I am not a self-help book kind of guy. I don’t read them and I certainly never thought I’d want to write one. Someone as screwed up as me shouldn’t be giving anyone advice. But, after almost 20 years working for one corporation or another, I discovered a management principle that was just too good not to turn into a self-help book. I think the title says it all, but if not, here are a couple of excerpts to illustrate:

How Bad Managers Make Themselves Look Good By Making You Look Bad
© 2008 Paul Kupperberg

Chapter 7/ The “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better” Corollary

After I’d been on the job for about four years, an old friend of mine who had worked for the company for a while almost twenty years earlier came back to the fold.

The first thing I did on his first day was say hello.

The second thing I did on his first day was to tell him something that had taken me my first several months to put together. It was definitely something in the air, but not seeing it sooner and adapting my strategies to deal with it had hurt me in some small ways. My friend was coming in at a higher and more politically sensitive position than mine, so I thought he should have as much information to work with about the place as possible.

What I told him is what I call the “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better” Corollary:

Everybody can do your job better than you.
Everybody’s too busy doing your job better than you to do their own jobs.

This is prime Münchhausen behavior. What better way to prove your indispensability than to be surrounded by such a collection of lunkheads that you’ve got to do their jobs on top of your own? When shown a piece of a project—especially one outside the Münchhausen Manager’s area of expertise—he will be quick to point out how you missed the boat, how you can make it better. This is usually an opinion formed in utter ignorance of the actual requirements of the project.

It doesn’t matter.

They can do it better.

And then, of course, it’s a total muck-up. And it’s your fault. When the Münchhausen Manager made his suggestions—they were, after all, just suggestions—you didn’t tell him that his ideas were outside the specs. You should have known better. You should have told him!

(Notwithstanding that to have actually done so would have lead to your having your head physically removed from your body and punted down the corridor like a soccer ball.)

Meanwhile, that design or approval or those specs that you’ve long been in desperate need of having approved are in the limbo of the Münchhausen Manager’s in-box, awaiting his attention. And he will get to it. Soon, just as soon as he’s finished straightening out Louise down in manufacturing…!

Like all the worst Münchhausen managerisms, the “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better” Corollary is a bit of Trickle Down Management, quickly and gleefully adopted by the lowlies as their own path to promotion and power. Be all-knowing and all- letting- the- world- know– you’re- all- knowing and you too can actually attain a position of power.

The good thing about following that strategy is that by the time you do actually attain a management position, everybody will already hate you.

Chapter 11/ The “Dollars for Bullshit” Quotient

A high-placed executive of a good sized company likes to quote a pet theory of his own devising:

No job is worth more than $20,000 a year.

For every dollar you’re paid over and above that amount, you’re required to take that much bullshit. For the baseline $20,000, you shouldn’t have to live with much, if any, bullshit. For $30,000, you have to take $10,000 worth. For $40,000, $20,000 worth of bullshit, and so on. So, following this theory, the average worker bee at his company should be fairly stress free.

In reality, companies are chockablock with managers always on the look-out for the lowest paying drone on whom to pin the blame and to whom the door is shown.

Middle-managers manage middlely by brow-beating and intimidation. A $25,000 a year assistant will be warned there’s zero tolerance for screw-ups while a superior walks away from costly or embarrassing mistakes with a slap on the wrist and a mild warning. The assets to properly do the job are denied and the drones are told to adapt…but they’d better not screw it up while they’re struggling to do the impossible.

So, yes, a grand theory.

Just not one that applies to you.

It, like all the lofty executive utterances on the great responsibility of power, exists for one reason and one reason alone: to evoke pity for the utterer. The executive knows anyone he quotes the Bullshit Quotient knows that he makes more money than they do. And a hell of a lot more than $20,000. What he’s saying is, under this theory, he’s taking bullshit. A lot of bullshit. Probably six or seven figures a year worth of bullshit.

Can you conceive of how much bullshit that is?

The answer is, of course you can. You’ve just heard it.

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