A Message for Bosses and People Who Have Them
Some thoughts on employer / employee power dynamics
I am somewhat surprised to have employees. I have about 40 of them and I like them. They’re good people. I don’t have an MBA and my companies operate in small towns with small teams so take what I say with a grain of salt but…please question me.
Recently, I was at an event (we do events) and we were doing a tech rehearsal in which a bunch of guests were playing a video game. I was sitting in for one of the guests who hadn’t arrived to make sure everything worked. After playing through a level we had determined that, yes, indeed, the thing worked and were good to go. But I expressed disappointment saying, “Ah! Come on! One more level!”
And I was met by the stares of people who thought I was being serious and were getting ready to adjust the extremely tight schedules of a dozen different people to fit my childish whims.
Good god people, no! You’re not my grandma, I’m not here to be coddled and placated. Even if I was being serious, your job is your job, not my happiness. The path to success isn’t through my lizard brain, it’s through high quality collaboration and making good stuff and understanding difficult situations fully enough to come up with good (or even great) solutions quickly.
I am wrong all the time. The only reason no one notices is because our businesses, overall, are on stable ground and so taking risks is beneficial even if they don’t work out. The fields we’ve planted our businesses in are fertile, and so as long as we work smart and hard we’re going to grow. I get to take responsibility for that growth because I’m the boss, and yeah I deserve some credit. But sometimes a guy gets strapped into a rocket ship and everyone high fives him when it goes up.
I don’t want to be one of those bosses…taking credit for phenomena that are out of my control. Some businesses like this. They need the cult of Musk or Jobs. They need that thing to believe in, to aspire to, and I dunno, maybe those guys deserve that adulation. Maybe they don’t. But I know that I don’t. And I know I don’t want it.
99.9% of bosses are not those people. You aren’t creating a cult, you’re creating a team, and you aren’t a functional team leader if you set your employees up not to question you. You’re just a dick.
Now, of course, once a decision has been made and we’re marching down a path, I don’t want people remaining unsettled that it was the wrong call and continuing to question my judgement. At some point a call has to be made and its better to charge down the wrong (though probably not completely wrong) path than to mill about groaning and wondering if maybe we should go back and start over. That’s no fun, and it fucks with the dynamic of the team.
I want my employees to look up to me and to trust me, and I aspire to be worthy of the position of authority that they allow me to be in. I want to work as hard for them as they work for me every single day. But whether you work for me, or you work for someone else, or you have a bunch of people who work for you, your job is to identify and solve problems and make things that have value. The power dynamic should always serve that purpose and never stand in its way.