Thursday, March 24, 2005

When It Hurts to Laugh

I admit that I am looking forward to the pilot of the new television series The Office with some mixture of trepidation and excitement. This has little to do with my sense of how good the American re-make of a fabulously successful British comedy will be. I have zero clue. I’m hoping I'll have more of a clue tonight after I have a chance to see it. For me, it’s more a matter of how painful it’s likely to be, watching a truly bad manager in action.

My question is whether anyone will ever be able to make bad management funny without making me completely cringe at the same time. The original British series after which tonight's new show is patterned was great, but frankly, it always hurt too much to watch. Wanna know why? Because I’ve wondered at times whether my own successes as a manager were simply a figment of my own imagination – whether I have been at any time as deluded as David Brent.

Watching the movie Office Space left me feeling the same. After seeing it the first time, I found myself watching my approach very carefully whenever I needed a support analyst for a weekend or a holiday. Was I in danger of becoming the kind of person who hung on a cubicle wall with a coffee cup saying, “So…” and drawing in my breath sharply before ‘casually’ mentioning I was going to ruin their plans?

It’s possible. It’s even possible that despite my best efforts not to be a Brent or a Lumbergh that at least a few people thought I was anyway. I suppose that’s why good feedback is so important. It’s also why I also take such feedback very seriously, even when it doesn’t feel good and yes, even when I disagree, whether it is from an employee, a peer, or my own manager.

David Brent never got that. Ricky Gervaise did get it – or at least got what it took to come off as a character that clueless about his own deficiencies. Steve Carell’s pretty good – I bet he gets it too. I’m hoping that he can pull it off, making his Michael Scott a good object lesson while we fall onto the floor laughing. If he can do it without making me squirm, I’ll enjoy it even more.

So let’s hear some of your bad management stories. Send them to me at – and since we’re not whiners here, consider including how you handled it and what you think a good manager would have done.

I am, of course, working with the premise that there is such a thing as a good manager and that we're willing to do what's necessary to make our own working conditions better. While we might laugh at others who hate their jobs, it’s not our preferred state.

What if you enjoyed earning a paycheck?