of all this, it is interesting to hear what Robert Sutton has to say on the topic.

    In Good Boss, Bad Boss (2010), Sutton, who is a Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University, in fact seems to defend the practice. For instance, he singles out Pixar’s Oscar-winning director Brad Bird as an exemplar of a “good boss” despite what appears to be an obvious inclination to micromanage (p. 28):

    Brad…leads rollicking arguments [with subordinates] about one tiny detail of a film after another.

    And then later, on that same page, Sutton goes a step further and concludes that tendency may actually be a good thing:

    The best bosses realize that when they focus on the little things, the big things will take care of themselves.

    So contrary to what the rest of the business world believes, Sutton apparently sees micromanagement as the hallmark of a “good boss,” not a bad one.*


    See you next Friday.



    *Blogger’s Note: The point of this post is not to convince you that micromanaging your employees is necessarily a good idea. Nor a bad one. Instead, the larger point I’m trying to make with this, and all of the posts in my “Unconventional (mis)management non-wisdom” series is simply this: 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.




    [1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/micromanage. Retrieved March 8, 2017.

    [2] “Choking Under Pressure: Multiple Routes to Skill Failure,” by Marci S. DeCaro, Robin D. Thomas, Niel B. Albert, and Sian L. Beilock. Journal of Experimental Pyschology, 2011, 140:3, pp. 390-406.

    [3] “How to Stop Micromanaging Your Team,” By Rebecca Knight. Harvard Business Review (online), August 21, 2015. https://hbr.org/2015/08/how-to-stop-micromanaging-your-team. Retrieved March 8, 2017.

    [4] “Signs That You’re a Micromanager,” by Muriel Maignan Wilkins. Harvard Business Review (online), November 11, 2014. https://hbr.org/2014/11/signs-that-youre-a-micromanager. Retrieved March 8, 2017.

    [5] “Stop Being Micromanaged,” by Amy Gallo. Harvard Business Review (online), September 22, 2011. https://hbr.org/2011/09/stop-being-micromanaged. Retrieved March 8, 2017.


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  • March 3, 2017

    8 minute read


    The key to success in business is simple.

    Or at least it is according to the authors of The Enthusiastic Employee (2005).

    As I pointed out in a previous post, David Sirota, Louis Mischkind and Michael Meltzer conclude that any for-profit enterprise hoping to achieve some measure of commercial success should focus first and foremost on engaging their workers. Enthusiasm, they argue, is the key to it all:

    Enthusiastic employees…search for ways to improve things rather than just react to management’s requests; encourage co-workers to high levels of performance and find ways to help them; welcome, rather than resist, needed change; and conduct transactions with…customers in ways that bring credit (and business) to the company.[1]

    Sirota and his colleagues go on to argue that the best way for a business to generate such enthusiasm is, in their words, to give workers “what they want.”[2]

    These “wants” include certain minimum expectations concerning the basic conditions of the workplace. For instance:[3]

    • a safe working environment
    • a workload that doesn’t damage physical or emotional health
    • satisfactory compensation and fringe benefits
    • reasonable degree of job security
    • reasonable accommodation for personal and family needs

    They also include specific expectations of the job itself, such as:[4]

    • challenging work – and/or work that utilizes their intelligence, abilities, and skills
    • opportunities to perform, and acquire new skills
    • recognition for performance
    • a workplace where relationships with others are warm, interesting, and cooperative

    But let’s be honest for a moment – how realistic is all of this?

    For instance, it doesn’t take a certified public accountant to recognize that “satisfactory pay and fringe benefits” do not come without a cost – a cost that some businesses may not be able to afford (or at least not yet). And “job security”? In today’s fast-paced, ever-changing globalized marketplace? What’s that? As for “challenging work” that allows one to learn “new skills”? Well, somebody has to empty the wastebaskets at night. Right?

    So this week, a closer look at the idea that “companies profit by giving employees what they want.” From an employer’s perspective, is this really true?

    Or are worker’s expectations just too high (or people just too lazy), so that any real attempt to do so would simply break the bank?


    The road to insolvency

    Sirota and his colleagues seem well aware of this concern. As they acknowledge early on in their text, many might view their recommendations[5] as “a sure road to insolvency.”[6]

    Nor do they allow for the possibility of any half-measures here. Paying employees more as a way of making up for an unsafe work environment, for instance, will not result in the same enthusiasm as addressing those substandard conditions. Worker needs in many ways are “distinct,” Sirota and his colleagues write, and “unfortunately cannot be substituted for each other.”[7] So satisfying some “wants” at the expense of others won’t necessarily get you anywhere.

    The issue of compensation is of course likely to be of particular concern to managers and business owners alike, because it perhaps most directly affects the bottom line. Sirota, Mischkind, and Meltzer’s findings would seem to justify this concern. Compensation is seen by most workers as “extraordinarily important,” they observe, and it is rare for an employee to say that they feel overpaid.[8] As they warn:

    Don’t believe anyone who tells you that money is ‘way down on the list’ of worker goals—that what they want is ‘appreciation’ (or whatever) and they clamor for money only when those other things are lacking. That’s psychobabble.[9]

    So maybe what Sirota, and his colleagues suggest is impractical – or at least difficult for the average business to afford. Perhaps employers and their employees will always disagree on what should be given in exchange for a hard day’s work – the net result being that businesses who can’t afford to pay their employees well will never get the kind of enthusiasm from workers that they’d like.

    Not so, according to Sirota and his fellow researchers.

    In their eyes, worker’s expectations are not as unreasonable as we have perhaps been led to believe:

    We use the term ‘reasonable’ frequently in our definitions [of worker wants and needs] because employees do not expect a level of perfection unrelated to the realities of our world. For example, the desire for job security does not mean that employees expect a lifetime-employment guarantee. They are not naïve…[10]

    This is true even when it comes to the tricky issue of compensation, Sirota and his colleagues contend. For instance, while they found that while 23 percent of all U.S. workers surveyed felt underpaid, 46 percent were in fact quite satisfied with their level of compensation.[11] As they explain:

    Contrary to popular belief, employees don’t expect wildly generous pay for their labors. In fact, they would likely question the motives or competence of management if pay were astonishingly high [my emphasis]. Therefore, we must differentiate between the wish for a lot of money and workers’ views of what is reasonable and fair.[12]

    Maybe workers aren’t expecting the world…but satisfying this one important “want” (or some of those other “basic conditions” of the workplace given above) doesn’t come without a cost. So the question must be asked: Does the price tag associated with meeting the expectations of workers result in increases in productivity sufficient to cover those costs?

    Again, according to Sirota and his colleagues the answer is: Yes.

    As evidence, they point to a review by business theorist Jeffrey Pfeffer who found that gains of 30 to 40 percent can be realized by companies implementing workplace practices that result in high employee commitment.[13] When it comes to compensation specifically, they also cite a study by David Levine that concludes, “Business units that increase their relative wages…have productivity gains large enough to pay for the wage increases.”[14] They note too the strong correlation between Fortune Magazine’s “America’s Most Admired Corporations” (based on factors including long-term investment value) and their list of “100 Best Companies to Work For in America” (based in part on employee attitude surveys).[15]

    Then there is Sirota, Mischkind, and Meltzer’s own research to consider. According to their studies:

    …companies with high morale performed considerably better than their industry comparison group—about 20 percent [better][16]

    That number is in good agreement with what the Gallup Organization recently found. In a newly published study of the American workplace, Gallup reports that “the behaviors of highly engaged business units result in 21 percent greater profitability.” Gallup also found that, for the publicly traded companies with available earnings per share data for 2011-2015, those with engaged workforces enjoyed higher earning per share than those that did not have engaged workforces.[17]

    So what’s the problem, you might be wondering?

    Why aren’t more companies making an effort to give their employees “what they want”? Especially if that means improved performance—and profits—for any business that does?


    …and they’ll take a mile?

    The “problem,” it seems, is that many, many companies are already doing what Sirota’s study suggests (or at least making sincere attempts to do so). Nevertheless, worker morale, in general, still isn’t near what it could be.

    According to that same study by Gallup, just one-third of all workers are currently “engaged” at work. A whopping 51 percent are not engaged, or “just there” – and sixteen percent are actively “disengaged.”[18] Furthermore, these figures have not changed significantly in the last 15 years.

    Gallup’s study does offer some insight into why worker engagement might be so low, but these reasons differ significantly from what Sirota, Mischkind, and Meltzer conclude. Gallup found, for instance, that:[19]

    • Only six in 10 U.S. employees say they know what is expected of them at work (p. 78)
    • Only three in 10 employees strongly agree they have the materials and equipment they need to do their work right (p. 102)
    • Only 23% of employees strongly agree their manager provides meaningful feedback (p. 80)
    • Only 21% of all employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work (p. 76)
    • Only 30% of employees strongly agree that their manager involves them in setting their goals at work (p. 79)
    • Only 44% of employees strongly agree that they can see a connection between their goals and the organization’s goals (p. 80)
    • Only 22% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization has a clear direction for the organization (p. 8)
    • Only 15% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization makes them enthusiastic about the future (p. 8)

    And perhaps most distressingly:

    • Only three in 10 U.S. employees strongly agree that at work, their opinions seem to count (p. 112)

    That, I think we might all agree, is a pretty bleak picture of the workplace. Not feeling like your opinions seem to matter? Not having what you need to do your job to the best of your ability? Not even knowing what exactly that job is?

    No wonder so many workers feel disengaged at work, or are unenthusiastic about their jobs.


    Just ask already

    Based on my own career experiences, I must confess that it’s Gallup’s findings that ring most true to me, not Sirota’s.

    You see, like a majority of workers are today, for many years I was neither engaged at work, nor enthusiastic about my job. Had Gallup asked me at the time, I too would have said I felt like I was “just there.”

    It wasn’t because I considered myself to be underpaid, though. Nor was it that my benefits package was lacking. And I felt my work was both challenging and rewarding. So as far as Sirota’s list of “wants” are concerned, my employer pretty much nailed every one. Yet like most people, I still wasn’t happy at work – and if I’d been asked to explain why, I’d have said it’s because I didn’t feel like my opinions mattered to management.

    So while I agree with Sirota, Mischkind, and Meltzer in that companies stand to profit by “giving employees what they want,” maybe they’re getting a little ahead of themselves.

    Perhaps it’s more important for employers to instead start by asking their workers what they want.

    I know I would have appreciated it. Had my manager back then taken the time to solicit my opinion on occasion—or taken my input more seriously when I did—I think I would have been far more enthusiastic about my job, and much more engaged in my work.

    But that’s just me. Undoubtedly there are some workers who don’t feel recognized for the work they do, or are concerned about the leadership at the organization they work for, or don’t have what they need to do their jobs to the best of their abilities. Many others are probably still hoping to find an employer who will satisfy some (or all) of those perhaps more basic needs that Sirota and his colleagues discuss in their text.

    But how would any employer know this without asking?

    And even more importantly, why don’t they ask? Why aren’t the opinions of employees sought out more frequently by managers—or taken seriously when they are—as Gallup’s study all but demonstrates? Why is my own experience not at all unusual? I have a hard time believing that any business interested in surviving the next fiscal quarter wouldn’t be interested in hearing at least an occasional opinion from their frontline staff…and yet here we are.

    So next up, what keeps managers from doing this – at all in some cases, but at the very least less often than they should. What stands in the way of managers routinely asking employees questions like What can I do for you that would help you do your job better? What can I do for you that would increase your enthusiasm for your job? Or simply:

    What is it that you want?

    In fact, I’d argue that most managers probably see their job as just the opposite: Telling their subordinates what they want from them, not the other way around.

    For the next post in this series then, I’ll explain why all this is…actually, I take that back.

    I’m not going to tell you what the problem is.

    I’ll draw you a picture instead.


    Next in the series: Beware the pyramid scheme




    [1] The Enthusiastic Employee: How companies profit by giving workers what they want by David Sirota, Louis A. Mischkind, Michael Irwin Meltzer. 2005. (Wharton School Publishing: Upper Saddle River, NJ), p. 26.

    [2] Ibid., p. 0. (See text’s subtitle.)

    [3] Ibid., p. 10.

    [4] Ibid., p. 14.

    [5] Sirota and his colleagues characterize the needs that most workers want their jobs to fulfill as falling into three main categories. The need for (1) Equity, (2) Achievement, and (3) Camaraderie. For more on this, please see my previous post “The right stuff,” or consult Sirota’s text.

    [6] Ibid., p. xxii.

    [7] Ibid., p. 19.

    [8] Ibid., p. 77-78.

    [9] Ibid., p. 77.

    [10] Ibid., p. 11.

    [11] Ibid., p. 78.

    [12] Ibid., p. 81.

    [13] Ibid., p. 44. Original source: Pfeffer, Jeffrey. “The Human Equation.” Boston: Harvard Business School Press. 1998, pp. 31-56.

    [14] Ibid., p. 85. Original source: Levine, David I. “Can wage increases pay for themselves? Tests with a productive function.” The Economic Journal (1992): 1102-1115.

    [15] Sirota, op. cit., p. 45.

    [16] Ibid., p. 45.

    [17] “State of the American Workplace.” The Gallup Organization. 2017, p. 69-70. (Available for free download by clicking here.)

    [18] Ibid., p. 2.

    [19] All page numbers refer to “State of the American Workplace,” The Gallup Organization, 2017.


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  • February 24, 2017

    2 minute read


    According to many, the most difficult act a manager will ever engage in is to lay-off, terminate, or otherwise fire someone.

    And given that it is such a challenging and/or emotionally taxing endeavor, you’d think there’d be more than a few management books devoted to just this subject.

    Well, not in my experience.

    In fact, those texts are few and far between, I’ve found (and they tend to be slender volumes at that). So for this installment in my recurring Paradox of the week* series of posts, a couple contradictory/paradoxical assertions from two of them.


    The first can be found in (Lessons Learned) Hiring and Firing: Straight talk From the World’s Top Business Leaders by Adam Sosdowick and Andy Hasoon (2008, Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press).

    • On page 63, the authors quote John Roberts, a former CEO of United Utilities, who argues “…if you demonstrate that there’s a logical process behind it [letting someone go], that it’s not just an emotional reaction…[this] puts you in a very secure position.”
    • But later, on page 81, they quote Peter Ellwood, Group Chairman, Imperial Chemical Industries: “If you know in your heart—and it is an emotional [my emphasis] as well as a mental thing—that somebody is not right for the job…then you have to act.”

    And then from Fix Them or Fire Them by Steven J. Shaer (2013, Challenger Press).

    • On page 2, Shaer writes: “Fire quickly and hire slowly. You will never say that you wish you kept an employee you fired…but you will say you wish you fired them sooner.”
    • And yet on page 6, he argues: “Economically, it is important to remember that it is far more efficient for your company and you to transform underperforming employees into satisfactory employees than it is to fire them…”


    And finally, I couldn’t resist including one from Managing for Dummies by Bob Nelson and Peter Economy (2003, New York: Wiley Publishing), who are guilty of a similar lapse in logic:

    • On page 252 of their text, the authors insist: “Exhaust alternative approaches to dismissal.”
    • And yet later on that very same page, they argue: “Act quickly to dismiss.”


    See you next week.


    *An instance in which a management advice-giver/author/“expert”/guru offers contradictory of otherwise paradoxical advice, typically without any apparent awareness of having done so. For more examples of this phenomena, click here. For an explanation as to why this happens—and why it happens so often—please see: “Why you can throw out that management advice book (Parts 1,2&3).”


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  • 4 minute read


    This week, the Gallup Organization released a report titled “State of the American Workplace.”

    It was created “to help business leaders optimize their attraction, retention, engagement and performance strategies in a time of extraordinary change,” according to its introduction, and furthermore “presents an unparalleled look into the modern workforce.”

    So for this week’s post, instead of my usual opinions and blatherings, I thought I’d highlight/summarize some of the findings contained in this 214 page report. Spoiler alert, though.

    That “state” isn’t good.


    Work is work

    Currently, there are approximately 100 million people employed full-time in the United States according to Gallup. Of those, only about one third might be described as “engaged” at work.[1] The world’s best organizations, on the other hand, enjoy worker engagement levels of 70% according to their data.

    Breaking it down further, in the U.S.:

    • 33% of employees are engaged at work
    • 51% of employees are not engaged (or “just there”)
    • 16% of employees are actively disengaged

    This does not represent a dramatic or recent shift in worker attitudes. As the authors of the report point out, employee engagement in the U.S. “has barely budged over the past decade and a half.”

    The reasons for this persistent and widespread apathy (or downright distaste) for work are perhaps difficult to pinpoint exactly, but Gallup does offer some explanations as to why. For instance:

    • Only 22% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization has a clear direction for the organization
    • Only 21% of all employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work
    • Only 15% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization makes them enthusiastic about the future
    • Only 13% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization communicates effectively with the rest of the organization

    If there is a dearth of confidence in leadership, it would seem to be further justified by some very fundamental errors/oversights that managers across the board seem to be making. For example, Gallup found that:

    • Only six in 10 employees say they know what is expected of them at work
    • Only 41% of employees strongly agree that their job description aligns well with the work they are asked to do
    • Only three in 10 employees strongly agree they have the materials and equipment they need to do their work right
    • Only 12% of employees strongly agree their organization does a great job of onboarding [training] new employees

    If workers don’t know what to do, aren’t told how to do it, and often lack what they need to do their jobs, it seems that managers are failing them in other ways, as well. Consider that, by Gallup’s reckoning:

    • Only 44% of employees strongly agree that they can see a connection between their goals and the organization’s goals
    • Only 30% of employees strongly agree that their manager involves them in setting their goals at work
    • Only 23% of employees strongly agree their manager provides meaningful feedback

    And perhaps most distressingly:

    • Only three in 10 U.S. employees strongly agree that at work, their opinions seem to count

    This is unfortunate because, as this report insists:

    “Most workers…approach a role and a company with a highly defined set of expectations. They want their work to have meaning and purpose.”

    “Sixty percent of employees say the ability to do what they do best in a role is ‘very important’ to them. Male and female employees and employees of all generations place the greatest importance on this aspect of a job.”

    And yet even if an employee does good work, or attempts to remain “engaged,” many workers seem to feel that it won’t pay off anyway:

    • Just 18% strongly agree that employees who perform better grow faster at their organization

    Oh – and by the way, just in case you were wondering if any of worker “engagement” stuff actually affects the bottom line, Gallup estimates that:

    The cost of actively disengaged employees to the U.S. economy—in terms of lost productivity—is between $483 billion and $605 billion annually.


    The bright side?

    The problem, it seems, is management…one compounded by the fact that most managers are themselves not engaged at work. According to Gallup’s surveys:

    When we examine executives and front-line managers (those who only manage individual contributors) separately, we find that 45% of executives are engaged versus just 29% of managers [my emphasis].

    So if you think this problem is limited to low-level, frontline employees who are perhaps inherently lazy or unmotivated, you’d be mistaken in Gallup’s estimation. Managers aren’t all that engaged at work either – especially those closest to the rank-and-file. This would seem to doubly unfortunate, considering that:

    “Employees who are supervised by highly engaged managers are 59% more likely to be engaged than those supervised by actively disengaged managers.”

    So is there a bright side to any of this?

    I’ll admit that it’s hard to imagine what it might be. As Gallup bluntly puts it:

    “These figures [in this report] indicate an American leadership philosophy that simply doesn’t work anymore [sic].

    Nevertheless, before wrapping this week’s post up, I would argue that there is one bit of good news. “Employees,” as Gallup argues, “approach the job market with a clearly defined list of wants and needs.” More generally then, Gallup suggests that:

    “Employees are the consumers of the workplace.”

    Workers, in other words, now more than ever seem to view a job as a “product” that they “purchase” from an employer with their time.

    This realization is significant – as are its repercussions, I’d argue. As Gallup correctly concludes, “organizations should want their employer brand, their reputation as an employer, to be as formidable at their customer-facing brand – the same logic applies to both.” By failing to do so, the reports warns, an organization misses an opportunity to retain talented and valuable employees and thus “reduce turnover and maintain productivity.”

    (And just in case you were wondering, workers are in fact shopping around. As Gallup also found, 51% of all U.S. workers say they are either actively looking for a different job, or watching for opportunities.)

    So if there is a take-home message to all of this, it really is quite simple, in my opinion.

    Managers, in order to better engage and retain your employees, treat them as you would your customers.

    Because truth be told, that’s what they are.


    See you next week.


    [1] Gallup’s study is based on data collected from more than 195,600 U.S. employees via the Gallup Panel and Gallup Daily tracking in 2015 and 2016, and more than 31 million respondents through Gallup’s Q12 Client Database. The employee engagement questionnaire used in their surveys is based on the “12 elements of great managing” that they first published in First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman (1999, New York: Simon&Schuster), and later in 12, The Elements of Great Managing by Rodd Wagner and James K. Harter (2006, New York: Gallup Press).



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  • 6 minute read


    One thing I’ve noticed about Twitter, those silly little inspirational quotes seem to be everywhere. Every business- or management-related account that I follow seems to tweet, retweet, and re-retweet these little “pearls of wisdom” almost constantly.

    You probably know what I’m talking about. In addition to the one above, here’s a couple more examples:

    • The best vision is insight.” – Malcolm Forbes
    • Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Andre Gide
    • Life is like a recipe. What you put into it is what you’ll get out of it.” – Tim Fargo

    And sure, I get it.

    They’re meant to inspire, and get you feeling better about yourself—and perhaps performing at your best. Others are intended to offer insight into the workplace, and how to succeed in the crazy, mixed-up world of business.

    Me personally, though, I can barely stand them.

    It’s not just that they’re trite, or banal – although they certainly can be that. But at best, they offer very little in the way of true insight into much of anything, in my opinion. And at worst, I’d argue that they hide more truth than they actually convey.

    So this week, I offer a more thorough analysis of these sort of quotes than they were perhaps ever intended to withstand.


    Three types

    For the most part, the motivational clichés I’ve encountered fall into three basic categories:

    1. Scramblers

    These are quotes whose words you can re-arrange like Scrabble tiles and still come up with something that makes sense (or at least seems to make sense). Consider, for instance, that Malcolm Forbes axiom from above: “The best insight is vision.” Swapping the words “vision” and “insight,” it now becomes:

    The best vision is insight.

    Which still makes sense, right? Sort of? Or at least it makes no less sense than the original quote, I’d argue. Which begs the question: How much can a proverb like this tell you about work, or life, or whatever, if the order of the words doesn’t really seem to matter?

    Let’s try another:

    • The key to success is to start before you are ready. ~ Lolly Daskal

    Which could just as easily be:

    • The key to success is to be ready before you start.

    Again, either version seems pretty accurate – so does either really say anything substantive about how to achieve success?

    And then just one more:

    • I have often regretted my speech, but never my silence.” – Publilius Syrus
    • I have often regretted my silence, but never my speech.

    So which is better…or more “true”? Or are both equally useless?


    1. The glass is half full

    This second category of quotes presumes that you are already a positive, upbeat, “the glass is half full” person to begin with. If that’s the case, then yes – they will likely inspire. But it’s you that’s doing the heavy lifting, not the quote. If, however, it is in your nature to be a bit more my skeptical (like myself), you may find that this type of quote contains—or perhaps hides—an equally valid, yet nevertheless darker truth. For example, consider again that pearl of wisdom uttered by Andre Gide (a novelist and Nobel Laureate):

    • Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

    Sure – that’s great. But the following, perhaps more pessimistic twist on that thought is just as true, I’d argue:

    • Man cannot get lost at sea unless he has the stupidity to lose sight of shore.

    That glass is definitely “half empty” there. Or, how about this one from Oscar Wilde:

    • What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.

    But the converse is probably just as true:

    • What seems to us as blessings may be bitter trials in disguise.

    And then one from the great Vince Lombardi:

    • We would accomplish many more things if we did not think of them as impossible.


    • We would accomplish many more things if we stopped pursuing those that are impossible.


    1. Get back to work

    This final category is the one that I personally take the greatest exception to.

    Quotes of this sort, by all appearances, seem to perfectly capture the gung-ho, all-in, can-do attitude that would seem to absolutely necessary to succeed in the workplace, if not in life. For example, consider again that quote by Tim Fargo (angel investor and entrepreneur):

    • Life is like a recipe. What you put into it is what you’ll get out of it.

    Now, sure – that’s all well and good. It suggests that my own success is almost entirely up to me – that I have the biggest say in how my life turns out. And this is a very “empowering” message, to be sure. (To be honest, this particular quote almost makes me want to work harder – or at least fix dinner). It also implies that if you do happen to become wildly successful, enjoy it, because you absolutely 100% deserve it. You are just as special as you think you are, and that which you accomplish you’ve most certainly earned.

    That sounds great to me too.

    But what if my life—or career—doesn’t turn out quite as peachy as I’d hoped?

    Who’s at fault then?

    According to the logic of these sort of quotes, the short answer is: You. It is you who is to blame if your life doesn’t turn out to be the “box of chocolates” that you want it to. This next quote perhaps better illustrates my point:

    • When you blame and criticize others, you are avoiding some truth about yourself.” – Deepak Chopra

    Now I’ve certainly got nothing against personal accountability, and taking responsibility for one’s actions (or inaction). If I don’t my bust my *** at work, and do the best I possibly can, I really have nobody to blame but myself if I get fired. No question.

    But the fact of the matter is that circumstances can play a huge a role in how things turn out in our lives – and on occasion, others ARE to blame for our misfortune. I can still recall pictures from the news, for example, of the dazed looks on the faces of former Arthur Anderson employees as they walked out of their place of employment for the last time—carrying cardboard boxes filled with their possessions—after that company collapsed. And I bet very few of them felt they deserved to be held accountable for whoever’s decision it was to cook the books for a company called Enron. Nor do I think that, in that moment, many of them would have necessarily agreed with the following sentiment:

    • Everything changes when we accept responsibility for ourselves. Stop blaming and start changing. – Unknown

    But this quote nevertheless suggests that your hardships are ultimately of our own making. If you don’t like where you are in your life or career, well then, you should probably shut up, change your life, or maybe just work harder.

    Even more perversely, in my opinion, “inspirational” quips such as these shift the blame for bad management practices to the very victims of those practices. After all:

    • If you don’t like how things are, change it! You’re not a tree.” – Jim Rohn

    So it’s your own problem/responsibility/fault if you’re not happy with your station in life, not management’s. So get back to work, and make it happen! And what could possibly be better for a bad manager than a bunch of employees who toil away without ever complaining about how overworked, underpaid, or otherwise miserable they are – and who are instead content to pacify themselves with quotes like these which suggest that their own misery is simply a function of their own lack of effort, or poor life choices?



    So what am I doing about any of this?

    Well, I’ve started my own hashtag, of course.

    It’s #mgmtpablum, which is short for management pablum – “pablum” meaning anything bland or overly simplistic, especially in speech or writing. And I attach it to my usually pessimistic retweets/mash-ups of inspirational quotes that randomly pop up in my Twitter feed.

    For instance, take that anonymous quote from above. Instead of “Everything changes when we accept responsibility for ourselves. Stop blaming and start changing,” I’ve retweeted it as:

    • Everything changes when we accept responsibility for ourselves. Stop holding others accountable, and start blaming yourself.

    As for those “inspirational” quotes offered Tim Fargo, Deepak Chopra, and Jim Rohn, I offer the following rebuttals for your consideration:

    • Life is like a recipe. You’re pretty much stuck with the ingredients.
    • When you blame/criticize others, you give those stupid losers the feedback they need and deserve.
    • Don’t like where you are? Rip out the roots you worked so hard to grow, you stupid tree.

    Amused? If so, you can find many, many more of them—both the original quote, and my satirical retweet—by clicking on this link. I try to add one or two every day. Here’s a few more:

    • The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you’re not going to stay where you are. – Chauncey DePew

    Which I’ve retweeted as:

    • The first step towards staying where you are is realizing you’re not getting anywhere.


    • Life gets sooo much better when you stop caring about what others think. – Kim Garst
    • Work gets sooo much harder when your boss realizes you’ve stopped caring about what he/she thinks.
    • Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations. – Tim Fargo
    • Difficult roads often lead you out into the middle of nowhere, and far from where you want to be.

    So check it out, if you care to. Again, that hashtag is: #mgmtpablum, and I tweet at @theinsubordin8. (You can also click on the link at the top of the page.) Let me know what you like, dislike, or simply add your own to the pile.

    Otherwise, see you next week.




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  • February 3, 2017

    < 1 minute read



    So what’s your workplace like?

    Are decisions, raises, and promotions governed by political considerations where you work? Or are they merit-based?

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