Manager’s Toxic Tandem Dilemma


Photo by John-Morgan

Yesterday I was listening to a podcast from the Mckinsey Quarterly titled: “Good boss, bad times“. It is basically a very interesting interview with Bob Sutton from the Stanford Graduate School of Engineering about an article he wrote for Harvard Business Review.

One of the concepts he mentions is the “Toxic Tandem”. Here is the explanation:

…it’s a combination of two things about power that are very well documented. One is that when people are in positions of power, for better or worse, they often become sort of oblivious to the needs and actions of the people who have less power than them… And the other part of the toxic tandem is sometimes called hyper vigilance…  The spotlight raises on you. They’re looking at you really closely. So if you think about the toxic tandem, you’ve got the boss, oblivious, and then the subordinates, even more and more worried. People tend to devote a lot more energy to their boss—or to their board, even, if they’re CEOs—to figure out what is going on. And they don’t engage as much with the people who are under threat.

I think this is a particularly interesting concept because at least the first part of it is so opposite to what a good manager should do – engage with his employees and become more aware of their needs. Being oblivious to your people is a real danger as a manager.

You hear a lot of managers saying that they feel they don’t have time to do their work since they became managers, because they have to spend so much time with their employees. Then they start disappearing, employing closed door polices and so on. This is because people are promoted on the merit of their old job, without regard to whether they are compatible to being a manager. To whether they have the inherit talent for it. So, they try to do what they did before, but just better. But when you are a manager, it does not work. Because being a manager is about more than being a great professional, no matter what your profession is. Because you cannot afford to be oblivious to your people as a manager. Your job is your people. Their feelings, their thoughts, their success, their excellence.

I believe that one of the most important aspects managers should adapt to their management style is MBWA (management by walking around). I find the importance of this concept not only in managing people, but also in other fields likes marketing (the best companies spend a lot of time with their customers) and operations (actually walking to the production level and seeing things with your own eyes). But when we talk about managing people, it is a must. It is the key to understanding your employees and to making sure you are not oblivious about them.

So, how have you been fighting the Toxic Tandem Dilemma?



4 Responses to “Manager’s Toxic Tandem Dilemma”

  1. Who is to blame? « The Comparative Advantage Says:

    […] passage immediately reminded me of what I wrote about in this blog yesterday – the “Toxic Tandem“. People in positions of power tend to be oblivious to the needs and actions of the people […]

  2. Getting down from the ladder « The Comparative Advantage Says:

    […] he did not finish, so I don’t feel I need to. But that reminded me of the “Toxic Tandem“. People in positions of power tend to be oblivious to the needs and actions of the people who […]

  3. The difference between downstream and upstream feedback « The Comparative Advantage Says:

    […] to be aware of that fact. The problem is that the minute we become managers, we fall prey to the toxic tandem. We actually know and understand less about our employees the higher we are. So while dealing with […]

  4. Finding fault in the perfect leader « The Secular Bible Blog Says:

    […] it is carry the burden of leadership, Numbers 12 gives us the other side of the leadership story. The Hyper Vigilance. Leaders, are individuals in the the spotlight. By virtue of their positions and by virtue of our […]

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