#165 from R&D
Innovator Volume 4, Number 7
If I Ever See
Jack Again, It’ll be Too Soon; or, A Tale of Four Tragedies
Gittler, of Oberlin, Ohio, is a retired manufacturing executive
who writes and lectures on management issues.
Jack F. was fired
from his job as manager a couple of weeks ago. That made a lot
of sense, but none of us could understand why Jack was allowed to
stay in that position for almost seven years.
It’s not as if
his unit was wasting the company’s money; rather, it was
productive during Jack’s entire tenure.
This is the story of a petty tyrant, and of superiors who
could not admit their mistakes.
people-handling abilities were abysmal, his knowledge of the
operation superficial, and he ran an operation that should have
been far more successful than it was.
from experience--I worked under (and I stress "under")
Jack for a year before throwing in the towel and tendering my
resignation to the vice president, Jack’s boss.
“I cannot perform my duties under the present
management," I wrote. "I
will not stand by and see everything I believe in and have
practiced over the years violated."
In my letter, I
reviewed the major problems:
Jack was emotionally unstable; he had shouting, screaming
temper tantrums, in private and at meetings.
One day he would threaten to fire everyone; next day, he
was telling us what a great team we were.
Jack was paranoid. At night, he’d search wastebaskets for secret memos.
This caused people in the unit to become paranoid as well;
we became afraid to talk to each other in the hallways for fear
Jack would accuse us of plotting against him.
Jack, like all despots, ruled by edict:
There shall be no equipment breakdowns; efficiency shall be
improved immediately. He
described how things should
be, but could not understand how things were.
The staff was unable to discuss anything with him, thereby
cutting off all dialogue. At
staff meetings, his major contribution seemed to be taking copious
notes, causing us to measure each word.
Jack continually threatened to fire people, yet in seven
years he never fired anyone.
he was a bully with his employees but a coward with corporate
staff. Firing someone would require informing corporate
headquarters, and Jack was terrified of headquarters.
Jack moved through the plant accompanied by a sycophantic
Jack went, David M. went. And
what Jack missed, David caught.
Jack continually brought small matters to the front office
and made them into federal cases; we were tired of being blamed
for our faults and failings, of being gripped by fear every time
something went wrong. According
to Jack, we could do nothing right.
I'm not saying I
quit for noble reasons; I could afford to resign and didn’t have
to endure Jack’s oppression.
My resignation caused a stir at headquarters.
Jack’s boss called immediately and agreed to come down to
meet with us. He
finally arrived a week later (as far as I’m concerned, he should
have shown up the next day), and met with four of my peers, each
of whom told essentially the same story.
discussion, he concluded, “How can I do anything?
The group has been productive.”
Never mind the human carnage, he seemed to say—the bottom
line looked good. I
left the company.
years later, Jack has also gone, and my friends feel a burden has
been lifted from their shoulders; the atmosphere of fear has
disappeared, intimidation has evaporated, and the lines of
communication have opened. Before,
everyone worked on Jack’s agenda; now, people can present ideas
and voice their opinions, particularly in meetings.
Even the hourly employees sense an excitement that had been
Since Jack has
only been gone a month, the impact on the bottom line is unproven,
but people are performing their jobs enthusiastically, confident
that the new manager knows how to run the unit.
Respect for corporate management is slowly being restored.
At the least. I
see four tragedies inherent in this tale.
caused managers far more capable than he to depart.
Second, and far
worse, managers like Jack render people ineffectual—their
talents are ignored or scoffed at.
This takes a mighty toll on their performance at work and
their lives in general. Imagine
the creativity that was stifled, creativity that could have made
the unit even more productive!
were forced, daily, to confront this question:
Why is Jack is allowed to stay?
Unable to understand why management allowed such employee
abuse to continue so long, the employees lost confidence in, and
respect for, corporate management.
The change was only made after Jack’s boss retired and
was himself replaced. Why
couldn't the vice-president who had promoted Jack to manager admit
his own mistake? (Had the unit been unproductive, of course, the
vice-president would have moved swiftly.)
tragedy is that nothing is being done about the many other Jacks
Yet it’s not
the Jacks of the world I'm indicting; they’re sick, pathetic
people. It's their
bosses who should take the blame for allowing abusive managers to
continue even for a day.
It’s a tragedy
when managers are so blinded by the sparkle of the bottom line.
It's a tragedy when they can't see what’s really going
on. It's a tragedy
when they can't admit their mistakes.