74 and Counting: Poop in the Batter?

Lots of folks confuse bad management with destiny.” – Kin Hubbard

Warning: The following contains the word poop a lot. It’s also a pretty rough post.

As mentioned before I’m a very observant person. I like people watching, I like to see what makes people tick, I like to find trends, and I LOVE when I notice something that does or does not work. I’m an observer and proud of it.

This pertains to something I’ve observed about leadership and management. It is a theory of mine I call the Principle of Poop Location. Yeah it’s a bit strange, but hopefully it will make more sense very shortly.

I have heard horror stories from all over about really bad bosses. For me, I can’t say I have had one myself, but I have definitely observed them and listened to and read many a detailed story about this breed.

I should back up for a moment and give some perspective on how my opinion was formed. I believe that leaders are not always managers and managers are not always leaders. I also firmly believe that a managers role is to create an environment in which workers can succeed. A manager, when you really break it down, usually does not do much of the work him/herself but instead oversees the work of others and in this role the manager really is there to work hard for the employees, not boss them around, not rule with an iron fist, etc. This is not to be confused with the person, a leader, who adds inspiration and motivation to the equations. I’ve known tons and tons of managers in my life, but very few leaders.

A manager is an assistant to his men.” –Thomas J. Watson

Okay, back to the poop.

The theory goes like this: There are two trays of brownies. The first tray looks really delicious until you notice a large pile of poop in the corner of the tray. You are immediately turned toward the other tray which looks even more delicious. As you go to take a piece the baker says there was a tiny tiny bit of poop in the batter of that dish of brownies. You are now faced with a dilemma – you can eat from the tray with the pile of poop and very easily eat around it, or you can take a bite from the tray where a “small” amount was baked in. Either way you are in sh*tty situation, but you have to make a choice.

I don’t know about you, but I’d go for the brownie that I could clearly see the poop and avoid it by cutting around it. It’s a little more extreme of an example but similar to dropping something on the ground and then picking off the bad spot and still being able to eat it.

This applies all too well to many work situations I have been in as well as some corporate cultures I’ve observed. In the aerospace company I currently work for, every product/business unit has a slightly different culture. One building can be full of happy people and another can be full of really unhappy stressed out people. The work isn’t that much different from one to the other so what’s the deal? I’ve noticed that in the happy buildings there are more leaders and more career managers. In the unhappy buildings I’ve seen a track record of promotion of technical minds into management. These individuals often lack the skills to be managers and their technical powers often cloud their understanding of what a good manager is and is supposed to do for their team. This is where the poop comes in. In an environment of leaders and good managers and positive culture, the brownies are cooked perfectly and ready to be consumed. If a bad manager is introduced into that system it’s poop on top of the brownie and while a little brownie will get ruined, you can often avoid the problem until it is removed. No baby being tossed out with the bath water. The system will eventually correct itself.

In the situation of bad managers (or in aerospace = promotion based on technical prowess only) there is a bad culture that develops and this is the case where the poop is put into the brownie batter. You can’t find, you can’t separate yourself from it. The only way to fix it is to start over. Sadly, many organizations will get stuck in this and can not simply start over as the organizations are large and change is more difficult the larger a company gets (mostly). It is sad to me because many times there are very talented people that will either leave or be under utilized due to this environment. Not many people like poop in their brownies.

Think about any jobs you’ve liked or didn’t like, teams you’ve liked or didn’t like. Can you find where the poop was? For me there was poop in the batter in my entire business unit and it made it really made me lose faith in the decision makers and lose trust that we as a company were operating effectively. My direct managers were great, but that means little when the batter has been tainted. Fortunately this has been a driver for me to work hard outside of the office to make a career for myself.

My advice here is to always think what you do as a leader or a manager or a worker and always try to avoid the poop. Try to create the poop resistant environment and culture. You and your employees will be a lot happier (and fuller) – I promise.

Have a creative and productive day,
Brandon Larson

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