Some thoughts on management

The third real job I had after college was teaching for the DeVry Technical Institute (it wasn’t a university yet, just a trade school) in Chicago around ’69. I was a teacher of calculus, physics and electronics. It was a great place to work and I would have stayed a lot longer than I did, except in those days, teaching in a trade school wasn’t the place to make a lot of money, and I had gotten married and we were starting to have kids.

One of the highpoints of working there was the president O.I. Thompson, regularly visited the instructor’s lounge just to meet, greet and kibitz.

I never knew what “O.I” stood for, but he thought it was pretty funny when we sort of replaced “O.I. with “Old Eye.” He got along well with all the teachers, discussed his ideas and their notions on how we could improve the school and give students more for their investment.

I didn’t figure out until years later that he was minding his store and keeping an eye on his product with his visits. At the same time he was making his employees feel good about themselves because he was sincerely asking for their advice on the company direction. He was a great leader.

The next job I had was with a large industrial publishing company. It actually became the largest in the U.S. and stayed that way for a long time. I was there for a dozen or so years, and for a third of that time I had an office on the same floor as the company’s president. I was only ever in his office twice, after having been summoned, and he had never been in mine.

Which of these two men do you think I would pick as the better manager?

My advice: Get out of your office. Zone … visit others in their offices.

At my first job in Denver, at the V.P. level, my boss asked me if “size” was important to me in my new office. I told him no, I was a big boy now and what mattered to me was my place in the company, etc. He took me at my word, and I ended up with the smallest of all the offices of those at my level in the company, and it rubbed me the wrong way for as long as I worked for that company. And I couldn’t say anything because I was so sure of myself at the start. Until it happened to me I didn’t realize that just about everything is a sign of something. The office, the title, the rug or no, the secretary, the car, you name it.

My advice to managers: Everybody is scrambling for recognition. Take this stuff out of the equation by making it the same for all at the same level. Treat everyone the way they deserve to be treated.

When we started our own publishing company, I was big on organization and meetings – the formal parts of running a business. I wanted everyone to know what we were trying to do and to understand his or her part in making it all come together.

So everyone got used to our weekly meetings where I would talk for 45 minutes. For some reason at one of these meetings I announced that at the next meeting, I hoped everyone would come with their ideas of how we could make the meetings better.

What happened pretty much changed my way of doing things. The suggestions that came out of the meeting included: Let someone else run the meeting occasionally; get ideas from everybody; reward good thinking; managers deserve to know the company plan; and don’t treat anyone like a mushroom (keep in the dark, cover with BS now and then).

I learned that Job No. 1 is to develop your employees.

A leader’s most powerful words are, “What do you think?”

Categories: Management & Leadership