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Manager Mechanics Blog, Written by Eric P. Bloom
This blog is a combination of Eric's ITworld blogs, Gatehouse Media columns, Techwell postes and original works
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Jan 24, 2017 A fish rots from the head down

I would like to begin this week's column simply by saying that if you are a manager, to your team, you are the head of the fish.

Giving credit where it's due, the expression 'A fish rots from the head down' is an old proverb of unknown origin, but claimed by various countries and cultures. Also, my limited research into the biological accuracy of the expression leads me to believe that it's the fish's inner organs, rather than its head, that actually rot first. All that said, this is neither a history lesson nor a biology class so let's get to the management implications of this great proverb.

If your department is having issues related to poor morale, low productivity, low quality, high attrition, or other similar and undesirable predicaments, a good place to begin your analysis is with some personal soul searching. Note that, by this statement, I am by no means saying you are the problem, I'm just saying that you may be the problem or you are potentially contributing to the problem.

The reason I'm asking you to consider the possibility that you may be the cause or a contributing factor to your team's difficulty is for the following reasons:
  • As a manager, or just as a human being, self circumspection can help you learn more about yourself, which can help you grow as a person and as a professional.
  • Knowing is the first step toward correcting. That is to say, that if after personal analysis you conclude that you are the cause of your team's distress, you can begin making the needed changes.
  • If you are the problem and everyone knows it but you, it puts you in a position to unilaterally correct your shortcomings without additional damage to your professional reputation and career potential at the company.
  • If the problems within your department are in fact caused by external forces or circumstances, you can move forward trying to correct the problems with the confidence that you are not the root cause of the issue.

This expression also has a potentially more troublesome implication for you as a manager. That said, you are in good company. This expression has also been used as a way to express concern and dissatisfaction with CEOs of large corporations, leaders of well known religious and civic organizations, and even toward various presidents of our country. When used in this fashion, this single expression says two things at once; first, that there are significant problems within the organization and second, the leader (or in your case as manager) is specifically the cause. In short, if you hear people speaking this way about you and your department, know that the wolves are at the door and your job may be in jeopardy.

The upside of being personally connected with your team's performance and well-being is that the pendulum swings in both directions. That is to say, yes, you will be looked at poorly if your department is having significant issues, but you most likely will also be looked at with praise if your department is doing well.

Take note, however, that while this upside is true, it is not guaranteed. Remember, as a manager, you are the member of two teams, namely, of the department you manage, and also a member of your manager's team. To truly have this pendulum fully swing in the positive direction also requires being positively viewed by your manager and peers.

The primary advice and takeaways from today's column is to know that:
  • As a department manager, issues within your department can reflect poorly on you as its leader.
  • If you are having issues within your department, do some personal introspection to assure you are not the cause or a contributing factor to your department's problems.

This blog is an excerpt from my weekly nationally syndicated column with GateHouse News Service. My new columns can be found in GateHouse Media publications throughout the United States.

Until next time, manage well, manage smart, and continue to grow.

Eric Bloom
President and CTO

Manager Mechanics, LLC


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