Management by Fooling Around

We all have worked for lousy bosses, but how about the boss who does his (and they usually are men) best to be unproductive?

You know the type: the ones who are playing video games when they should be writing up their strategic plans, or who seem to spend more of their time arranging their golf schedule than the product schedule. Or they take time sending out memos about the latest social gathering for the office, rather than focusing on setting up a social network for your customers.

I call it MBFA, management by fooling around. In the days when I was toiling in the IT fields, we used to talk about management by wandering around (MBWA), where managers left their offices and would spend time out on the floor, talking to their staffs, listening to problems and catching their people in the act of doing incredible things.

The term I believe comes from the 1982 book In Search of Excellence, co-authored by Tom Peters, and refers to execs from HP and other companies who understood how to communicate and be in touch with their staffs and customers. MBFA is the exact opposite, where a boss spends zero time among his peeps, and fires out e-mail fusillades that have no context and no soul.

MBFAs are usually micromanagers and poor at delegating. If you are the type of self-starter who doesn’t need to check in with the boss on every step of a project, you find this out quickly. They are also prone to hire and socialize with their friends, and have limited comfort zones with the rest of the staff. At one job I remember the first time that I was invited to the boss’ “lunch bunch”–the usual crowd of cronies who accompanied him to lunch. Getting the invite was the best thing about the lunch, which was an exercise in male chest-beating and organ-size comparison. With language saltier than the food, the lunch topics were more appropriate for a frat party. Needless to say, I wasn’t all that interested in attending subsequent lunches after actually making the cut.

One of the reasons why Dilbert continues to resonate (indeed, you can recognize the staff of a MBFA by the number of clipped strips that hang on their cubicle walls) is that MBFAs are far more common than the MBWAs, who are nurturing, patient, kind and mentoring.

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