Management 101: Do as I say, not do as I do

Alastair Aitken 13 May 2013 0

“Leading from the front” is often cited as an admirable quality in leadership. The ability to “roll up the sleeves” and “get your hands dirty” are another two similar qualities. There are a multitude of such sayings that can be garnered from any number of modern management handbooks but you probably know them already. Given their widespread prevalence, its interesting how often these maxims are ignored.

You gotta fight for your right to party

It’s the week before Christmas. The deadline has been brought forward. We’re putting in 80 hour work weeks to meet that deadline. Something has to give. That something was our attendance of the department Christmas party. Never mind, our team leader promised us that we could have our own Christmas party in the new year, once the rush was over. The import that we attached to this promise was somewhat undermined by the fact that he announced it just as he was leaving for the department Christmas party. We got the product out the door but our promised party never materialised. We consoled ourselves with the knowledge that we would have looked pretty sorry sitting in a restaurant pulling Christmas crackers in January.

Solitaire black belt

At one of the largest open-plan offices I’ve ever worked in, the head of our department had somehow managed to take residence in the only office in the building. It even had its own door. Unfortunately, its walls were constructed of glass and even though our leader had placed her monitor so its screen wasn’t directly visible from the exterior, she had forgotten to take into account the fact that glass has reflective properties. And what that glass invariably reflected was the solid green baize of a near-permanent game of Windows Solitaire. Watching our resident Solitaire player became a department pastime and it probably impacted productivity almost as much as the severe de-motivation we felt knowing our boss was coasting on the backs of the workers. ¡Hasta la Victoria Siempre!

They don’t like it up ’em

Of course, there’s always the leaders who go out of their way to stay in the trenches with you. When I was contracted to one of the City’s blue-blood firms, whose upper echelons seemed drawn entirely from office corps, our department head would never leave until the last troop had trooped out the building. However, what he knew about what we were up to in our everyday work could have been written on the back of a postage stamp. Conversations with him were invariably littered with phrases such as “remind me again, what’s that?”, “you’ve mentioned this before, haven’t you” and “can I leave you to make the call on that?”

Keyser Söze

The head of the company had a playboy reputation. His company was staffed by young, pretty females. With the exception of his IT department, which was staffed by young, anti-social males. He seldom visited us in the IT department. Except when we needed to deliver a product, at which point we would be granted a motivational visit. My desk once became his throne as he lectured us on the importance to his company of our new product. And then just like that, he would be gone. Only to return when the deadline approached for the next new product.


Can you spot some project management anti-patterns here? If you want to move up the management chain, you’re not going to get far by reneging on promises, dodging work, being oblivious to the activities of your staff or making motivational speeches. Oh hang on, to some that précis sounds exactly like management material.


Alastair Aitken (124 Posts)

As a contract developer and manager I’ve worked in a wide range of enterprises in a variety of countries where I’ve encountered everything from great work, awful work, bizarre work, all the way down to quasi-legal work. If you think that you recognise your own organisation within my articles then you’re undoubtedly wrong, where you work isn’t that unique.

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