Are You an Ostrich or an Owl?

A friend of mine told me a story of a manager he had. This manager, Sandy, was driven, successful and was promoted fairly rapidly through the ranks. My friend now worked for this manager and wondered how in the world, she was considered so successful, since he perceived her to be such a bad boss.

My friend, John, was a manager at the time and had three peer managers all who worked for Sandy. John replaced a manager who was leaving the team, and as he was being trained, the departing manager told him she was leaving to go on to another assignment for a change of pace.

What John did not know is that the two other managers on the team had recently replaced departing managers, but John did know, of course, that over the next three months, two of John’s peer managers left the firm. So during a six month period, four managers left the same boss; a red flag, you’d think.

During the first three months of John’s role he developed a good relationship with his peers and each of them told him why they were leaving…because Sandy was such a hard-core, micro-manager that they could not take it anymore. They also told John why they thought the two managers before them left. The reasons were related to the bad relationship with and working conditions set by Sandy.

John was involved in several manager-level meetings discussing staff turnover and was shocked to discover that no discussions took place offering reasons for this turnover other than the job being a bad fit for the ones who left. It was never discussed that it could be the responsibility of current management.

Now, if you were told that four managers left the same boss during a six month period, would you believe they were all due to bad job fit? I doubt it. A reasonable person would at least ask, what is wrong with that boss? Those who know of the Gallup polls done on organizations would come quickly to the conclusion that the number one reason people leave an organization is a result of their relationship with their boss.

It is understandable, though, why this was not discussed as a reason because most managers do not want to look inward and admit that they are the cause of poor performance or for high turnover. Most managers became managers because they were such high performers. It hardly occurs to them that they would perform so badly as a manager. After all, if managers quit, they can simply work longer and harder to deliver. They deliver and retain the notion that they are high performers. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, as the saying goes.

I have my own experience with this working in a call center many years ago. There was high turnover and the managers continuously blamed recruiting and training for not painting a realistic picture of life in the call center. Instead of considering creating an environment in which people wanted to work, they reasoned that if only candidates were told during recruiting what life was like, we could weed out the ones who were going to join, hate it, then quit. Unbelievable!

So the question is, are you an ostrich or an owl? An ostrich puts its head in the sand and is unaware of its surroundings. An owl is aware of its surrounding with large eyes, which can see in the dark and a head that can spin to see in all directions.

Sandy is an ostrich with her head in the sand. Probably, so is Sandy’s boss for allowing this to continue or at least for failing to initiate the discussion of bad management as a reason for the high turnover.

Are you and ostrich? Do you know of any ostriches in your companies? Frankly, I have not decided if this is a good metaphor, but my friend’s story has me hooked on the notion of bad managers with their heads in the sand, unwilling and unable to view scenarios like this objectively, and who avoid taking personal responsibility for improving such a situation.

The real question is how can an ostrich pull their head out of the sand? What are ways to convince managers that when they are performing badly it is reflected in low employee engagement and high turnover? I am not sure I have answers to these questions, but I do know a bad manager when I see one.