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Games Managers Play


As I walked through the game section of the toy department at a local department store, I was reminded of the behaviors of some people in management positions. The names on the game boxes were analogous to how some managers play throughout their organizational careers. These men and women will not reach leadership status without some insight into how they are perceived.


Don’t just read this article, evaluate your own behaviors. Distribute it and ask for candid feedback from your team. Use it as a training tool for newly promoted managers. Or clip it and leave it on the desk of a leader who needs to get the message.


Each of these games contains the elements of management behavior that will cause morale problems, lower productivity, turnover, organizational alienation and diminished quality.


Managers playing the very popular organizational game of Trivial Pursuit do this because they simply cannot make a decision. They spend valuable resources, time, and money in an endless search for more information…the pursuit of trivia. They are married to the concept of task forces, consultants’ reports, literature searches, committees, data, and documentation. They believe that the sheer weight of information will give them some preordained vision, the perfect solution, or the single definitive answer to a question. In postponing their decisions hoping for divine guidance, they miss opportunities, waste resources, frustrate the team and become buried under mountains of sometimes contradicting data.

Suggestion: In today’s fast moving business world, organizations cannot afford procrastination and indecision. Making decisions means assuming risk. Some leaders are paralyzed by this risk and look to data to tell them what to do. Data, however, does not talk. It simply is a tool that can mitigate the possibility of failure by providing information . An effective leader realizes that decisions are rarely made under conditions of certainty. At best, chances of success can be maximized and the risk minimized by solid, relevant intelligence.

Legendary leaders take risks. The fear that paralyzes less secure leaders will not prevent the legendary leader from acting when action is necessary. They carefully consider the information presented to them, then execute swiftly and decisively. They realize that indecisiveness and apprehension are based on fear of failure…the fear that their decision  will not succeed and that their name will be attached to it. Leaders are willing to take this risk because they know that success is the more likely outcome.

This is not to imply that leaders are to autocratically make all the decisions. Very clearly, today’s leader should be committed to the concept of participatory management. Bringing in the team for discussion, idea generation and problem solving is good business. The leader, however, cannot totally abdicate all decision-making responsibility to the group. Two heads are better than one if properly facilitated. Using collective intelligence is a good idea. Relentless and endless pursuit of data is not. In addition to the practical implications and financial impact of indecisiveness, hesitant, indeterminate behavior is perceived as weak. This is particularly true in a crisis or in hard times.

Finally, leaders cannot let love of data take precedence over love of people and the organizational mission. They have vision that is supported by intelligence gathering but is not dictated by it. Some leaders think that voluminous facts, figures, statistics, findings and recommendations will guarantee success. A well put together, multi-colored data laden graph puts them into ecstasy. The danger of this love affair is that the leader may loose sight of the big picture. Organizational philosophy, relationships and culture cannot be expressed in condensed charts and statistical diagrams. Facts are interesting, but vision is critical.



Related to Trivial Pursuit, Taboo is played by leaders who continuously pursue information, but have already made up their mind. They reject data that does not support their preconceptions and enthusiastically embrace details that sustain what they already think they know. This relentless pursuit of just the supporting data is a waste of valuable time and effort, not to mention frustrating for the people doing the collecting. I have seen leaders worm their way through pages of material and hours of reports to find that bit of information that confirms their point of view.

These leaders have “sacred cows.” These are pet projects, pet products, pet people, etc. that cannot be critically evaluated. They may be overtly favored or be hidden in rhetoric. This hampers progress and honest discussion. For example, a leader who is married to the past and does not want to change may say things like “If it isn’t broken, why fix it?” or “It’s just a fad,” or “End of discussion.”

Suggestion: If you routinely drive on the interstate highway going 70 miles an hour will you wait for your car to break down before you fix it? Of course not. You listen for signs of trouble, maintain your car for peak efficiency, watch the gages, replace defective parts, rely on expert opinion and eventually replace the entire vehicle. The globe is spinning faster and faster. You can no longer afford protected domains, restricted dialogue and taboo topics.

There are many times when task forces and groups can be a valuable component in organizational decision-making. These methods can only be successful, however, if you assign the task to a group, then accept and carefully consider the reports with an open mind. If there is any precedent or rumor that presenting accurate information and thoughtful suggestions is a waste of time, there will be little enthusiasm for the task and any report will be contaminated by the hopelessness of the assignment. Leasers recognize the possibility of perceptual distortion and attempt to be as equitable as possible. In evaluating recommendations they favor objective criteria over subjective opinion.


These leaders play the game of popularity. It pains them to have to say “no” to anyone and when they do they are very, very sorry. This kind of apologetic, overly accommodating leader is controlled by the opinions of others, they become confused, baffled and perplexed.

These leaders so want to be loved they tend to say, “yes” to everyone.  Unfortunately when it comes to following through, they find it difficult or impossible. Instead of being loved therefore, they are looked upon as being ineffective and out of control.

Suggestion: Legendary leaders realize that popularity is a concept of youth. They recall that as adolescents in order to be popular they tried to be what others wanted them to be. This made them susceptible to peer pressure or filled them with the need to be nice all the time. Being cordial and friendly is smart business, but one need not subscribe to the “love me” school of nonassertive, overly affable behavior.  It is time to leave the concept of popularity back in the past where it belongs. It is time to grow up and mature.

In the allocation of scarce resources tough, sometimes unpopular decisions must be made. To become legendary, be consistent, honest and fair and people will five you loyalty and extra effort.  Legendary leaders are not always popular with everyone all of the time they realize that sometimes employees will be disappointed, sometimes they will be upset and sometimes they will not be completely satisfied. This is a condition of organizational life. It is one of the realities leaders must deal with.

It is more important to win the respect of the members of the work team.  The affection will grow from that. To win respect give timely, constructive feedback; provide explanations with negative responses; be open and candid with information; be honorable in your actions and sincere in your communications; listen carefully to what people say and give it careful consideration; treat people with respect and conduct yourself as a professional. These things are far more important than giving into the temptation of trying to please everyone. Pleasing everyone is impossible. Act on the above list and you will earn the popularity you deserve.


This manager is the Lone Ranger. It would never occur to this person that others in the organization have the right to be involved in the planning, organizing, decision-making and problem solving. They are from the very, very old school of autocratic leadership. They centralize all the decisions and even though they may be benevolent, they rule with paternalistic rigor.  They use the militaristic model of nonquestioning compliance to orders.

They believe in “good soldiers” carrying out the wishes of the superior. They are horrified at what they perceive as insubordination if an employee honestly expresses concern. They see dissention if there is a difference of opinion, conflict if there dishonest communication, discord if there is discussion, acrimony if there is apprehension. They expect blind loyalty and obedience.


Suggestion: Legendary leaders build teams, delegate appropriately and routinely and decentralize responsibility. They realize that by empowering others, they become more, nit less, influential. They also realize that having only one head in charge in not only impractical, it can result in some very negative consequences. When that person is not on the premises, for a variety of reasons, the organization can become chaotic, lack direction or grind to a disheartened stop.

If organizations are so dependent on their leasers that they disintegrate if the leader is away from the site, then the manager does not understand one of the most basic principles of administration and management. There is a point when the manager must select the best team, train them, provide the best information and resources possible, then go sit on the bench and let them play…like any good coach. If an organization operates smoothly and independently, then the manager has successfully prepared the team for efficient operation.  Minimally, managers that make themselves indispensable will not be able to take much needed vacations, adding to their personal stress or be able to leave the organization for opportunities to network and continue their education.

Leadership is best illustrated by the impact the leaders have on the behaviors of the team when they are not in the area. Leaders should be a presence and have influence on individual conduct even when they are not in the room. This happens when leaders organize the team, delegate wisely, encourage independent thinking, reinforce self-actualized behavior and have reporting mechanisms that will give them feedback. A hard working, independent team should be the goal of every manager.

Many managers cannot overcome their basic human insecurities when they assume leadership. They feel they have to be the best at everything in order to hold the position. This is a misplaced ego in charge. Confident leaders are not intimidated or threatened by excellence. On the contrary, legendary leaders recruit excellence, nurture it when they find it, develop it if it isn’t there and generally reinforce an individual’s effort to improve themselves.

When leaders build independent teams from competent, well trained, mature employees, they can leave them to their work and get to the important functions of their job. To be constantly interrupted with questions and to be called upon to offer an opinion whenever a decision had to be made had many disadvantages. First of all it takes up too much of the leader’s time. Routine decisions that consistently reoccur in the workplace can easily be made by the employee closest to the situation. Secondly this autocratic, centralized style diminishes the feeling of self worth in the employees. If they have to ask “for permission” every time they make a decision it makes them feel childlike and immature. Thirdly members of a work team need ownership of goals, tasks, and responsibility in order to share in the satisfaction of successes and job completion. If they don’t participate, they don’t share either the responsibility or the outcome.



These types of leaders pride themselves in being cryptic. They never really make a straightforward comment. They use imprecise language or hide their observations in lengthy rhetoric. It is up to the individual employee to try and translate the manger’s intentions and meaning. They respond, “that’s interesting” to your brilliant suggestions and “that’s interesting to your not-so-brilliant suggestions. They say “do your best” or “you’ll have to do better that that” or “shape up or ship out” and call it feedback.

Suggestion: Time to be specific and candid. Legendary leaders know that they are not telepathic and their team is not clairvoyant. They are explicit and articulate. They keep their messages concise and make sure that their colleagues have all the information they need to do their job competently. On they receiving side, they carefully listen to members of their team. In this way they stay informed, empower the individual, get great ideas and receive recommendations.

The ability to send clear, accurate information is essential to getting work done. Employees must understand explicitly what the manager’s expectations are before they can be expected to comply. Many leaders see a lack of cooperation in their team and attribute it to a lack of motivation. Another very viable reason for the confusion could be that the individual is a cooperative employee who simply does not understand the requests, specifications, evaluation or comments. Once cannot hope to motivate an employee unless that employee clearly comprehends the communication



This type had all the ingredients of leadership but never seems to put it all together. They are talented, have experience and are educated in their discipline. However, they lack cohesive vision. People will say, “he s so smart, but he lacks common sense,” or “She’s a wiz at the numbers, but she had no idea what they represent.” This can spell D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R.

Not having vision means that his person is constantly bumping into problems they didn’t see coming. Opportunities are missed due to a lack of imagination or long-range consciousness. They do not see the big picture, only the details of the illustration. Their conversation is filled with interesting anecdotes, information and data, but all this knowledge floats through empty space because they have a shortage of connecting epoxy.

They can never made everything stick together into a coherent plan. They are forever busy, but they lack results. They are like a rocking chair…all movement and no forward progress. They put out fires without looking for the cause. They may even be working under the delusion that they are doing well.

Suggestion: It is very counterproductive to have a leaser who is fragmented and consequently does not fulfill early promise and reach full potential. To spell S-U-C-C-E-S-S-, this kind of leader needs to take periodic breaks from daily activity to explore opportunities. They need regular blocks of time to step back, take a deep breath and let the flying fragments of their mind settle into a harmonious pattern. They may need to take a course in strategic planning. There are methods available to assist a leader in acquiring the focus necessary to become visionary.

Minimally these leaders need to look at the big picture. They should expand their frame of reference and their concept of time. They must look at major trends and the long run, rather than today’s problems and tomorrow’s goals. If this is just not possible for the individual, they need to be reassigned to be a very structured job. Leadership had little structure and routine. It needs people who can periodically put themselves on automatic pilot, so that they can study the maps for the best route to their final destination.



This leader has profound personality problems. Perhaps they carry unresolved anger to work with them and bring it out at inappropriate times. Maybe the individual is a radical pessimist who throws buckets of cold water on any original thought or idea. Sometimes they have peculiar idiosyncrasies that are more appropriate to a playground or a casino in Las Vegas than to the workplace. Perhaps they are so insecure that they are intimidated by excellence in others.

It is not fair to expect members of the work team to have to perform the functions of their job, consolidate personal goals with the organizational expectations, keep their energy and interest high and then have to deal with the behavioral challenges of an exasperating boss.

Suggestion: Team members, be tolerant of each other. People do not leave their personalities outside the door when they enter the workplace. Getting along with diversity and sometimes dysfunctional behavior takes a great deal of patience. When giving feedback on behavioral problems, do so with sensitivity. Be persistent. If it does deal with a personality, it will take intense, on-going assistance and support with a caring motive to make any permanent change. Another important thing to remember is not to take the words of a dysfunctional individual personally.

Leaders, ask for honest feedback from members of your team. Be sensitive to their attitudes. Part of building cohesiveness is being open and willing to change. Try to objectively look at your department. Has your temperament turned into a temper? Do people freeze when you enter a room? Do they leave? Seek help if you feel yourself walking on the edge. Make an honest attempt to extinguish bad habits. Old dogs not only can learn new tricks, they can change their breed. Good Luck.


Assuming an already acquired high level of competence, leaders can take the next step to legendary status by being the kind of leader that people will remember with deep affection, pride and respect. Make a difference in the lives of the people in the organization. Make a difference in your business. Make a difference in the community. Become a legend. Avoid the games.