Almost all reporters and cops are cynics.
It's hardly surprising. Unless they work for USA Today,
reporters start out writing obituaries, go on to cover auto crashes
or the local crime beat, advance through corruption at city hall
and, if they are wildly successful, get to cover major crimes, wars
or famines. Cops, by definition, deal almost exclusively with
society's misfits, from the excessively greedy (on Wall Street) to
The average boss, junior or senior, has a lot in common with
police officers and reporters. The first-line supervisor or senior
middle manager devotes almost all of his or her day to problems on
the shop floor or in the committee room. His or her daily fare is
labor disputes, rifts between functions within the firm, squabbles
with suppliers, franchisees and customers, cost overruns and
schedule slippages. Ever see a manager poring over a schedule that
is being met? I doubt it.
To be sure, all this is what managers get paid for.
Nonetheless, the plain fact is that the typical manager, like the
aging reporter or police officer, would be hard pressed not to sour
as the years roll by.
The consequences of managers' characteristic negativism are
predictable - and disastrous. Consider a football team, a
Burger-King outlet or a check-processing unit. I repeatedly observe
that such organizations perform well if the participants feel good
about themselves (competent, autonomous), have a worthwhile goal (a
state championship or a quality-improvement award) and are having
fun. They are most likely to perform poorly when their self-esteem
is low, their autonomy is constrained (they sense the institution's,
team's or firm's lack of faith in them) and their goals are petty
(stay out of trouble, avoid the boss's scrutiny, don't risk
But, given the previous analysis, just how likely is the average
coach/boss to be turned-on and energetic - a consistent source of
optimism and builder of esteem? The answer is worrisome.
While, of course, there are good bosses and good coaches, the
majority fail to regularly incite their troops to achieve ever
higher plateaus of involvement and quality performance. A principal
reason is the pessimism and cynicism that comes with the turf. That
is, they turn people off, not on.
So bosses naturally gravitate toward controlling, nit-picking,
cop-like behavior, as an unintentional by-product of being bombarded
daily with negative signals. Suspicion breeds suspicion.
Negativism breeds negativism. Overcontrol breeds immature,
unmotivated, lethargic employee behavior - and performance
deteriorates or is lackluster at best.
A critical implication flows from all of this. Bosses of all
stripes desperately need to counter-bombard themselves with good
news - exciting acts of service to the customer, innovative employee
ideas and acts of spontaneous cooperation between functions. …