The cult of muddled mismanagement

Managers in public broadcasting are a unique breed. They are the only group of managers I have ever met that are not professionally trained to mismanage nor are they trained during the lifetime of their  management career. After 29 years in public broadcasting I worked under 10 managers and the following are my conclusions on their archetypes:

1:The muddle manager

Most managers in public broadcasting are taken from the ranks of producers or, in some areas, from the area of support staff. Many of these are what I called, “the muddle managers” – their background is supporting a broadcaster or working in marginal areas and it gives them the “lack” of confidence of being upfront, so they just seem to “muddle on”, making as many mistakes as they can and then spending an inordinate amount of time covering them up. Their work day week is either built around trying as little to manage or putting things off until they can rush at each task with a frenzied form of activity.Although needed to be precise in their judgements and tasks they are renowned for their vague and abstract quality of deferring any action to later.

2:The political manager

The second group of managers are those who have only one agenda, to move upwards in the management role by playing politics throughout their career. this requires a LOT of schmoozing and little to do with work.Political managers travel a lot around the country making sure that anyone who notices that they are important performers in the management scheme. My experience with political managers is that they have little knowledge of what their job requires but, because of their ability to strike up conversations that are almost credible, they can give the appearance of managers that know. It is a classic case of what Erving Goffman calls, “a front”.And most are able to keep up this appearance until such time as the power they have achieved means that they do not have to demonstrate any working knowledge of management. However, they do not last very long in the management scene because the political horizon is always “beyond them”- always somewhere else…They also have been a part of the new group of techno-managers who see their knowledge of all things techno is part of the political process they wish to impose upon the system.

3:The ego manager

A subset of the above is the manager of has taken on the responsibility of management as a reflection of their own egos – a purely reflective surface of their insecurity. Narcissism is rife throughout the media and certainly is part of the negotiated media environment.Many managers I have come across recently seem to be part of a “manipulated” environment, where their complete lack of management skill is of an advantage to their political chiefs. These people are hopelessly untrustworthy as they are only interested in their immediate environment as a reflective surface to their presence or perhaps their strange relationship with the outside world where they use their titles to merely be seen as a symbol of the company – a cipher of the world they claim to know, which, sadly they do not.They are incapable of seeing the workplace as an interface and spend a great deal of time either over-claiming their environment or becoming deferential to their staff and alienating their environment.

4: The strange case of the manager who manages.

In all those years of wandering I have only worked with 2 managers who have actually been seen to manage confidently and at the level of the work place. These are a rare breed because they have observed a very important point – that management is about managing people who are skilled in their work and in their workplace. Many of these managers have actually worked away from the management tree and in the workplace thus being able to see the work world without the refraction and obfuscation  of/by their management peers.These managers do not, however, last very long in public broadcasting because they begin to see that however worthy their actions they tend to be nullified all the time  by their peers who are driven by the agendas mentioned above.

I realise that for many people who have not worked in an environment where management skills are never “audited” except by other “unaudited” managers all this will come as a surprise, seeing how these people are in charge of the nation’s media. But, sadly, this is reflected in the commercial media by similar management structures, with an important exception(although not really an exception) , that in commercial media the CEO and the shareholders control the style and content of the media through the (ir)responsibility they have towards their advertisers. It’s funny but as I wrote that I realise, in its own way, public broadcasting is controlled (implicitly) in such a way.


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