Micromanagement… the Hobgoblin of Asshats Everywhere

platoandsocratesPsychologists, bartenders, and moms everywhere will tell you that the first thing to remember when working for a Micromanager is that “It’s not you, it’s them.” And while George Costanza once argued that, “It’s not you, it’s me,” generally the professionals are right.

A Micromanager is engaging in what we will refer to throughout this blog as “Asshat” behavior. It’s not necessarily a unique word. In fact, its roots can be traced back more than 2,500 years to a passage written by Plato where he describes why his teacher, Socrates, made him stack his teaching scrolls each day in a perfectly straight line from largest to smallest, sub-categorized by the type of cow stomach used to create the parchment and with the leather strap used to tie the scroll pointing to the east. Of course, back then, Plato used the phrase “Rectus Pileus” but everyone knew what he was trying to say.

We’ve met a few Micromanaging Asshats in our day.  And our fellow abused colleagues in this business have cried us a river (apologies to Justin Timberlake) about their stories of scroll stacking over the occasional bourbon.

  • There’s the Micromanaging Asshat that insisted that every sentence in a 12 page newsletter have only one space after the period instead of two or she wouldn’t allow it to go to the printer.
  • There’s the Micromanaging Asshat that made someone take the celebratory bagels being served to the staff the day after a highly successful Gala and cut them in “foursies” instead of “twosies.”
  • There’s the Micromanaging Asshat that refused to sign any grant proposal that went out without a paper clip, fat part outward, placed precisely in the center of the cover letter affixed to the necessary attachments.
  • Oh, and there’s that Micromanaging Asshat that demanded to carefully read and edit the emails her 20+ year Development Director sent to donors… daily.

Sadly, these are all true stories, and we could drone on, but we’re relatively sure that by now you, our most esteemed readers, have 42 examples of Micromanaging Asshat behavior running through your head like a Rachel Platten song. Sorry. We didn’t really mean to dredge up your long-suppressed work PTSD or “Fight Song” for that matter. But as they say, “If you can name a problem…”

You see, these Asshats are micromanaging for three reasons, and only three reasons. Well, there’s probably more than three, but our Psychologist is out of town, our regular bartender finally got a role as an understudy in “Hamilton,” and mom, well, let’s not go there… there’s still some drama leftover from the holidays.

  • They’re transferring what their parents did to them as a child, as in… “Billy, first you eat your peas, then you eat your mashed potatoes, and then you eat your chicken. And remember, your food should never touch. Oh, and I want a report on the kitchen counter about dinner’s transit time through your colon.”
  • They are nothing more than a vessel for a backwards, frightened-of-change, corporate culture that thinks everyone is an idiot and needs to be flogged daily until morale improves. Of course, leadership usually ends up bemoaning that which Homer Simpson said in The Simpson Movie, “Why does everything I whip leave me?”
  • Or, they are a straight-up, cards-on-the-table, balls-in-the-air, fraud to the Nth degree. And, because they can’t do their job with even a modicum of professionalism, as a defense mechanism, they fixate on what you’re doing so that they feel a sense of power. As an added bonus, they usually pick up a thing or two from you about what they’re supposed to be doing every day. Yay! You should feel proud. Cutting those bagels in foursies actually teaches them how to do their job… well, the job they’re actually qualified for. Bagel cutter. Whoo hoo!

So, our esteemed nonprofit brethren who’ve been forced to endure the real life version of a Lindsay Lohan/Rachel McAdams/Lacey Chabert movie… take a deep breath, count to ten, and feel free to utter the word “Asshat” the next time a Micromanager asks you to change the color of the columns in your LYBUNT Report created in Excel to a pale shade of mauve five minutes before your Development Committee meeting.

It’s them, not you.

– Jon

The Reckoning – Part 2

_8445270A Jimmy Choo work pump makes a precise, surgical tap when it hits a wide-plank, pine wood floor. A $700 pair of shoes announces its wearer with authority, so she knew when the Executive Director walked into the turn-of-the-century farmhouse turned non-profit office space.

It had been a prolonged absence with the holidays, but the mechanical taps signaled a primal change in the inhabitants’ dynamics. Four minutes later her inbox lit up: “I want to meet with you and the rest of your team in my office in 10 minutes.” She slowly breathed in until her chest fully expanded and her body lifted, exhaling at 20 counts. At count 19 she cursed her prudent choice of herbal tea over whiskey that filled her Klean Canteen. The situation needed more than air, affirmations and pacifism. 

The gang of three entered the Executive Director’s office. The coldness and dark were ever present in the farmhouse, partially because the ED set the century-old heating system to 60 degrees and duct-taped select switches to the “off position.” The ED was ever-present in calculating the minutia associated with cost-savings and income-generation. 

The gang settled around the pockmarked, donated conference table. They noticed a solitary appeal letter. A lone orphan leaning against an overturned glass. The envelope was muddied, slightly torn. It was the abandoned, abused child in a late night television appeal. She thought she heard Sarah McLachlan singing in the distance. The letter was addressed to a relatively low-level donor that typically made an annual gift that belied her wealth. The Development Director knew it didn’t matter how the letter came back from the dead. She thought of the toddler Gage, in Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, who was lovingly resurrected from the dead by his despondent father, only to return to his family like a deranged ninja and kill his mother. She wondered how deep a papercut could tear through skin.

The ED spoke. “THIS! This..LETTER..was handed to me at my country club’s holiday party. This was sent to MY friend. A friend who is very generous and is an important donor! I am mortified. I want to know what happened. Who killed the annual appeal?!!”

The Development Director’s eyes drifted away from the seething, raging war that was bound to take at least an hour, if not more, to negotiate. She considered her options.

The ED slid into the job a few years ago after a long career in take-overs and acquisitions. The organization suffered from the same humdrum issues as most nonprofits, especially post-Recession, so the board chose their Jimmy Choo armored knight mostly because she looked exactly like them. A bottom-line, grind-to-the-bone corporate sorceress that apparently could spin gold at the drop of a piercing web of pressure point demands. There was not much gold to be found during these years, yet the organization could be described as a Dr. Seuss nightmare of Thneed-making, resource-ravaging excess. The staff had been chopped down, laid bare and continually plundered for more programs, more events, more of anything that squeezed-out even a modicum of income regardless of mission-fit.

“Sarah. SARAH!” She throws up her hands either to feign incredulity or to telegraph a forthcoming slap. “Do you have anything at all to contribute here? This is YOUR team and this is a BIG screw up. Can you even tell that we upgraded to the matte satin finish? NO! I want to know…who killed these letters?”

Sarah finally looked up. She sat back, deeper into the chair and felt extremely calm. She always thought that liberation would come from a job well done, from raising more money, exceeding expectations and inspiring the love of donors, board and executive staff. Her passion was always committed to the mission, but she mistakenly thought that there would come a day when she could finally have the staffing, resources and support needed to seamlessly execute a successful fundraising program and not hand-stuff a thousand envelopes a few days before Christmas because the Appeal had became a caricature of itself. Sarah would be liberated, at peace with her career and fulfilled by the work.

At that moment, Sarah realized that liberation was not normalizing the oppressor. Liberation was being on the outside and normalizing resistance. Sarah grabbed the envelope, shoved it in her back pocket and turned to the ED: “Yeah…it’s a pity. I guess we’ll never know.”

She walked out of the turn-of-the-century farmhouse turned non-profit office space and never returned.

– Sarah and Jon

The Day the Annual Appeal Died – Part 1

ranbootsIt’s only a small crime, she considered, as the rain beat each letter into the cold clay of the playground. Was it rain, or the torrent of tears that created the soggy, malleable pile? She couldn’t tell. Months of abuse took it’s toll. Not a hardcore Lifetime movie abuse–that would be too easy to spot. She was a warrior troubled by methodical, intellectual abuse. The perp? A superior by rank, entitled by birth, deeper in pocket-book, admired by the Board and able to slowly devalue her contributions, her value over just a few months.

If she acted quickly… if she saved each pearly white envelope with a first class stamp from it’s murky fate, this day would have been different. She didn’t. She waited and watched each and every letter slip deeper into the dark, muddy abyss. Just three hours earlier, 20 school children played make-believe, pushing sticks and rocks into this new grave. It was ready for bodies.

She wanted the appeal to die. She wanted each and every match-mail letter, envelope, reply card and handwritten note, to feel the pain of her creation. A life she spent six weeks creating, gestating, birthing, only to have it corrupted daily by the aforementioned perp. Each word was obsessively perverted until its meaning no longer resembled it’s original intent. There was no longer a direct ‘ask.’ The intent was softened and generalized until it resembled her superior’s lack of interest in the tough work that needed a leader. A leader that wasn’t afraid to raise more money, turn hearts, inspire the masses… change the state of things. She wanted the control she was never given. She wanted those letters to reflect her voice, her words. 20 years of experience, knowledge and all that was taken away, one…edit…at…a…time.

Of course, she never would have dropped the corrugated plastic tray of envelopes in the freezing rain if the process had been on schedule. The third-generation mom and pop mail house, trusted by nonprofits great and small, would have readily handled everything. But the edits and delays no longer allowed for that option. She was forced to hand stuff all 3,567 envelopes, late at night, tucking away a small part of her soul with every seal for a love that no longer resembled her heart. She wondered if part of her heart would also die in the soupy pile bloodied with dirt.

Slowly, she collected the bastard product of her creativity, brushing the muck off of every letter. “I killed it,” she said. “I sullied every whorey letter.” She didn’t see it as filicide. It was an act of love. She brought her dead children to the post office. She mailed every one.

It was time for redemption.

– Sarah and Jon