Key Leadership Strategies to Identify, Manage, and Prevent Office Idiocy

Office Idiots are those individuals whose actions, inaction, antics, and ridiculous behaviors generate widespread dissatisfaction and undercut the performance and productivity of fellow employees near and far and at any job level. Importantly, an organization’s leadership plays a critical role not only in terms of identifying office idiocy, but also from the standpoint of taking corrective and preventive action. The overarching theme is that when management ignores, tolerates, or even enables office idiocy, the outcome is destined to be a continuation and expansion of these counterproductive antics.

Not surprisingly, when managers and leaders act like office idiots, the population of office idiots in their departments tends to increase. There is no question that employees learn from their managers, and it is well understood that managerial behaviors and actions serve as models for the employees to emulate. As a result, when you find a manager who sits in meetings while texting and surfing the Internet on his smartphone, you will also find that his or her employees are far more likely to engage in the exact same idiotic behavior. And what should you do if you are trying to have a serious discussion with your manager or colleague and he or she is texting, glancing at the computer screen, and pecking away at the keyboard at the same time? You should say something, lest you are actually enabling this behavior. Tell this individual that you need his or her attention in order to discuss an important matter. And if the glazed look continues, simply suggest that the two of you meet later. In terms of the bigger picture, leadership assertiveness is a key element in dealing with most forms of office idiocy.

[wcm_restrict]As part of the process of identifying and neutralizing office idiocy, one of the most important strategies is to manage by wandering around. The idea is not to micromanage the team, but rather to get out on the floors and use all of your senses to gather a clearer and more accurate understanding of what’s going on and how things are going. By definition, this practice also increases a leader’s visibility and accessibility, while providing ongoing opportunities for coaching, feedback, and guidance. This practice also provides numerous opportunities for a manager to identify office idiocy as soon as it occurs, and to then take immediate and appropriate corrective action.

This raises the question of how to provide meaningful and productive feedback to employees whose actions clearly merit the label of office idiocy. Some leaders unfortunately convert this practice into an opportunity to demonstrate their own idiocy, such as by providing feedback that is vague, personality based, and void of any type of corrective plan. Feedback that is premised on labeling employees, such as by saying they are lazy or uncooperative, as well as feedback that is too general, such as by telling employees they have a bad attitude, are all trademarks of the card-carrying office idiot. For feedback to be truly effective, it should be focused on performance, outcomes, and results.

With such a huge variety of office idiots populating today’s workplaces, it is also important for a leader to vary his or her strategy and use an approach that best fits the specific idiocy that is being encountered. Interestingly, this parallels the steps that today’s best leaders follow in guiding their teams. Some situations call for a leadership style that is highly participative and inclusive of employee ideas, input, and suggestions. However, there are also situations in which the required resources and time constraints call for a leadership style that is more firm and direct. Better leaders are sensitive to these variables and adjust their approach accordingly. The same idea applies when dealing with office idiots. For example, when you encounter office idiots who are engaging in behaviors that fall into the zero tolerance category, such as sexual harassment, a manager needs to immediately investigate the matter and take appropriate corrective steps. This type of urgency is necessary in all situations in which the office idiocy is particularly egregious. At the same time, if you manage an employee who needs constant recognition and praise, sometimes a little silence can help this person see that he or she can actually survive without constant reinforcement pellets.

The most effective way to deal with office idiocy is to review each instance on its own individual merits (or demerits), and then craft and implement appropriate steps to stop it. At the same time, there are some ongoing steps for leaders to take in order to create an atmosphere and culture in which such idiocy is less likely to survive. One of the centerpieces of this approach is to treat all employees with respect and trust. By doing so, not only will you be displaying support for your employees, you will also be engaging in the precise behaviors that enhance motivation, and this includes well-deserved recognition, enriched responsibilities, and opportunities to learn, grow, and advance. Other steps that help prevent the proliferation of office idiots include active listening, working with employees to establish challenging yet realistic goals, and treating employees as you would like to be treated. There’s no question that there will always be office idiots. However, if you engage in behaviors that are the hallmarks of effective leadership, office idiots will be less likely to find a home or be at home in your organization.[/wcm_restrict][wcm_nonmember]

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About the Author

Ken LloydKen Lloyd, PhD, is a nationally recognized Southern California management consultant, author, speaker, and newspaper columnist. He has taught numerous MBA classes at The Anderson School at UCLA and lectures at many other universities. He is the vice president of planning and development at Strategic Partners, Inc. and a frequent television and talk-radio guest, as well. He has authored several books, including Jerks at Work and Performance Appraisals and Phrases for Dummies. A member of the American Psychological Association and the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, he graduated from UC Berkeley and received his MS and PhD in organizational behavior from UCLA.