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The Seagull Manager (Tales from the Dark Side)
"Seagull managers fly in, make a lot of noise, dump on everyone, and then fly out.”
- Ken Blanchard, “The One Minute Manager ".
How do we know we have Seagulls as Managers?
- We never see them until there is a problem. Then...surprise! Here they are to save the day, or so they say (fly in phase)
- They come out with guns blazing, shooting in all directions, grabbing all the attention, raising alarms, sending mass emails, etc... (noise phase)
- They criticize pretty much everybody they can, and in public (dump phase)
- Then they leave as abruptly as they came, leaving all the mess behind for others to clean up (fly out phase)
The noise generation is to get all the credit should the issue get resolved. The fly out tactic is mainly to escape any accountability.
Why are Seagull Managers a Problem?
- They are not involved with the team from the beginning, so they don't have a clue on how to really help out
- The excessive noise they produce doesn't help to solve the problem at hand, it usually makes it worse
- Their lack of people skills lowers team morale and motivation
- They raise issues, blow them out of proportion, without remaining and taking responsibility until they are resolved.
The net result of this Hit-and-Run Management is a demotivated and unhappy team, who had to waste valuable time putting up with the Seagull's toxic verbiage, and again writing extra reports to address the generated noise instead of the problem. As for the unresolved issue itself, it is generally made worse, because the Seagull makes hasty decisions based on no real understanding of what needs to be done, and then leaves the team to deal with the consequences of those uninformed choices.
Why do we have Seagull Managers?
- Initially well-intentioned people promoted to management without proper training
- Unprepared, former high-ranking managers reassigned to lower positions, where they suddenly have to deal directly with technical staff
- Psychologically weak individuals misusing their power status to feel important, and better about themselves
- Corporate sharks and parasites not interested in real work, but seeking the spotlights for promotion.
The two first categories can be salvaged by training. The two last ones are personality - or lack of personality - traits that are way harder to address.
How to confront Seagull Infestation?
- Direct face-to-face talks, with all the risks involved
- Escalation, also with risks
- Anonymous feedback, minimum risk but debatable effectiveness.
And when all else fails, fresh tactics. Here's an easy one, inspired by Martijn Verburg's Diabolical Developer : install a rear-view mirror on your computer monitor. You'd want to be able to leave your desk quickly, should Flying Seagulls attempt a surprise landing in your immediate vicinity.
From Tony's Blog.