The Pipe

“What is a bad manager?”

“A pipe.”

First, a little background, before I get back into the topic of managers: I used to work a lot on water treatment projects whilst I was supporting system integrators dealing with water treatment projects in the Asian region. For the smaller companies, we were looking at supporting the water treatment needs of pharmaceutical plants, semiconductor industry as they generally require water of extremely high purity and for countries where their central water supply plant do not produce good quality water, there has to be more processes added in the plant. Likewise, there were some projects which were more for effluent treatment. Textile industries were one of the biggest polluters and often the regulation requires them to pre-treat their wastewater before they can be discharged into the sewers.

Back to the topic: Middle managers are basically trunking in a bureaucracy to transmit information both ways. Instructions and directions from the top, and performance on the ground back to the top. They are either good, or bad – no middle ground.

A good manager helps to interpret the instructions and directions within the context of the section/division/department in terms that the ground staff can resonate with or relate to. He/she is able to support the ground staff with troubleshooting, motivate them to achieve the performance that the top cares about. He/she should also be able to guide the top to target the right things, and convince them to inject resources wherever needed.

The good manager is like a sophisticated treatment system for the streams of information that is being passed along in both directions. There’s value-add from purification, from separating out the good stuff from the bad, delivering what is necessary and needed. That is the work of the manager.

The bad manager is like a pipe because he takes what comes from the top and connects it to the ground without any filtering, value-adding or sorting. If the top spews effluent, the ground gets it all. He/she doesn’t care about delivering the right bits to the right people but simply pushes everything across, relevant or not. And if the manager is really bad, he/she tops it all up with emotions and confused thinking.

So before you accept that promotion to be a manager; make a conscious decision not to be a pipe. Don’t give yourself excuses that you’ll learn; this is not something you learn, but something you practice. Over and over.

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