Enterprise Software

10 lies managers tell themselves

When a manager hides behind a lie to feel better, the impact can be destructive and far-reaching. BNET's Steve Tobak looks at some lies you may have encountered.

We all lie to ourselves. Why, I don't know. Guess self-delusion is part of the human condition, whatever that means. I'm sure a relatively competent shrink can explain it, but who needs all that psychobabble, right?

What got me thinking about this was someone on Michael Finney's consumer watchdog radio show explaining five lies people tell themselves so they can buy stuff they can't afford: I could have bought something more expensive so I'm actually saving money, it's an investment, I deserve it because something good happened, I'm comforting myself because something bad happened, that sort of thing.

Here's the problem. Usually when we lie to ourselves we're hurting only ourselves; worst case, our families. But with managers, it's a whole different ballgame. When managers lie to themselves they can hurt a lot of people. The bigger the title, the more people they can hurt. CEOs can hurt shareholders, employees, and customers by the thousands. Hell, they can take down a whole company. I've seen self-delusional executives destroy once-great companies lots of times. Sad but true.

But wait, managers are only human, right? They're allowed to make mistakes. Sure. Mistakes are one thing. But saying things to comfort yourself and prop up your fragile ego so you don't have to face the truth because it scares you or something is an entirely different thing.

Do I sound angry? Sorry. Guess the topic hits sort of close to home.

Note: This article originally appeared as an entry in BNET's The Corner Office blog. It's also available as a PDF download.

1: I know what customers want

CEOs often think they know what customers want. Actually they don't. They just know what they want, and they're usually not even in the target demographic.

2: We have the best (fill in the blank)

Technology, marketing, customer service, whatever. Typically, this is self-delusional BS, boastfulness, or ego transference (if there is such a thing).

3: It'll fix itself

When they don't want to do something that's a pain in the you-know-what.

4: Our customers love us

Usually a way to keep people from asking questions they don't want to hear so they don't have to learn the truth that they don't want to know.

5: My employees love me

Same thing as with customers.

6: Out of sight, out of mind

AKA solving a problem by ignoring it, firing it, or otherwise making believe it doesn't exist.

7: It's probably for their own good

Also "They'll land on their feet." Usually when they demote or fire somebody, or during a layoff.

8: The ends justify the means

Comforting themselves when they've done something terrible to others.

9: I know what the execs want

He probably doesn't; he's just afraid to ask or doesn't want you to go over his head.

10: It's my company

In small business, this is often true, but for CEOs of corporations, almost never. So why say it? I don't know -- is there such a thing as ego extension?

So what's the solution to the problem? You really need to ask? If you're a manager, don't do that! Grow a pair and face the truth. Board directors, beware of self-delusional executives. As for directors who prefer hearing sugar-coated BS, well, "May you be reincarnated as an NBC executive!"

Anyway, those are my 10 lies, but there must be hundreds. I know you've got a few so, come on, spill it.

40 comments
Ron K.
Ron K.

One big lie is, "Don't worry. I know what I'm doing." Maybe that's more delusional.

johnedwardsbc
johnedwardsbc

As Governor Arnie of California said "Do the math"! It's an axiom that fifty percent of all managers are below average in capability. If you apply Paretos theory to the top fifty percent, only twenty percent are really good. The rest not. Those who fell below the axiom of fifty percent are really bad. This rule best suits corporations where management comes from outside. When you get into owner operated companies the ratings fall much lower because management comes from nepotism rather than externally. Siblings inherit management positions and nothing can be done to improve the situation. Outsiders are shut out. Ponder this proof. Do you think the global acid mortgage paper meltdown would have occured with competent management?

Darren B - KC
Darren B - KC

"That's the way we've always done it." Maybe not so much a lie if indeed the company has always done it that way, whatever "it" is, but it could be a lie if a CEO uses that excuse convince him or herself that the old ways are the best ways. Times change and customer expectations change as well. Any CEO who's not willing to allow his or her company to change to meet those new customer expectations is just holding onto a one-way ticket to the unemployment line.

feral
feral

Here are some classics from my shop. When users request a change. "We will look at this as part of a mid life review" Anything to avoid the work. When managers do not plan for obsolescence. "We need to do a strategic buy" When a large amount of HDD's are failing and I recommend gathering some reliability and cost metrics. "We dont need to monitor how many are failing or how much it costs, that is why we have extended warranty."

MidnightGeek
MidnightGeek

Have you ever heard the phrase, "Why can't we just..." Unless it's an uber-genius in that particular field, every time I have heard that phrase it meant problems.

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

If you end up working for a manager who thinks they're all-knowing, all-seeing, the-alpha-and-the-omega, passeth-all-understanding, omniscient and omnipotent - HEAVEN HELP YOU. And if executive management is "taken in" with the buffoon (oooh! aaahh! wow! aren't we LUCKY to have someone like this?) - start looking for a new position. You're just a lowly roustabout in their circus parade, and everyone knows what the roustabout with the broom and dustpan, behind the elephant, is expected to do. Amazing how it works out that way, too. The good news is, most of them don't last long, because they're so over-impressed with their own self-worth that they can go find a new sucker to hand them MORE money. (oooooh! aaaahhh! WOW! Weren't we LUCKY to "steal away" someone like this?) And then all that's left behind after they leave is us roustabouts with the brooms and dustpans, and the ..... well, you know.

JamesRL
JamesRL

1: I know what customers want I don't tell myself that, and neither do most good managers, but I have seen a few fall into that trap. I hope marketing knows. I've seen a lot of effort on rework happen when people get this wrong. 2: We have the best (fill in the blank) My company does have some of the best tech in our industry, but thats a double edged sword. We spend more in development and its more difficult to support when you are always updating and enhancing. Some of our competitors are using essentiually updated versions of what they had 10 years ago, but they can more easily support it. The customers are torn, they want both. 3: It?ll fix itself I've had conflicts with managers who thought the solution to the performance issue was to sell more hardware, that gets old quick. Again, not a trait of a good manager, but its not unknown. 4: Our customers love us Well our customers love us more than the competition, but every time I talk to a customer, I get an earful, so I'm not deluded. 5: My employees love me They don't have to love me, but some respect would be nice. We do annual surveys, I know where I stand. 6: Out of sight, out of mind Out of a job....if you keep thinking that. 7: It?s probably for their own good Something that happened the first time I was laid off, and in that case they were right, I was better off out of there and I did far better at the next job. But its not true for everyone. 8: The ends justify the means At our company, HR frowns on that. 9: I know what the execs want Never assume....I assume that things up there change, and anything I think I know about that changed yesterday. 10: It?s my company Its the shareholder's company for me, and I have no illusions.

kevaburg
kevaburg

The manager of a small shop probably uses all of those lies to convince himself to keep working even if it seems against the odds. It helps to keep his own morale up and he hopes his morale will motivate those he employs. Then there is the departmental manager who believes everything he does is for the good and benefit of everyone as long as the negative effects don't negatively effect him. Of course, then there is the CxO whose ideas (he believes) will transform/move the company in a direction that will make it a market leader without actually knowing what the product is. Although I am a manager sceptic especially when my manager isn't even qualified in my field, I like ot give the guy the benefit of the doubt but I have to agree, as soon as I hear one or two of these items escape his lips, a question mark about what he ACTUALLY believes and what is delusional always appears!

mafergus
mafergus

I have seen all of these behaviours also. I have also seen where subordinates become yes men and will only suplly the positive. In one case, they did this because the manager required that they go back and work for solutions when things aren't going as planned. Laziness extends to all levels.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

I think the tone & brevity detracted from could have actually been a pretty compelling piece (or two). I've heard all of the lies mentioned during my careers, so I can't dispute the validity of the list. However, some objective assessment on how these lies lead to ruin would have been a big plus. Since adding the assessments would have made this a pretty lengthy piece, it probably would have needed to be split into two parts. That said, I do think that upper management all too frequently talk themselves into/out of something through the use of these lies. Personally, I don't get it; but then again, I'm not one for justifying unnecessary purchases, either. Yes, no, stay, go...I'm all for keeping it simple.

wizard57m-cnet
wizard57m-cnet

Hmmm, you wouldn't be a Adobe Flash developer that read the iPhone TOS and found your yet-to-be- announced app will be denied, would you? Just joking! One of my favorites..."It's out of my hands, nothing I can do!" Ummm, really? I thought it was your job to make these sorts of decisions? (More likely it's just a case of covering their you-know-what!)

Kam Guerra
Kam Guerra

Perfect article. Would read again. A++++++++++

Timespike
Timespike

So all managers: 1. Have no idea what customers want (even if they've asked or done research) 2. Have a crappy product. 3. Can't delegate anything if they actually want it done. 4. Are universally despised by their customers. 5. Are universally despised by their subordinates. 6. Can't ever actually solve anything. 7. Are deluding themselves when they let someone who's a poor fit for their organization, but generally a quality person go. That person is utterly hopeless without the exact, specific job they just vacated, after all. 8. Are evil, monstrous bastards that do things out of pure sadism on an hourly basis. 9. Are universally despised by their superiors, and are completely clueless as to their wishes. 10. Are egomaniacs when they have a sense of ownership. WHAT?! There's nothing constructive here at all. This is just a pure screed. I have worked under a number of fantastic managers with ethics and good judgment in the past, including (especially) the one I work under currently. It's not that cut-and-dried.

bburgess66
bburgess66

This axiom applies to all of humanity. 'Manager' is merely a subset of 'human', right? .. We *ALL* do these things, is why our 'progress' is so slow. ;-)

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

a shudder down the spine of millions of techs. Prepare yourself. Why can't we use Fred's access application across the enterprise? That feeling you get after watching Mr Norton kerbie that poor chap in American History X......

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

they rake it in. So what is your point here? You make it sound profitable to be the all-knowing, all-seeing, the-alpha-and-the-omega, passeth-all-understanding, omniscient and omnipotent person.

papeirce
papeirce

I used to be one of the people with the broom and dustpan behind the pernicious pachyderms. Now, as a founding director of a nacent not-for-profit EMS company, I tend to look to make sure no one is following ME with the broom and dustpan. ;-)

JamesRL
JamesRL

If the problem is with a function that is one of the requirements, and it doesn't work, we don't release the software period. If the function was "nice to have", then if it doesn't work, it gets dropped. It may get added in the next version. James

santeewelding
santeewelding

Although, the "tone and brevity" you mention do serve in the way of chirps from a canary in the mine, Steve being a great deal more articulate. He prompts my own thinking about my own situation. I look about.

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

Actually that one is the truth more often than not. Unless you're in the CxO ranks. All the managers I have worked with the last 20 yrs get their orders from the next step up. The managers in the next step up get theirs from another step up and so on. Part of that is just the BS titles we give each other nowadays. We don't have supervisors anymore. They are "managers". But in reality they are supervisors. They don't call the shots. They are just another level between the peons and the people who do.

espobrian
espobrian

This is not meant to convey that all managers lie; rather, it is meant to convey that, when managers lie to themselves, these are among the top ten things they tell themselves. Pretty accurate, in my experience. Here's a little joke: The first myth of management is that it exists.

btoomey
btoomey

I usually don?t comment but this one threw me. Where are you coming from? Defiantly there is some defensiveness going on. This is about attitude. So all managers: 1. Have no idea what customers want (even if they've asked or done research) Yes they have an idea, but it says ?I know what customers want?. You never know what they want. Everyday they want something else. Constant questioning of your customers and finding out what improvements they would like to see is the only way of knowing. If you feel you know what they want, in a year someone else will be selling them what they really want. 2. Have a crappy product. Again it says,? We have the best? Your product may not be crappy but there is a guy down the block trying to do it better and eventually will, unless you constantly keep trying to improve. 3. Can't delegate anything if they actually want it done. ?I?ll do it myself.? I thought this was a sarcastic remark. As in I?ll do it myself. I have to do everything myself! They may delegate, but is it their responsibility they a shirking? 4. Are universally despised by their customers. This one said ?Our Customers Love us.? Maybe they do today, but that attitude gets you in trouble as you begin to believe it. Eventually you can believe they will keep coming back no matter what? 5. Are universally despised by their subordinates. It actually says ?My employees love me.? I've seen this attitude a lot. Sometimes the employees do love them because the manager does all the work, or they party with the employees, or they don?t ask much of them, or the department/company is crawling because the manager doesn?t want to offend anyone and other times the feeling of love is a total delusion. Well liked managers are usually Fair, Honest and have no need to berate or belittle someone. 6. Can't ever actually solve anything. No! It says ?Out of sight out of mind.? Maybe they could solve it with effort, but are choosing to ignore it because they don?t want to confront someone, don?t want to embarrass themselves, don?t want others to know about the problem, etc. 7. Are deluding themselves when they let someone who's a poor fit for their organization, but generally a quality person go. That person is utterly hopeless without the exact, specific job they just vacated, after all. Wow! This one specifically says ?Usually when they demote or fire somebody, or during a layoff.? What this is saying is the manager has no compassion. A poor fit, not the required skill is a little different from a layoff situation. Most skilled manager can even be fair and compassionate and get the person moved on in the other cases. 8. Are evil, monstrous bastards that do things out of pure sadism on an hourly basis. The ends justify the means. Comforting themselves when they?ve done something terrible to others. Come on read this. It says, "WHEN THEY HAVE DONE SOMETHING TERRIBLE TO OTHERS." If the manager never has, this isn?t relevant. 9. Are universally despised by their superiors, and are completely clueless as to their wishes. I'm not catching this comment I read ?I know what the execs want.? They probably don?t they are just afraid to ask, or don?t want you to go over his head. Thinking you know, or feeling you know, is a sure way to get into trouble. Open communication is the only way to understand what the Exec wants. 10. Are egomaniacs when they have a sense of ownership. Doesn?t say that either just says there is no need to rub it in anyone?s face. If you have to tell them you are the one in charge - you aren?t.

jmbrasfield
jmbrasfield

With ethics and good judgment, lucky you. I've been at this for almost 40 years and have yet to run into one manager "with ethics and good judgment". It has been all about their ego and how much power they have or can steal. I refer to them as PPM's, Peter Principal Managers, and that is exactly what they are.

ralph.bacon
ralph.bacon

That was the aim of my company. Now crashed and burned. A multi-billion pound company. I always wanted to know WHY they wanted to be no 1 so badly. If you're no 1 then the only place you can go is to No 2, and so on. It's better to be a great company at no 5 than a risk-taking one at no 2. That's not complacency just good business sense. Managers never could answer that one. Came from the CEO so nobody questioned it!

adakar_sg
adakar_sg

Never noticed how accurate dilbert is?

tbmay
tbmay

Definitely sent a shudder down mine!!! Our agreeement on that line is chilling and honestly, the fact that so many of us have heard it and agree about it, makes me wonder if there's a better career out there.

Gh0stMaker
Gh0stMaker

Very true, companies fail because 1 person is making all the decisions and doesn't trust the Managers under him to do their piece of the company pie. Don't hire someone if you don't think their qualified and never trust their ideas (or worse take credit for all good ideas)

Gh0stMaker
Gh0stMaker

Great Managers listen and make decisions based on his entire team. Bad Manager dictate or setup somebody that works for them to take the fall if the project fails.

aandruli
aandruli

For most managers its transferring the blame when things go wrong and claiming the credit when things go right. For most managers in business, just like baseball, a good team makes a manager look good and a bad team makes a manager look bad. Managers only are about 10 per cent of the game.

SaulGoode
SaulGoode

and the stock holders/ owners are happy. As long as the company is profitable then why compete for "rankings".

SaulGoode
SaulGoode

but the original post or article or whatever didn't make a legitimate point. He merely made some assertions with no support and then closed. The only one with any serious potential for being a legitimate point is number 10.

bburgess66
bburgess66

In no way did this article say that *ALL* managers do *ALL 10* of these things. Merely that these were the 10 most common of human frailties that a *TYPICAL* manager has. .. yes .. not all that cut and dry. ;-)

TheProfessorDan
TheProfessorDan

I think that the article was an excellent list to help managers avoid the pitfalls that can hurt a manager. The real moral of the story is that we need to be honest and constructive in our self assessment. Like Tony, I have seen many managers do these things. And I also have had my share of good managers, such as the one I have now.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I've seen every one of them told, more times than I care to count...