Do Good Bosses Even Matter Anymore?


He taught bosses. Peter Drucker was his name.

Ever wonder if it even matters anymore how good a boss you have? It matters. Right? A bad boss can make a person’s day feel like it was spent skipping down a carpet of coarsely ground glass.

But in the cube farm, big lie fueled world of corporate temples of power and greed where you work—if you’re fortunate enough to still work anywhere—does the question “What makes a good boss?” even matter anymore? Do good managers even matter?

Imagine knowing the name of the person who invented “management.”

Two empty eyed, men standing at the confluence of the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers eons ago. The desert sun is going down. It’s starting to get cold. And the guy with the big stick says to the guy with small stick, “Hey! YOU start the fire!”

Was that Big Stick Guy the first manager? What would he say about bosses today?

In our time, Peter Drucker, is credited by many as being the gold standard in painting the picture of just what it means to be a good manager. Page through any of the countless books on management, those books people buy and no one reads, and chances are you’ll see the name Peter Drucker. No matter how wacky the theory (‘Manage By Green Tea Vapors’, ‘Management-Shamanagement: How I Stopped Reading Stupid Books, Made Great Salami Sandwiches and My Deli Did Pretty Good’ or even “The Nano-Second Manager: How to Manage Without Ever Caring’) somewhere there is a mention of Peter Drucker.

My friend Sam once told me what it was like to work with Drucker. Sam and I would talk early in the mornings, before anyone else would come in to work, in the one room basement of what used to be the Iroquois Theater in Chicago. Now the damp and barren, tables pushed against the wall, computers that continually crashed, “borrowed’ software ‘war room’ of a retail startup. The Iroquois was the site of one of the worst disasters in Chicago history. 600 people either burned, crushed, suffocated, stampeded or were killed by jumping from a third floor hallway on to the bodies already piled up in a back alley when, like the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York City, there was a management decision to lock the doors from the outside and a fire broke out.

So the aura of that basement was grim. But Sam’s stories were real.

Drucker was a strange guy, he told me. He was a consultant to a big company in Texas where Sam was the CFO. And every month, for a morning, Drucker would come in and he just talk with a bunch of the leaders of the company. “It never seemed,” Sam, told me, that he was saying anything all that magical. It was all a lot of common sense. But he had a way of making you want to listen. And he listened. And so we’d have these conversations, and then everybody would get up, say goodbye, Drucker would leave and we’d all go back to work.

Then the funniest thing would happen. Maybe a few days, a week later, I’d be doing something, and I’d think of something Drucker had said. And I’d try something different. Could be anything. But I’d try something different. It’s like I was somehow THINKING differently.

As if I had more respect for everyone I worked with.

And whatever I was doing worked better.

Whatever I was doing worked better.

Yesterday afternoon an old friend, someone I had hired in the last century, called to ask for some thoughts on how to handle a struggling employee. One of the threads of my work has always been to be what used to be called “management or leadership development.” A practice that is now akin to being a blacksmith. Especially for someone in their extremely late forties. No one pays for coaching leaders anymore. Perhaps all that’s left of Peter Drucker are his books.

Our phone conversation was wonderful. I pictured myself as a baseball player going back for an old timers game. Scampering in from third base Ron Santo style, whipping off an off balance throw to first and beating the runner by a mile.

When she said, “I knew if I called you, you’d know what to do,” I was a little bit more alive.

But I wondered if I was also an antique sepia toned photograph stuck in a box of old pictures, crumpled and dry in someone’s dusty attic.

In an era of raw multi-national corporate power and negotiations seeking solely to destroy those on the other side of the table, with the resulting massive lay-offs or power shifts that can blow in like winds smelling of sulpher, in a world where no one really even invests in developing leaders anymore, where the engagement of a person with their work ranks up there in importance with who we buy our paper from —– does the notion of management, the notion of a good boss, of mutual respect, really even matter?

Or are all the decisions made so very far away, as if they are being made by the forces of nature themselves, that simply being a good boss means about as much as what time I’ll eat lunch.

Is the respect for who we work with still here?

2 Responses to “Do Good Bosses Even Matter Anymore?”

  1. Tom Simeone Says:

    My favorite Drucker quote is, “Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.” I simply try to remember that at all times so that I can evaluate what I’m doing in a vain attempt to not make it more difficult for my folks to get their work done.

    My fervent belief is that the best managers are the ones just above the bottom rung. They are the ones who work so hard to keep their people engaged, despite all the slings and arrows of outrageous directives being hurled from the management layers above.

    They keep the gears turning and the motors humming in order to keep the company running. They don’t manage from spreadsheets or from P&L statements. They inspire their people by example, by staying out of their way and by making sure the road ahead is free of administrative obstacles.

    That is the leader I try to be every day.

  2. Ted Schneider Says:

    Roger,

    You are dead on with your observations – ensuring that those that manage others are trained, focused and effective does not seem to be as important as it once was. Good leaders exist today but they are a product of their own caring and their own willingness to put the needs of thiose they lead ahead of their own agenda. Good leaders should remove barriers to ensure success of those they are responsible for and should help the staff feel good about themselves versus the staff feeling good about the leader. Good leaders exist but it doesn’t appear to be a universal priority at all organizations.

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