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Letter from Mike Morris
Received September 5, 2001


Thanks for another great essay (Leveraging Discontent).

Here are some notes I took a few years ago on a similar topic:

Attention is the currency of leadership.

  • Some roles get attention naturally.
  • Use it wisely and be succinct.
  • Grassroots people need to generate attention without it being "sticky." Don't let the attention get stuck to you, but rather to your issue.

Lessons from the U.S. Marines:

  • The policy of training every frontline person to lead has a powerful impact on morale.
  • The organization's belief that everyone can and must be a leader creates enormous collective pride and builds mutual trust.
  • The Marines don't distinguish between leaders and followers.
  • In the Marines, the "manager" could be killed at any moment, along with their assistants. For that reason, every person needs to be able to step in and lead.

Every team has a natural leader.

  • This may not be the formal leader.
  • Watch the project and look for them.
  • They will identify themselves.
  • Get them access to top management.

What to do with Bad Bosses

Stupid bosses

  • Do as much as you can.
  • Take on as much work and as much responsibility as you can handle.
  • Do the work. Then do the briefing necessary to keep the boss well-informed and comfortable.
  • Most important, do whatever it takes to make sure the boss gets all the credit for all the work you do.
  • What should you not do? Don't listen to your ego.
  • Worrying about getting credit is the worst mistake you can make.
  • If you're doing all the work-going to the late-night sessions, developing the strategies, seeing them through to implementation - then others both in and out of the organization will have a clear understanding of your contribution. Those who matter will know that you're the source of the ideas.

Stupid micro-managing bosses

  • The boss needs to find ways to add value or get out of the way. When the boss is both stupid and meddlesome, you have to find a way to teach him that lesson, politely but firmly.

Cowardly bosses

  • Start by trying to understand what makes the Lion quiver. In other words, when you complain that your boss lacks courage, what exactly does that mean? Is the boss slow to act? Too timid?
  • Perhaps what the boss lacks is information, not guts.
  • The subordinate's job is to supply the passion. The boss's job is to make sure that the data supports the passion. That's not cowardice; it's competence.
  • Maybe the boss simply has a different view of the world.
  • Does the boss work on a larger canvass? Or are you framing the issue in the wrong way when you present it to the boss?
  • You have to decide when something is important enough for you to take it on. You have to decide what battles are worth fighting.

Heartless bosses

  • Tough-guy with a purpose
  • Teaches the value of mental toughness
  • Learn the mental discipline that competition demands, and you come away from the experience with higher performance standards and expectations for yourself and those around you.
  • Almost always has an inextinguishable commitment to the business
  • Simply a hardass
  • Develop a support system elsewhere

I'm wondering if you've seen any of the literature on workplace "hygiene." Here's the basics: when people that like their jobs are surveyed, they cite factors such as salary, challenging work, appreciation from management, benefits. When people that don't like their work are surveyed, they cite factors related to bad workplace "hygiene": hostile work environment, office politics, negativity. Having happy people is more than just having the positives. Management must also avoid the negatives.

Mike Morris