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The Best Managers Are Boring

Close-up of Samoyed yawning. Purebred dog with mouth wide open. Animal is white in color against blue background. Dog yawning.
Eric Larson, CEO and Lead Organizational Detective, TheORGDetectives
Eric Larson, CEO and Lead Organizational Detective, TheORGDetectives

Once upon a time the forest animals got together to elect a leader. They chose the peacock, for the peacock’s feathers were the prettiest in the forest. The peacock, proud of his new office, strutted around looking very regal. The animals were proud of their good-looking leader.

One day, humans came to the forest to cut it down and build a neighborhood. The animals needed a plan. Should they fight the humans? Should they flee? They asked the peacock for direction, but the peacock waved them off.

“My job is to be beautiful -- and I do it very well,” crowed the peacock. Frozen with indecision, the animals perished -- except for the peacock, who ended up living on a human’s vast lawn. Peacocks always find a way to survive.

The Peacock and Leadership in Human Organizations

The story of the peacock is, unfortunately, the story of human leadership in organizations. We tend to promote peacocks for their shining glory. Unfortunately, we forget the job of the leader and what we need from them until it’s too late.

Being a manager isn’t just a title of reward, bestowed upon someone who has succeeded at their past work. Management is its own thing, a job unto itself. Managers get paid better than other workers because the work is difficult and has high impact.

Managers have to do the difficult work of managing and directing their people. It’s crucial that they do, because teams for the most part cannot direct themselves.

There are exceptions. Sometimes you find a group of players who are just naturally in sync. They have a kind of chemistry that brings out the best in one another. When a team like this is given a large amount of autonomy, they parlay it into something really amazing. They are easy to lead -- because all the leader needs to do is get out of their way.

But that’s rare. Left to their own devices, most teams need a coach, at least at key moments during the year. Someone has to “break the ties” when there is disagreement in the ranks. Someone has to decide which player is going to play in which position. Finally, someone has to keep the group honest and make sure it’s producing.

The Best Managers are Boring

I’m going to argue that the best managers are like good parents: a little boring. They are not your best friend. They are, in fact, frustratingly square.

One of the best bosses I ever had was like this. I always knew what to expect from Mike. He required me to meet with him once a week to go over progress from the previous week, to discuss any problems that had arose, and to plan the next week’s work. (Incidentally, this is called the 3Ps Process, and it’s a great tool for managers to adopt.)

In the year I worked for Mike, I was able to hit every one of the goals we had set together. It might be the single most successful year of work I’ve ever experienced.

However, Mike was not the manager everyone wanted to work for. People said they felt sorry for me, said I would be happier working for the manager I’ll call “Dave.” Dave was tons of fun. He dressed well and had movie-star good looks. Dave took his team drinking after work, cracked a lot of jokes, bestowed a bunch of hugs, and pumped people up with compliments.

Unless he was having a bad day. On bad days, watch out! Dave could chew you up and spit you out. Everyone loved Dave, but he was sort of like a game of Russian roulette. Exciting, but terrifying, too.

Fast forward twenty-five years. Which manager do you think went on to grow his organization from $10M to over $250M in revenue a year, while the other left management to sell real estate? (Incidentally: Last I checked, Mike had left the organization he’d built into a juggernaut and was looking for the next challenge. Reach out and I’ll put you in touch.)

I’ll share more specific tips on how managers can be effective. But it’s important first to be aligned on what a manager is not. Maybe think about that dull-brown sparrow who fastidiously builds its nest over time.

Not the peacock.

Eric Larson is the founder, CEO, and Lead Detective at The Organizational Detectives LLC, a management consultancy for businesses and nonprofits based in Raleigh, North Carolina. A former executive at CompTIA Spark, he was part of the team that branded and launched CompTIA’s IT-Ready training program for entry-level tech workers. In his regular blog for ChannelE2E, he shares best practices of leadership to help your MSP thrive. Learn how an organizational detective can assist in solving your company’s mysteries at Contact him at [email protected].

Eric Larson, CEO and Lead Organizational Detective, TheORGDetectives

Eric Larson is the CEO of The Organizational Detectives LLC in Raleigh, North Carolina, a management consulting firm. A former executive at CompTIA Spark, he was part of the team that branded and launched CompTIA’s IT-Ready training program for entry-level tech workers. He has developed technical and soft-skills training programs for IT executives and workers and is a writer of mystery novels under the pen-name Eric Lodin.  Learn more about his company’s services at: