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Are You a Mushroom Farmer?

Updated on December 1, 2015

I’ve written before about leadership and differing leadership styles, but one type of negative management style that I’ve seen in people is what I call the mushroom farmer manager. What I mean by this is very simple; these are the managers who keep their people in the dark, feed them manure and then expect them to grow. I’m positive that the people who do this don’t realize it, or if they do they feel that they are doing their people a favor. There are several reasons that a manager would be a mushroom farmer.

1) Manager wants all the credit for himself. I’ve seen this not only all throughout my career, but even as a college student working part time at the local department store. This is not only prevalent in management, but in co-workers who want to get ahead by undermining their perceived competition. This is where Manager Jones keeps the important details of a project from his group (whether intentionally or unintentionally), so if someone outside the group, and presumably by his boss asks them, their answer is usually incomplete. This leads to Manager Jones swooping in to save the day by answering the question completely, with all of the details necessary.

This is usually done by a lack of confidence or self-esteem. In this case, Manager Jones doesn’t feel that he can properly represent to his boss how good and efficient he is, so he makes himself look even better by undermining his subordinates. This is a very bad way of doing things, not only for the workers who put time and effort into the project, but eventually for Manager Jones, because if he keeps doing this, his team will eventually understand that their efforts aren’t appreciated or used against them, and will give him the minimal output necessary. This type of poison is seen often in many workplaces and needs to be eliminated.

2) Delegating out entire responsibility. There are a lot of additional issues with this type of manager as well, but essentially when the manager delegates all of his work out (to include supervision and quality control) the end product most likely is not clean, and multiple revisions have to occur. This is closely related to when the manager wants all the credit, but differs in the fact that the manager does not actually want to do any work, but just get the end product. In this case, the manager just delegates work without follow-up and expects the final result. More often than not, the product is not what was expected (due to lack of involvement) and the employee has to start over. This lack of clear direction is the sole reason that the work takes so long to perform and it is usually of lesser quality than if the manager was guiding the process all along.

3) Difficulty in communicating what is needed. Oftentimes, a manager has a hard time asking for what he really needs, so he asks for things that he thinks he needs. As an example; Manager Jones needs a presentation for his boss on how his department’s sales doubled in the last year due to a brand new training program. He asks his assistant to get him the statistics on sales for the last year and previous two years as a comparison. When the assistant does this, Manager Jones then says that he needs this in a presentation that he needs to give to his boss. The assistant takes all of the data and prepares a presentation. Manager Jones gets it and says that the presentation isn’t what he wanted and why can’t he get things right the first time he asked. You can see the problem here. Manager Jones is getting frustrated because what he needs is a final presentation, that just needs to be reviewed and fact checked before he presents it to his boss, but what he is asking for is small tasks that are only minute pieces of the overall puzzle.

4) Work tempo is too great to clearly pass on instructions. While emergencies and short fuse tasks do happen, it doesn’t happen often enough to justify having an emergency all of the time. When the manager keeps telling his team, “Just do this”, what is implied is that he has not prepared well, and he is blaming his team for his shortcomings. With the rare exception, the work tempo should be such that each individual knows what part they play in the daily, weekly and monthly routine, and that the special exception should not be that much of a stretch. By giving short immediate orders, he is forcing his people to give him data and not information; data is meaningless by itself, but information can be culled to support or disprove a course of action. In this regard, when the manager gets just data, he tends to get frustrated, and again blame his people for what is really his own shortcomings. As mentioned above, there are times where you can’t explain the reason why, and perhaps just one piece of information is all that is needed to complete a major task, but if you find yourself doing this time and time again, you need to question yourself if you are really organized.

These examples are some of the big reasons that some managers are mushroom farmers. It is not a good way of leading people, and it will serve to eventually undermine your effectiveness in work flow management. The solutions if you discover yourself as a mushroom farmer are:

- Keep your team informed on the status of a project

- Ensure your team knows the desired end product or task, and what the supporting elements that are needed

- Manage the workflow and time management to use your employee’s strengths and not their weaknesses

This may sound overly simplistic, but it’s not; consistent communication with clear goals and objectives stated is the best way to stay ahead of issues and make you a proactive manager and not just another mushroom farmer.

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