What The Boss Expects From You: #5
Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013 at 8:40pm
He wants you to present him with a solution for every problem.
As you may know if you've dropped in this week, I'm in Los Angeles doing "business," which is pretty much what everybody does out here. It's a funny place. Between driving and taking meetings in restaurants, people are at their desks, I would estimate, about 34% less of the time than in an other major city in the nation. Add to that the X-Factor involved in the time difference with the rest of Planet Capitalism and you just have a different thing going on out here. And if you think people are busting their humps after 3 PM in LA, the way the East Coast guys are doing at that hour in New York or Chicago, you've got another thing coming. At 4:00 PM in Los Angeles, the sense of being off the clock is almost palpable. I'm not saying they don't do anything. I'm just saying I like the vibe.
Anyhow, that made the phone call I got from Larry even more annoying. It came at 3:45, when I was playing a new game from Big Fish on the computer and checking my email in a desultory fashion. Larry is in New York, so he was working late, good for him, blah blah blah. "Stan," he says, and I can hear in his voice he's in some kind of freakout about something, as usual. "I want to give you a heads-up about something." Now, this also bugs me extremely. I hate heads-ups. A heads-up is something people use when they didn't tell the boss early enough about a terrible thing for the boss to do something about it. I have told my people that yeah, I want to be informed if something is going to happen, but I would like to know about bad stuff early, not in a heads-up at the end of the day. So Larry, for one, keeps offering them to me, which shows he doesn't listen, among everything else.
"So anyway," says Larry, and presents me with a very big problem that could create a very bad precedent in our company. You don't care what it is. I could make up some stuff about it, but the bottom line is that there's a situation, and if we don't dig ourselves out of it we're going to come out looking bad, and probably lose some money. Close your eyes and imagine a situation like that for yourself, and that's what I'm talking about.
"So Larry," I say to him. "Don't you think we should step in and do something about it?" And there's this silence, and then he says, "That's why I called you."
See, that's what I don't like about Larry. I mean, I'm not going to fire him or anything because he's a pretty good manager and what the hell. I don't fire people unless they completely spit up on their shoes. But he's definitely on my B-List. Because all Larry does is present me with problems. He never comes to me with a problem in one hand and a gleaming, shiny solution in the other. And that's what I want. You know why? Because I generally don't know any better than Larry what to do about things. Just because I'm the boss doesn't make me a genius, obviously. As the guy closer to the scenario, HE's the one who should have a few ideas. Why dump it all in my lap?
I've got a few people working for me around the country. The guys I like are the ones that say, "Hey, our building out here is about to blow up, but I think if I cut the red wire first and then the green wire I can defuse it," and then all I have to do is say, "Sure, do that, and hurry." And then there's no explosion and I can go back to doing what executives do. I think you know what that means.
So I told Larry what to do, and he did it, and fortunately things worked out okay. That doesn't change the fact that when Larry calls next time, I'm going to be presented with a problem that has no solution that I'm not going to provide for it. And when I see "Larry" on my Caller ID, I will not smile.
I complained about this to Peter, who works for me out here. He has quite a few reportees reporting to him, too, in the reporting structure. "I know what you mean," he said, sipping on the Starbucks double espresso with some kind of foam that everybody has surgically attached to their hand out here. "Last month I sent out a memo to my whole staff telling them that I would kill the next person who sent me an e-mail that ended with the phrase, 'How would you like to handle the situation?' These people are paid to come up with creative solutions, not just pass along problems to me!"
I like the way Pete is developing as an executive. One day, if he keeps on this track, he may present me with the ultimate solution to any boss's biggest problem: finding his own replacement.