One Brain Cell

While reading the April issue of Inc. I was reminded last month about a very painful period of my life in the telecom industry. It was during a period of time I worked for a complete idiot that we underlings referred to as “The Man With One Brain Cell”, (TMWOBC) or (with apologies to Alfred Hitchcock) “The Man Who Knew Too Little”.

Promoted beyond competence

If dumb were dirt, he would be about an acre.

Ancient Proverb

The Inc. article titled The Peter Principle Lives On brought back all too many memories of that troubled time. TMWOBC was a senior level bureaucrat that had little or no field experience outside of some corporate auditing jobs. He was thrust in the the support role for the largest field services organizations within the business. This might have been all peachy if he actually realized he did not have a clue. Unfortunately he considered himself a bit of an expert on everything that came across his desk.

Work in spite of the jerk

Working in spite of him was a regular challenge. He could not remember from day to day the policy recommendations he had made, the financial decisions he had implemented and the scope of our organization’s mandate.

Fortunately for me and my peers we were generally strong managers and were able to get the job done without too much of his interference. So how did my peers and I find ways to move forward?

  1. We formed a loose pact of like-minded people wishing to get things done and supported each other in dealing with the chaos of the the boss,
  2. We discovered that all decisions needed to be written down and would do so religiously as soon as THMWOBC made them,
  3. In presenting information to him we had to;
    1. Remind him what we had last discussed (create a historical reference point),
    2. Update him the new information, strategy, action (what’s changed),
    3. Tell him what new action, communication or effort was required (What’s to be done).
  4. When TMWOBC had to attend critical meetings alone we prepared him with “talking notes” in a fully indexed binder and highlighted areas that we needed his support and position to be clear on, and
  5. We made a point of debriefing with him after every meeting or conference to ensure we had a full understanding of what commitments he had made. These were then formalized and delivered back to him in writing.

I cannot guarantee that these methods will work for you but they did for us, and each and every one of us managed to move out from under his organization, without so much as a scratch on our careers.

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