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Robert Steele

Couldn't agree more. I'm even intimidated eating my breakfast cereal when my dog is watching, not to mention when a manager is standing over me with pen and paper as I demonstrate my work. Today, I think one of the best ways of utilizing this "stay-out-of-the-way" practice is through work management software. With this, managers can step out of the way but still receive the reporting necessary to feel confident in a team's work. The company I work for uses a tool called AtTask in which I have been very pleased ( I'm able to work at my own stress-free pace.
Thanks for your post!
R. Steele

Jenifer Hasan

Really great post. After a long time I have read such a wonderful post. The great part of the post is the example of President John F. Kennedy. I think President John F. Kennedy had a great idea about Project Management.Thanks to Bob for writing such a great post.
Jenifer Hasan

Project Management Software

I definitely agree with your article Bob, the presence of a boss can be very intimidating at times, and it does greatly disrupt thoughts and the flow of the work place if they are present too much. I work with a company called AtTask that develops project management software, that greatly helps with collaborating with co workers but also less contact with the boss. I found it really helps with creating task or projects online that others can join or help with, even the boss but doesn't necessarily require a meeting or contact with the boss in order to get questions answered or call together the entire team. It leads to a more relaxed but continuous flow of work between co workers. I greatly enjoyed your article and ideas.


Thanks for the insights from this post. The Fog of War, winner of the 2003 Academy Award for best documentary, features Robert McNamara providing his perspective on the group dynamics within the Kennedy administration during the missile crisis. He said that the hawks in the room, including General Curtis LeMay, were advocating the total destruction of Cuba. Almost all involved were pushing hard for a military solution, involving potentially devastating consequences for both sides. According to McNamara, Tommy Thompson, former ambassador to the Soviet Union, was seated at Kennedy's side. With the Joint Chiefs arguing vehemently for a military strike, two cables came in from the Kremlin, each contradicting the other. One was "soft" (let's find a solution), the other "hard" (leave our missiles alone or we are prepared to wipe out the U.S. Eastern seaboard). Obvious confusion resulted. Thompson, who with his wife, had literally lived with Kruchev and his wife at times in Moscow. [From the film: Thompson: Mr. President, I urge you to respond to the soft message. The president said to Tommy, "We can't do that. It will get us nowhere." Tommy said, "Mr. President, you're wrong." Now that takes a lot of guts. In Thompson's mind was this thought, "Kruchev's gotten himself in a helluva fix. He (Kruchev) would then think to himself, 'I could get out of this with a deal that I could say to the Russian people--Kennedy was going to destroy Castro, and I prevented it.' " Thompson, knowing Kruchev as he did, thought Kruchev will accept that. And Thompson was right. That's what I (McNamara) call empathy. We must try to put ourselves inside their skin, and look at us through their eyes, just to understand the thoughts that lie behind their decisions and actions.]

Interesting (to me) subtitle to the film: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert McNamara.

Why Kennedy listened to and followed Thompson's advice is anybody's guess. Perhaps he was persuaded by Thompson's intimate knowledge of Kruchev, and what would constitute an acceptable solution for the Soviet leader. With the pressure mounting for military intervention, with tens of thousands of U.S. troops on alert, the course of action too often taken in any high stakes meeting like this one is for the powerful and vociferous to pound the table, strongly advocating their solution, with the leader failing to reconsider his or her already strongly held and expressed opinion.

As we now know, little to no empathy was practiced during the Vietnam War in an effort to understand the nature of what the United States was becoming involved with: the people, their history of fighting other wars, their leaders, their resolve, their form of communism, which David Halberstam points out was a very different form from that of the Chinese and Soviet, etc.

Kennedy's recognition of the effects a leader's presence in a crucial meeting can play was unique and admirable. Thanks for sharing this important leadership action.

Chris Young

Great post Bob - managers can sometimes be their own worse enemies and not even know it - you post does a great job of pointing this out.

I shared your post with my readers in my weekly Rainmaker 'Fab Five' blog picks for the past week which can be found here:

Thanks for the great reading Bob... Be well!

-Chris Young

Wally Bock

Excellent post, Bob. I think there are really two issues embedded in it.

One is "intimidation." That's hard for a boss to deal with because at some level that "intimidation" factor seems to be hard-wired into the species. The way a Marine CO of mine put it was that when you're in command, "The party changes when you arrive and it changes when you leave."

If you're the boss you need to be careful about what you do and say because once you're promoted, it all matters. People are likely to act on things you never intend for them to.

The other issue is groupthink. You have to take special measures to fight this because it, too, seems like a natural human tendency.

Another good book that touches on both the Bay of Pigs and Missile Crisis decisions is Neustadt and May's Thinking in Tme.

Andrew Meyer


interesting question. Surely how intimidating a leader/manager/personality is has a lot to do with the environment. In a large meeting, the leader better lead, which will not necessarily open communications channels.

Shouldn't the channels be opened in less intimidating environments? An office is intentionally designed to tilt the field. Conference rooms with round tables even the playing field a bit more, but the boss is still the boss.

Instant messaging tools are not intimidating. Typing messages is wonderfully safe and also strangely intimate. They lead to much more open communications.

Of course, the leader must want open communications. The problem, very often, is that the leader cannot or does not want to talk about certain areas.



Janis also studied JFK's decision-making process during the earlier Bay of Pigs disaster. Of course, many reasons contributed to the tragic decision to launch the "invasion": Kennedy was somewhat reticent to stop the planning that had begun in the previous administration; and as a new president, he may have wanted to demonstrate his resolve to be tough. Yet, groupthink undermined the discussions. Janis claims that several of the sub-Cabinet advisors had serious concerns that were discouraged by the new bunch at the top. Even some of the most senior people felt the "old man", who was present at the meetings, "had made up his mind" and did not want to upset the apple cart. Evidently, Sen. J. William Fulbright, who participated in the discussions, was a lonely voice of caution and opposition. The ultimate results were unfortunate.

Janis asserts that Kennedy learned from the Bay of Pigs mistakes and adopted a different -- fortunately, successful -- approach to decision-making regarding the Cuban missile crisis.

Daniel Goleman has a couple of short chapters on groupthink in the corporate setting in his book Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception. They present a decent overview of the pathology of groupthink.

I also agree with Nathan's point about the leader/manager's influence. They can erect elaborate, consultative mechanisms that serve only as facades of effective decision-making. It reminds me of a boss I once had who frequently said, "My door is always open." What went unstated: His mind was always closed.


Excellent post.

It depends on the manager/leader, but also the size, structure and overall nature of the group.

The style, reputation and personality of the manager/leader weigh heavily.

For leaders who have strong personalities, stepping aside is important if not required. If they can temper themselves then their involvement, if controlled, can be greater.

The permissible involvement level of a leader depends on the prior experiences of those in the group. For example, I've seen "open door" policies that were anything but that, so I automatically temper my comments and am cautious, until more trust is built. A leader's words and actions need to be consistent for trust to be effectively built and maintained. Smimply put: it's leading by example.

If a leader's style is highly facilitating, then these barriers can be lowered if not eliminated.

In terms of group structure, if there are few layers of heirarchy, then the leader has less initial intimidation. The more layers, then the more impact a leader's presence has on open, honest conversation. It's the notion most people have of the "big boss".

The larger the group, the more difficult it can be for people to speak up until they are better aquainted with one another. The comfort level builds more quickly the smaller the group.

Once people know one another, it depends on the relative influence of the group members (say someone has the leader's ear), experiences with other members (accumulated history) and knowledge level. if people have similar knowledge and experience, they are more comfortable together, but also probably less creative. That is because they are more likely to strongly criticize.

The leader/manager needs to establish structure and ground rules, holding people to them.

Just my initial thoughts.

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