A Serious Cocktail Discussion – “Leadership Experience Over an Entire Work-Life“

Der Stammbaum des menschlichen Wissens zu Beginn von Band 1 der Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 28 Bände, vollendet im Jahr 1772
On this picture, you see the genealogical tree of human knowledge at the beginning of volume 1 of the Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers. There are 28 volume, and they were finished in 1772.

A short time ago, at a garden party, I meet an old colleague of mine whom I had not seen in many years. He used to study mathematics and informatics at TUM. I think his focus was on informatics. After he had finished his studies, he worked for a huge electronics concern – just like I did. Except that he stayed there for all his work-life – which is not what I did, because I went my own way after a little more than four years (luckily).

We had not met in many years, which means there was plenty for us to talk about over one or several glasses of good beer. He, in particular, told me a lot about his life. For instance what he is doing today and how exactly life was in those days.

He also told me that, after having retired, he made a mental balance sheet of his life. And in retrospective, he let all the direct bosses he had had during his work-life parade before his inner eyes. And he wrote their names down very diligently, in the correct sequence.

And lo and behold: there was none he could not easily remember. In all the years of his work-life, he had had 26 (twenty-six) bosses, all of whom had personally looked out for and supervised him.

And since he was at it anyway, he drew a matrix. On the left column, he wrote the names of his former bosses and as a header of the columns, he wrote all the personal qualities that he considers requirements for good leadership.

And then he filled the lines for each one of the bosses with grades, from 1 to 6 (very good to non-satisfactory). Just as they do it at school. And then he calculated the average grade per line (of bosses).

And what do you think was the result? Only two (!) of his twenty-six former bosses actually were graded better than inadequate on average. He also told me the names of the only two bosses he had had who were actually fit to be leaders. I knew both of them and totally agreed with him, because, over the years, I really came to truly appreciate them, too.

But the calculated result on the whole really gave me pause. Personally, I had never thought it was all that bad. If only two out of twenty-six bosses over an entire work-life have the necessary qualities, then what sort of enterprise is this? One would wonder if an enterprise where less than 10 % meet the basic requirements for leadership is not perhaps on the downward spiral already?

This might explain a lot. Can such an enterprise be successful at all?

Incidentally, as I see him, my friend is a very objective and fair thinker. He is active in many areas and everything but a grumbler or the like – basically, he is a really cool guy. Which is why I think one should take seriously what he told me.

I am also familiar with the entrepreneurial surroundings he had spent the major part of his life in. And I must admit that, in my personal opinion, it was probably not the best possible surrounding. That, too, could be an explanation for the poor grades.

Then I tried to apply the model created by my friend to my own horizon of experience. And I realized that, where my personal experiences are concerned, at least every third boss had been basically ok. That would at least be nine out of twenty-seven. But then, you cannot call this a really good result either, can you?

A few days later, this story still had not left me alone. And I asked myself: “Why did he stay with this enterprise for such a long time?” After all, my memory had him down for a colleague who was both technologically and otherwise competent.

I think the answer is because these enterprises are some kind of golden cage (see also my article “Golden Wired Fence” / “Goldener Stacheldraht“). During the first ten years, you could not give notice if you were a “responsible person”, because you would lose all the company retirement money. Then you were a little more at liberty, but the job protection gave you the next “golden chain”. It made the move to another enterprise, or even the decision to become self-employed, an adventure the start of which would have meant you have to relinquish a whole lot of security. And then you had to be very courageous if you actually took such a huge step.

(Translated by EG)

The illustration of this article was taken from Wikipedia, see the term “hierarchy” (Hierarchie).

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