How to Spot Unsuccessful Executives

By Imberman, Woodruff | USA TODAY, July 1993 | Go to article overview

How to Spot Unsuccessful Executives


Imberman, Woodruff, USA TODAY


They treat subordinates unfairly, don't listen, discuss problems endlessly without acting, fail to grasp the big picture, and mismanage time.

Every Bookstore is full of volumes describing what makes an effective executive. Daily newspapers carry syndicated columns written by gurus who depict the methods and behavior of successful CEOs. Major magazines such as Fortune and Time regularly publish feature articles on various "shining lights" in the business world.

Few publications, however, care to depict the behavior of unsuccessful executives, which usually manifests itself in disregarding subordinates, inability to listen, failing to see the big picture, and talking rather than doing.

Disregarding subordinates. The unsuccessful manager almost always is conscious of the need to pander to superiors. While he rushes to meet their whims, just as often he disregards the need to be considerate of subordinates. He orders things to be done, rather than motivating anyone to do them. ("Increase productivity! Improve quality! Get the lead out! Group machines into cells for synchronous production! Don't give me excuses! Do it!")

When such executives do deal with subordinates, their attitude tends to be full of artificial cordialities. The sole purpose is to manipulate. When they say "no," they usually give no reason. They engender no loyalty among their staff. They really do not believe their success is related to that of subordinates.

The ABC Apparel Manufacturing Co. had 1,200 workers in several plants. A project leader with some status in the parent company was promoted to plant manager in an outlying factory where girls' dresses and casual wear were produced for Wal-Mart, Kmart, Ames, etc. Upon assuming his new job, he decided to impress by concentrating on cutting costs that affected the price of producing garments.

Previously, overtime was voluntary. Since there was nothing in the union contract on the subject, the new plant manager unilaterally posted a notice that employees must work overtime when ordered by management, and proceeded to enforce the rule. Most plant employees were women with family obligations. Soon, four were disciplined for refusing overtime. Grievances were filed. In the meantime, productivity in the plant declined. This led to a query from headquarters.

The "call out" problem was handled similarly. A maintenance employee called to work outside his regular scheduled hours was paid a minimum of four hours regular pay or one-and-one-half times his regular rate for time worked, whichever was greater. When the emergency job was completed, the employee went home to rest for his regular shift. Sometimes, he worked only one hour, but received four hours pay.

The new plant manager unilaterally changed the rule without discussing the matter with maintenance employees or the union. Under the new rule, whenever a worker was called out for an emergency job, he would be assigned to a second and perhaps a third task in order to fill out the four hours. The union objected, but the manager felt that, if the company was paying for four hours work, it certainly should receive four hours work.

The plant began to have difficulty in calling out emergency workers. Wives would tell the plant representative when he phoned that their husbands were not at home. An emergency job left undone because of employee resentment resulted in a one-day shutdown of a department.

Finally, a two-week strike broke out at contract time. Money was said to be the major issue, but newspaper stories in the community - the reporters interviewed a number of strikers and their spouses-indicated that the trouble was due almost entirely to the manager's unilateral arbitrary actions. Behind that, of course, lay the manager's disdain for subordinates' opinions, which undermined the company effort to achieve workforce cooperation on cost containment.

Inability to listen. …

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