Yesterday self-described “mid-level manager” Ben White sent me this reaction to “Businesspeople Deserve Every Penny.” Reprinted with his permission.
I read your post about the 12 Labors you’ve been subjected to shortly after I wrapped up a call with the VP in Supply Chain at the company where I work. We spent most of the call basically reflecting on the idea that everything is a mess in the world right now and this mess is replicating across multiple industries at the same time and there isn’t an easy solution. Supply chains are interwoven and when problems occur they can feel linear at the time but each break in the chain creates multiple more outcomes so you have to get comfortable with small problems having exponential impacts.
As a mid-level manager I thought your below questions were funny if you were asking them of me. However – if the “they” you’re referring to is an executive leader, I think you’re mostly headed in the right direction of understanding them.
Are they stoic? Do they realize that hardly anyone will sympathize with their plight? Or are they just too busy making the trains run on time to stop and reflect?
Added a few thoughts below – mostly from my mid-level perspective – along with any insights I’ve been afforded from the bosses.
Stoics: Maybe some business people are – it depends what sort of crucible they’ve been subjected to. In The Case Against Education you discuss how employers are looking for conformity in employees; these eventually become the mid-level managers (and some become executives). I see the folks who’ve always taken the high status jobs (strategy/marketing) really crack when stuff hits the fan. These are the students who seem to check every box and pursue jobs which look good on a resume.
The leaders who’ve spent more time in the unattractive roles (operations management for example) are much more comfortable with things breaking – and living with a “control what you can control” mindset. Some of these leaders haven’t been to college.
Too busy to reflect: I have yet to find a good leader who doesn’t advocate spending time to reflect on your actions and outcomes. Leading people is a constant process of reflecting on your own actions to make sure you understand how to get more out of your team. It also requires you to have your team reflect on their actions and then report back to you on how well they’re doing at executing the tasks you’ve assigned them – where they’re succeeding, where they need help, etc…It’s pretty simple “line manager” stuff – but the little stuff can be hard to do.
Sympathy: Finding someone to sympathize with likely goes against a few factors leaders face. If you’re the CEO you don’t get to cry down and you don’t have peers – it is truly lonely at the top. If you’re mid-level then you’re in a pretty significant political battle – at least internally. Careering is a competitive sport – if you’re looking for sympathy it’s easy to be seen as someone who can’t hack it. If you’re commiserating over beers with a peer you have to be careful that they don’t sabotage you later. You can talk to friends in other companies – but do they want to listen to you whine – probably not. So it’s easier to just move on. I guess you could post it on LinkedIn – but not sure what a signalling theory would say about a business person going onto LinkedIn to say work is hard. Like this doesn’t really seem like something you’d want to signal to future employers (or employees).
Anyway – great stuff – the Labors made me laugh today. Was good to hit the pause button for a bit and step away from work-work.