Bad managerial style: The Merry-Go-Round

Merry Go Round Managerial Style is bad

Cool idea, from here:

By placing myself in the center of everything, my leadership was like the middle pole of a merry-go-round. There was plenty of action and excitement revolving around me—and the illusion of movement—but we were firmly planted in one spot the whole time, going around in circles. Here’s how I learned to stop the ride and start moving forward.

Yep. Management is essentially the opposite of intuitive, because you become a manager and often want to control — which can seem like a synonym for ‘manage’ — everything under you, when in reality you should be getting out of the way and letting people do their jobs. It’s not that complicated to understand, but a lot of people still miss it.

Here’s what the author of the first linked article says is a good litmus test for how you are as a manager/leader:

I prefer the slightly less morbid “vacation test”: If you as a leader were to leave for a two-week vacation and not check your email even once, would your company have the team, processes, and values in place to move forward without you weighing in, rather than just staying in place and out of harm’s way until you get back?

Interesting thing is, I once worked with a guy — no joke — who would take vacations and basically tell his team not to do anything until he got back. Finally someone said, “Well, why don’t we take vacations at the same time as you, then? Wouldn’t that be logical?” And he’s like, “Gah! No! I need people back at the office. P.S. Just don’t do anything.” That’s a legitimate human being making a good wage and probably trusted by his superiors. You know what that is? Fucked up.

One of the ideas here is that managers should “fire themselves,” as explained by Joe Kraus of Google Ventures in this post:

All CEOs, founding or not, have a center of gravity. It can be sales, product, engineering, marketing, finance, etc. It’s the place they feel most comfortable, most grounded. It’s where they grew up in their career, or if they haven’t had much of one yet, it’s the place where they feel they have insight or instinct.

At the start of a company’s life, founding CEOs are often also doing the jobs of other “skill” positions (being the head of product, for example). But, inertia is a very powerful force. It’s very easy to just keep doing what you were doing. If you were a coder in the early part of your company’s life, it’s easy to just keep coding. If you were a product person in the beginning, it’s easy to stay deeply involved in product.

The error I see, far too often, is that founding CEOs do these skill positions way too long and don’t recognize the cost to the organization.

This also isn’t that complicated — people are scared of being incompetent, or viewed as incompetent. So they tend to stay close to the area/thing they know. This, combined with wanting a hand in everything (the things they don’t know but need to manage), can create this Merry-Go-Round effect. It’s not good. It’s something to actively avoid.

Basically: find good people, or find serviceable people and coach them up to being good/great. Then empower them to run their areas, do their job, and find new ideas as they go. You coach and empathize and develop, and that’s what makes a great manager/leader.

Phrased another way: we always think jobs, and especially managing, is about hitting quotas, targets, deliverables, numbers, etc. It’s not. Managing/leading is about maintaining the energy of a group of people towards the ability to hit those numbers people want to see. It’s not about the numbers; it’s about the people and the process of those people coming together to get to those targets.



Ted Bauer


  1. Yeah, and real management is not respected, to be blunt. A person who builds a good team and process and essentially makes themselves unnecessary in the strictest sense, often times gets fired for doing that. And then, months or a year or more later, when the team they built has disbanded and not been replaced competently, and the process they built needs to be modified, all of a sudden the company is in a pinch because the person they needed isn’t there anymore.

    Companies generally don’t give a shit who manages their people for the same reason they don’t care who takes out the garbage; it’s a devalued function within the organization. And their employees are pretty much akin to garbage in their eyes, something that collects over time, which once served a purpose, but needs to be removed periodically.

      • I find it sad. Bad managers take a lot of heat, but in the end, isn’t that THEIR manager’s fault? Often people are just tapped for it. They’re good that their current job, so someone says, “Congrats, kid, you’re running the place now, and you’re still responsible for everything on your plate right now, too.” Often that last is critical. Sometimes managers don’t want to let go of their original duties, but often times they can’t as well; not enough resources. Plus, quite often no one checks to see if they want to be a manager, if they have the aptitude for it, and then they don’t offer any training. Usually because they know, explicitly or implicitly, that any competent training will reveal the extreme incompetence currently in play at that particular company.

        It’s a sad thing, I’m aware of several incidents where homegrown payroll types were sent by their mom & pop employers for some real HR and accounting training, and when they came back they realized half or more of the crap they were being asked to do was illegal and/or ill advised. They come back and say things like, “Gee, you know, most of these people technically aren’t anything close to being exempt employees, and if someone audits us we’re going to owe a metric fuck ton of back wages because they’re all working 12 hours a day, every day…” Or, “We don’t offer anywhere near even the average of PTO people get, and our turnover is through the roof and that’s likely why…” Or, “Generally speaking, screaming at people and insulting them isn’t considered a good management technique, maybe that should stop here…” I’ve personally seen all three recommendations get people fired, or they ‘resigned’ with a severance and an agreement to keep their mouths shut.

        You’re pretty much right, people chase the deliverables and ignore the means of achieving the deliverable. It’s like bringing down a brick wall by bashing people’s heads against it. It will get the job done eventually, you’ll hit the goal, but the method is bad, and it has a cost which can easily be avoided while hitting the same goal. I/O psychologists are fun to talk with, the insight those people have into organizational structures and how they work, the good and the bad, is fascinating. And it’s telling that most of them are ignored, or spend their professional careers shaking their heads in wonderment at how people behave in such counter productive ways. We used to hire one to advise on high level hires at my last job because the owners of the org were such screaming, abusive lunatics that we couldn’t keep anyone employed. He helped a bit in getting the people who could deal with that kind of behavior, but at the end of the day his advice was to stop behaving in that manner, and it was never taken to heart. But, the company went on, so strictly speaking, it wasn’t necessary to do so.

      • LOL at all this.

        Was thinking recently about the whole “people are garbage” thing. My friend works at a company now and his co-worker left after 15 years. 15 years, just leaves on a Friday, done. On Monday? The office was fine. People were “hitting deliverables” and all that shit. So I mean, this person with so much time in the game … how much did they really matter? They left, and 48 hours later, everything was totally normal. And… does this line of thinking make me qualified to be a senior manager? haha.

Comments are closed.