No one wants to read your mind (and other true stories)
I worked with a boss who liked to open meetings and conference calls like this:
“Hey gang. How’s everyone doing today? Great. Great. So. Guess what I’m thinking?”
This would be amusing except for the fact that he expected us to know. He expected us to know even though he never published an agenda for meetings. In fact, there was usually a pool of bets going as to whether or not he would even attend the meetings, despite the fact that they were held every Friday at noon.
When he did bother to come, he’d show up late, interrupting whatever we were discussing. And then he’d play his “use your ESP” card:
“Guess what I want to talk about now?”
We would guess incorrectly. We ALWAYS did, ALWAYS, because what he was thinking about or wanted to talk about would have very little to do with the work we were actually doing, and were generated as a result of a completely random series of events that he would string together -- for example: Getting a coffee plus hearing Journey on the radio plus attending a high school lacrosse game equaled “we need to rebuild a user interface” and woe to us if we couldn’t see how that made PERFECT sense -- but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t be furious about the fact that we were not on the cutting edge of his brain.
“I need a team of THINKERS” he would fume. “You are USELESS.”
The problem with the above statement, though, was that he didn’t just want us to think: he wanted our thoughts to be the same thoughts that he was having. For example:
“Danielle, why do you think that your favorite colour is black?”
“Well, you know, I like that it goes with everything, and black feels clean to me.”
“That’s WRONG. Your favorite colour is black because you’re lazy.”
You’re probably thinking I made that up, right?
I did not make that up.
When I found myself googling Miss Cleo and other telephone psychics – not because I wanted to hire one of them, but because I wanted to learn their tricks for appeasing people and making their clients THINK they were psychic, I realized: I should really be googling job websites.
So let me say this: if you are a boss and you expect your employees to read your mind?
You are a bad boss.
And if you are a boss who says she wants “thinkers” but then always tells employees that their responses to your questions are wrong?
You are also a bad boss.
Part of being an employer, I think, is providing leadership. As in – STEER THE FREAKING SHIP. As in, if you’re going to a meeting and you want your people to be thinking along the same lines as you? Publish an agenda. Or just say, “here’s what I’m thinking we should talk about/ do/ work on.” Those are active, useful tasks.
Guessing what you’re thinking? Is not an active useful task.
When you ask your employees questions – even questions like “what’s your favorite colour” and their answers are NEVER correct? Don’t complain that you don’t work with thinkers. Complain that you’re a terrible boss who has taught your employees that there is no value to thinking. There’s no point in brainstorming or working hard or even, in some cases, knowing a right answer. You don’t actually WANT them to think – you want them to say exactly what you want to hear. That’s not thinking. It’s parroting. And after having “You’re WRONG” barked at them enough times, an employee will give up on thinking and do her best just to be a parrot.
If you want thinkers? Nurture thought.
If you want results? Be task oriented.
If you want to be a leader? FRIGGING LEAD. Be open. Allow your team to be a team and work together (and, you know, to really WORK).
And if you just want people to reflect who you think you are? Start having your meetings alone, in front of a mirror. Everyone will be happier.
Thus endeth the lesson.