Monday, July 12, 2010

Systems Ju-jitsu Part 8: Tactic 5. Taking a Dumb Pill

This week’s Systems Ju-jitsu tactic is called Taking a Dumb Pill. The Systems Ju-jitsu tactic of “taking a dumb pill” can serve several purposes. For one, it can keep the leader from overfunctioning through thinking for other persons. When a parishioner or a staff person asks for advice in the form of, “What should I do about this?” they are in effect choosing to underfunction (by not thinking for themselves and avoiding taking responsibility) and inviting the leader to overfunction (do my thinking for me and solve my problem). Getting into the pattern of consistently thinking for others, by giving “advice,” only keeps people dependent and powerless. What leader wants to cultivate a group of persons who lack the ability to think for themselves and take responsibility for their jobs? While being the fount of wisdom for others may feel good to the insecure leader, in the long wrong it is burdensome. Yet many insecure leaders perpetuate these patterns of dependence that eventually burn them out.

I once worked for a boss who seemed to have an obsession with the building thermostats. When I took the job I inherited oversight of the campus maintenance, so this issue was a natural part of my job. But the boss’ constant focus on the settings of the thermostats and micromanaging in that area hinted to me there was something deeper going on here than people’s comfort. We had a maintenance crew and ushers who were well trained and knew how to set the thermostats. Additionally, those gadgets were programmable, so once they were set one hardly needed to bother with them. Also, in the event the room was not comfortable for those who occupied the rooms there was a by-pass button they could use to lower or raise the temperature for a set short time.

Despite being a high “J” on the Myers-Briggs and one who prides himself on competency, I decided that on this issue it would be better to take a dumb pill and become incompetent about working the building thermostats. Over the years, whenever the boss got anxious about the thermostat he would give me a tutorial on how to work the units. We’d stand in front of a unit and he’d go through the directions, the steps, the procedures, etc. I’d listen attentively, scratch my head on occasion, mumble, “Oh, I see, hmmm.” Then I’d send a memo to the maintenance crew to check the thermostats (90% of the time they were working just fine). I’m sure it was a mystery to my boss why a man competent in other areas and who possessed two master’s degrees and a doctorate could not figure out how to work a dumb thermostat.

I never did figure out what was the issue with my boss and the thermostats (was it the small voice of his depression-era dad talking?). I just determined it was not my job to take care of his anxiety by perpetually checking the building thermostats, especially when  (1) we had ushers and a maintenance crew for whom it was their job, and (2) if people were uncomfortable they could adjust the thermostat for themselves.

Next week’s Systems Ju-jitsu tactic: “Sabotage the Saboteur”

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