Lesson 10: Infinite Tolerance for Stupidity

If there is one management rule to remember this is a very good candidate: have an infinite tolerance for stupidity. It can be combined with this corollary: don’t expect anything from anyone. These two together are any manager’s guide to personal peace of mind. Or at least it helps to remember them during the regular business hours when things are not going so well.

There tends to be an unspoken rule of thumb at play that applies to many employees in various stages of their career. This axiom says that everybody is continuously at his or her maximum level of incompetence. What does it mean and how can it be explained?

It’s very easy and logical indeed. What happens when you have stayed at your current position for a while and you turn out to know your work and be good at it? Right. You get promoted into a new position or even into an entirely different line of business you know nothing about. This results that you have to ‘climatise’ to the new situation and shift to the deeper learning curve again. The adjustment phase tends to last anywhere between 6 to 12 months or even longer. Imagine this happening to most of the middle and senior managers every 2 to 3 years and you start to get the picture. Of course operational level employees might be so ‘lucky’ to stick to their knitting and know their line of work and be good at it—often it is only the managerial people that tend to be in a constant movement either in or out of their current job descriptions.

And now back to the management rule, which should make more sense now. It is not written in stone that your colleagues are dense and lacking intellectual capabilities, as they may seem but quite the contrary. Very well it might be that they never have the time to properly excel on anything before they get moved around to new challenges. Naturally this causes a lot of frustration not just within the organisation but also among suppliers, clients, and business partners among others. The overall result is that there seems to be a never-ending hassle and struggle to get things going smoothly, even with the most bread-and-butter type of issues. And what about the regular employees who see lots of management people coming and going with new initiatives, organisation structures, strategies and business mantras that actually do not impact the underlying daily business a lot, except by making it harder and more difficult to accomplish? They have learned the management rule by the hard way and have to cope with the reality without joining the craziness by producing more chaos (while getting moved around).

A good manager needs to possess an infinite tolerance for stupidity in order to get his job done. He or she should not either expect anything from his colleagues or subordinates. It’s always better to check and double-check, explain and clarify even the very obvious tasks since assuming that everybody simply does his or her job is something that leads you into trouble, for sure. Dropping the ball is more common than standing on your feet and taking responsibility. However, this should not be interpreted so that people are mean or purely selfish without any interest in their job or project objectives. The truth might be far simpler—they might just work very efficiently at their maximum level of incompetence 🙂

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