In Management, Nothing Is Fabulous

Peter Drucker, and many others, have often used symphony orchestra conductors as a metaphor for the role of a CEO/leader in the corporate world.

That said, in all the many daily lists, blogs, and tweets regarding “what great leaders do every day” and the many “attributes of a great leader” articles, there is one management skill of great conductors that never gets mentioned, metaphorically or otherwise, and that is . . . their doing of nothing.

Henry Mancini was perhaps the best example of this. You never saw a guy do so much nothing in your life. Very sweet, very pleasant, very charming, but . . . he never really said anything, and he never really waved a white stick around either. And you never heard an orchestra sound so good in your life. Insert sound of head-scratching here.

This brings us to an element of management technique and theory that doesn’t get anywhere near enough ink or attention: simply stated, nothing . . . is fabulous.

When you are in power and you are in the room, everyone has to take time and energy to allow for that. If you are in power and you open your mouth, everyone has to stop working to listen to you, react to whatever you said, and treat it as an important statement. After a certain point, the more managing you do, the less work actually gets done.

Unfortunately, our industrial culture places much more emphasis on what you do than on what you don’t do. Hard to get paid for doing nothing, yet it is one of the most important skills a manager can have.

Henry Mancini understood how to manage: Just write a good arrangement, i.e., just make it clear what you want other people to do, and get the hell out of the way.

For a manager, the biggest problem in using “The Mancini Method” is coping with the boredom and sense of loneliness it creates. Most of us want to be “part of the team.” And what’s point of having power if you can’t have the fun of exploiting it now and again?

When it comes to choosing between the positive and negative polarities of management, there is always a dark-side temptation that must be overcome: The ego — and the desire to justify one’s managerial existence and higher pay rate — relentlessly draws us to “do stuff,” and to see one’s “managees” as passive inert entities that must be constantly inspired, instructed, monitored, and acted upon. Eighty-five percent of all the conductors I played for embraced this negative polarity, and so the players had to scale back endlessly on their energy output to allow for the insertion of this surplus managerial energy.

Doing nothing requires the positive energies of trust and faith. Maintaining that calm state in the presence of all the fear-mongering that justifies the negative management polarity is hard. It’s a real test of one’s character.

Henry Mancini, and for that matter, all the top conductors, were masters of doing nothing. They did nothing, and in response, we filled that vacuum with our everything.

About the Author: @JustinLocke is a former Boston Pops bass player turned author and management philosopher. He is a regular contributor to Visit his website at

photo credit: Mateus Lunardi Dutra via photopin cc

Does Management Advice Actually Work?

So I was getting a root canal last week and I asked the doctor if they were going to use a checklist. “After all,” I said, “as everyone knows, Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto showed that the use of checklists dramatically reduces the chances of medical error, like maybe root-canaling the wrong tooth.”

She replied, “Atul who? Open wide.” ZuhhWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.

Once the Novocain wore I off I went to over to Whole Foods for something to eat. I noticed that the checkout lines were all backed up, and I asked the manager, “Tell me, have you ever considered taking a Toyota Lean approach to revamping your checkout stations? There seems to be a considerable amount of muda here getting in the way of delivering the value of time savings to your customers.”

He looked at me and said, “Toyota what?”

When I got home, I watched this report on CBS about how corporate/company meetings are a big waste of time and money — 37 billion dollars a year by one estimate. I thought this was awfully important. I was going to share it with one of my clients, but unfortunately we could never get together to discuss this new idea, as we were both tied up in meetings all day.

I am very sensitive to human suffering, especially when I am the human doing the suffering. While a certain amount of misery is inevitable, an awful lot of extraneous human suffering can be traced to a management decision somewhere that inevitably led to it. So, like so many other people, I think management-ology is an important subject. But I am starting to wonder if there is any point in it.

We live in a virtual sea of management advice these days. There are books, blogs, articles, magazines, seminars, university courses, webinars, consultants, speakers, and trainers, all there to cultivate better management. So here’s my question: is any of this management advice actually . . well . . . you know . . . working?

I am sure there have been many individual epiphanies and improvements here and there, but if you compare our current state of overall management expertise and effectiveness to the big picture of historical norms, can we honestly say we have better leaders and managers nowadays? In making your comparisons, remember that Romulus and Remus never read Good to Great, Eisenhower never read the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and NASA put men on the moon without a single visit from Tony Robbins.

I hate to be the one to say it, but when it comes to trying to persuade people in power to do something different, logic, efficiency, and serving the greater good are turning out to be ineffective arguments. We must always remember that when people possess power, their primary goals are always to maintain it, to increase it, to enjoy it by exerting it over others, and to remain as comfortable as possible. Any new idea, no matter how well researched and thought out, and no matter how great its potential benefits to the workforce or the general populace, must serve those goals if it is to be implemented. Otherwise, one must rely upon the wait-for-a-cataclysmic-event-to-require-change approach.

I just realized that Niccolo Machiavelli told me all this 500 years ago. Did I listen to him? Of course not.

About the Author: Justin Locke is a largely uninvited participant in discussions of management philosophy. Visit his website at

photo credit: LifeSupercharger via photopin cc