Why Managers Make Odd Choices

A look at why supervisors often choose the most destructive path.

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Michael Wade
The organization was in trouble. There was a real risk it could go under. There had already been layoffs. The managers had several choices. They could:

  1. (a) Hustle to develop new revenue-producing products, or (b) Depend on business returning to past levels.
  2. (a) Strive to be more efficient, or (b) Dismiss such efforts as a waste of time.
  3. (a) Find new prospects by increasing their involvement in the community, or (b) Wait for new prospects to find them.
  4. (a) Operate with a sense of urgency, or (b) Continue to function at a slow pace.
  5. (a) Treat other team members as allies, or (b) Treat them as adversaries.
  6. Although the right choices seem obvious, a surprising number of managers chose all of the (b) options. Why did they make those self-destructive decisions?

    Let’s rule out the possibility that they are self-destructive. These may be reasons for their conduct:

    1. They don’t believe the crisis is a crisis. Upper management may have cried wolf before and, after much hubbub, things always returned to normal.
    2. They think the disaster is unavoidable. Why exhaust yourself rushing to lifeboats that have holes in them?
    3. They are paralyzed with fear or self-doubt.
    4. They lack the capacity to adapt and believe their lack of skills will be less apparent if they do nothing than if they try something new.
    5. They expect some miraculous external rescue.
    6. They believe that while the crisis will affect others, they will be exempt, perhaps because of a unique skill or because they have seniority.
    7. They blame upper management for the crisis and are willing to go down with the ship if it means the captain(s) will sink too.
    8. They think they are doing extraordinary work and cannot conceive of doing more.
    9. They know something that upper management does not know.
    10. They oppose the changes that are part of the solution.
    11. In other words, there may be a rational reason for seemingly irrational conduct. Upper management will not get the reaction it wants until it addresses the employees’ view of reality.

      Michael Wade writes Execupundit.com, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.