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A Man is Lost…

A man in a hot air balloon is lost.

He goes lower and sees a woman walking down a road and calls to her: “I promised some friends of mine to bring them somewhere within an hour, but I haven’t got the faintest idea where I am”.

The woman shouts back: “You are in a balloon some 30ft from the ground. You are located between 51 and 52 degrees north and between 5 and 6 degrees west”.

“You work in information technology,” says the man.

“Indeed, how do you know this?” asks the woman.

“Well,” says the man, “you have given me a technically perfect explanation, but I don’t know what I have to do with this information and still haven’t got a clue where I am. In all honesty, you didn’t help me a lot and moreover, you made me lose valuable time.”

“And you are a manager, I suppose?” answers the woman.

“Right, how do you know that?”

“Well, you don’t know where you are, nor where you have to go. A big mass of air has led you where you are now. You made a promise, of which you didn’t know how to maintain, and you expect that people who stand below you to resolve your problems. The fact is, that you are in the same position as you were five minutes ago, but suddenly it is all my fault”.

It’s an old joke I know, but, like many humorous stories, it holds an element of truth in my opinion. It’s just too easy to stereotype different professional groups but I do think there is reason to believe that, because certain personality types are attracted to different areas of expertise, there are some general trends which are valid.

The IT expert mentioned in the story does fit the description of many I have come across. As an IT expert myself I avoid this behaviour and try to give information which might be useful to the person asking. But I also find myself often launching into a technical explanation before delivering the final piece of information which is actually useful. In the example above I might conclude with something like “so you are about 5 kilometers west of Timbuktu (or whatever). I might also add the observation that a GPS unit might be useful in the future and offer some possible models which I prefer.

So if the person didn’t get too bored with the preamble (or drift away in the breeze) they would get a technical summary, useful advice to solve the immediate problem, and advice to make a similar situation unlikely in the future! Now that’s real service!

Of course, it’s the behaviour of managers that I’m more interested in. The manager in the example above does fit in with my experiences with many of them.

First, he’s drifting around in a balloon entertaining some friends instead of doing any real work. I’ve never found a manager yet who does much work. Sure they go to lots of meetings and generate a few reports here and there but’s not real work. If they stopped doing it tomorrow the only group who would really suffer are other managers because they wouldn’t have anyone to have meetings with!

Then there’s the observation that the person got to his lofty (literally and metaphorically) position using good old-fashioned hot air. The most common attribute of managers I have found is the ability to inflate their own importance and constantly communicate just on the very edge of truthfulness. Not all managers got there that way – some were genuinely good at “lesser” jobs and just got promoted into a position where their talents are wasted – but generally they are simply good liars.

Finally there’s the expectation that when things go wrong (which is most of the time) there will be someone there to rescue them. The fact that someone else did all the real work is rarely mentioned. The balloonist in the story above would report back to headquarters with news of a successful flight and no mention of the IT person who rescued him.

So you can see that I’m fairly cynical about management in general really. It’s not necessarily the managers themselves but more the process they participate in which is totally corrupt and inefficient. Unfortunately they only people who can fix the problem are (you guessed it) managers, and why would they want to change anything? After all being a manager certainly beats working!

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