But like any other corporate initiative, some important executive paints the broad strokes with a big fat brush, and middle managers are expected to fill in the important details. But middle managers are notoriously ineffective at managing anything.
There are several reasons for this. First, if you’re good at your job, and you get promoted, there’s absolutely no guarantee that you’ll be good at managing others who do the job you used to do. Chances are, you’ll suck.
Second, if you’re very, very good at what you do, you’ll never get promoted, because your boss will want you to keep doing it. So someone less skilled than you will be promoted. Typically, this is someone who resents you for being better at your job than they are. Once they reach middle management, they take pleasure in punishing those who are skilled or dedicated.
Third, bosses want middle managers to be effective, so they promote the person they like the best, in the wrongheaded assumption that the employees will also like that person the best. Nobody likes a kiss-ass.
Most middle managers live in a kind of quiet desperation, anxious to please, but equally anxious to avoid a screw-up. Once, a middle manager told me in all seriousness, “If you’re not sure what to do, the best course of action is to do nothing.”
But every once in awhile, middle management unsheathes the mighty sword of e-mail, only to reveal what imbeciles they really are. Last week, I was required to attend a video training program being hosted via video conference at our corporate headquarters. The person managing this presentation sent out the following e-mail:
In our efforts to stay green, we are forwarding the presentation to you for your reference. Please feel free to make a copy and bring it with you to class.
Over 200 people attended this presentation at various facilities. The presentation was 68 pages long, and every attendee showed up with a photocopy, apparently believing they were complying with the “efforts to stay green.” I was the only attendee in my facility who arrived empty-handed. The presenters sat at a table, with the presentation projected on the screen behind them.
They each had a printout of the presentation in front of them, and for two and a half hours, I sat in fidgety misery, while they took turns paging through their copies and reading each page to the 200 attendees, who dutifully paged through their copies in mute, robotic obedience. When it ended, I just wanted to get out of the office and take a long walk in the woods, but I don’t think there are any left.