Friday, September 5, 2008

Do you know a seagull manager? Are you one yourself?

The online resource defines seagull management as a management style whereby a manager “flies in, poops on you and then flies away again”.

Seagull managers typically give criticism and direction in equal quantities often without any real understanding of what the job entails. Then before you can object or ask what they really want, they have something more urgent to do. The experience of having a seagull manager is not positive. The best thing that can be said is that they are typically there not very often and you can largely get on with the job by yourself.

Seagull management happens when the manager doesn’t really know that much and fears being exposed by questions or debate. They consequently grab the talking stick and do not stop until they can excuse themselves and leave. It is possible that they really are busy, but what they miss is the importance of person-management. They are likely to be strongly task-based and consider the 'soft stuff' as fluffy and unnecessary. Their approach is thus highly transactional, based on the simple premise 'do as I say and you'll continue to get paid'.

What you need to do about seagull managers depends largely on your job. If you can work independently, then the best approach is to listen patiently then ignore them. As long as you are delivering value, they may not actually be too concerned about how you get there. Unlike the micromanager, they are not that interested in control over you.

If, however, their approach is damaging to your career and health, then you need to address the issue. Book a meeting with them (if you can) to discuss your work. Write down what your objectives are and what you are doing and give it to them. They may ignore it but this will give you tacit ammunition if you need it later. If things are particularly bad, this is a definite case for assertiveness (which is probably good anyway). Talk to them about what they are doing and the effect they are having. Worst case, look for another position with a better manager who knows how to lead.

A novel approach is to deliberately 'chase' them with complex detail for which they have 'no time'. As they retreat or waffle, offer a simpler alternative that is easy for them to accept. You can also always reframe what they said, casting it into a more sensible light.

Because the most important thing in the seagull manager's life is the seagull manager, if you can deliver results, then they may well leave you to your own devices or give moderate support. Deliver regular short messages that show you are making good progress. Also work to make them look good to the rest of the organization (despite temptations to the contrary!). If they think you are acting contrary to their interests, they will just fly by more often and poop on you even more.

If you are a manager, then seagull management is something to avoid. It is a trap that will alienate and demotivate your staff. If there are wiser people above you, then they also will find out what is happening and your advancement will halt or regress.

The real lesson here is to sustain a good relationship with your people. Respect them and communicate regularly and with integrity. And don’t forget to listen.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The cure for seagull managers is in the new book, Squawk! It's great and cured me of mine!

Janet Blair

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