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The View from the Bozone Layer
Last year, someone on my team explained the “Bozone Layer” to me; basically, there is an approach that some folks (usually execs) employ that is more pontification vs. empowerment. It’s my professional nightmare to end up in the Bozone Layer, and I try very hard to stay cognizant of the behaviors that may eventually lead to that state.
I’ve noticed in our current (Covid) climate that hot takes are spicier than ever, with a lot of “thought leadership” on what this means historically and for the future, and tons of prognostication on topics by folks whose domain knowledge is limited. It reminds me of an essay I’d written years ago, mostly for myself, to come to terms with a particular brand of tone-deaf management I’d been dealing with. I’m re-publishing here, in the hopes that it gets a knowing smile from anyone who reads it.
Would love feedback on the narrative technique I experimented with…
Hey! I'm your savior!
You don't need saving? Ah, a skeptic I see. We had some skeptics at my last company. Different place, same problems.
Your problems are different? Not sure about that. From what I've seen it's the same old story. That was a company, this is a company. There were employees there, there are employees here. Do I need to continue listing the similarities?
Well, yeah, I've only been here a week...not sure what that has to do with anything? A week is plenty of time to get the lay of the land.
You betcha I'm going to talk to people. How else will I get data to validate the opinions I've already formed?
Am I joking? Not sure I follow. We've got an org to turn around - no time for jokes. It's all outlined in my 27 point plan.
You haven't read my plan? But I shared a Google doc with email@example.com. Oh, you're pulling my leg! You really had me going...
Now, as I was saying, the whole strategy is laid out in my 27 point plan. And the keys to the plan are items 7, 11, 5, 21-26, and 19 - I call it Phase II.
Why don't I make it a 10 point plan with just those priorities and just one phase? Well, I think I was brought in for more than 10 bullets and 1 phase. People are looking to me to give them multiple phases. And I'm going to phase the hell out of them!
How do I know this is the right thing to do? Well, for starters, I'm in charge, so my ideas must be better - everyone else is probably blinded by being too close to the problems and dealing with them day in and day out.
Metrics? What do #s have to do with this? This is about people. And process. We've got to rethink our people process. And how we process people. The people need process. And the process needs people. You follow me?
Exactly. I can tell you agree with me by the way you're shaking your head. You know, it's great to talk to someone who gets it. I have a feeling that before I got here nobody had the sense to recognize any of these problems. That's what being a savior is - pointing out obvious things that obviously haven't come up before.
They have come up before? That's news to me. I doubt it was a very serious conversation if I wasn't involved.
You're right, let's get back on track. I know my plan will work because I did the exact same thing at my last company and it worked there. I did a survey after the rollout of Phase II and 100% of the respondents were not completely negative.
What do you mean that place is a mess? You don't know anything about that place. You wouldn't have lasted 2 weeks there.
I don't get what you mean when you say I just proved your point. Let's stay focused on the plan, Bob.
Your name's not Bob?
Well, whatever your name is, I like your gumption. I'm putting you in charge of Phase II.
You're already on too many useless committees? Haha, I love your sense of humor Bob! That's why we've gotten along so well since I started here.
This is the first time we've spoken? I think your memory is failing you Bob - you're gonna need to stay sharp to execute Phase III.
It doesn't matter how many phases there are. What's key is that we show progress.
I'm not familiar with that term. Illusion of progress. I like it. Makes me sound like a magician.
I don't think I am oversimplifying. How can you oversimplify something that's pretty darn simple to begin with? There's a formula to success - you just follow the script. Trust me, I've succeeded nearly half the times I've followed this recipe.
It doesn't matter what happened in the other instances. There are no lessons there - just people who questioned the recipe. You can't have too many cooks in the kitchen; we're running a restaurant here!
Yes, I know we're not really running a restaurant. But we have a cafeteria here, don't we? There's food. I'll let you connect the dots.
Of course I know what business we're in. The details don't matter - we had this conversation all the time at my last company. That's what I'm trying to tell you - I was there and now I'm here, so we should repeat exactly what I saw unfold before.
There you go again with your talk of context and circumstances. All that matters is results.
Of course I can guarantee results! How else do you think I got this job??
Damn straight I'm gonna do some damage! That's my calling card. You should have seen my last company before I got there. You know, they had a guy there just like you Bob - he also asked a lot of questions that didn't need answering. I'm trying to make you an ally Bob - running Phase IV is going to make sure you and I get on the same page that I'm already on.
How did you know the other Bob didn't last long? Anyhoo, can you send me the notes you've been taking during our talk? I tend to forget key parts of my plan and it's good to have it all written down for reference.
What do you mean they're not notes? What's this app you're using? What's #SMH?
Where are you going? Bob? Come back!
Hey! I'm your savior!
further reading / references
the origins of servant leadership (with a clickthrough to original essay that Robert K. Greenleaf wrote way back in 1970…that’s 50 years ago!)
an elaboration on Greenleaf’s thesis with 10 characteristics of a Servant Leader as distilled by Larry C. Spears (these show up in a lot of LinkedIn listicles)
If you enjoyed the narrative style of this post, check out The Ineffective Executive
childish drawing / interpretation