Chuck (charlesofcamden) wrote,

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Lombardi Needs a Timeout

A lot of people I know have posted recently about the concept of “Lombardi time”. It isn’t a new idea but it seems to be in vogue lately. It is usually posted in the form of a quote reportedly uttered by the late football coach Vince Lombardi, and it usually goes something like this:

“If you’re early, you’re on time.
If you’re on time, you’re late.
If you’re late, don’t bother showing up.”

People usually post this to indicate their enthusiastic agreement with the philosophy. My feelings on the subject are more nuanced. To begin with, there’s an important distinction that needs to be made – is this simply being declared as one’s personal approach and philosophy to one’s own work, or is it being dictated as The Way People Will Conduct Themselves When They Work With/For Me? As stated above, it is the latter – this is Lombardi telling people that this is how they will conduct themselves when they work with him. And as such, it is perfectly unprofessional.

Yes, I know its defenders will disagree with me right there; they would probably say that it is the very essence of professionalism. But hear me out. If you want to adopt this as your personal code of conduct and it works for you, that’s fine. As a personal code, it may be a fine pathway to professional conduct for an individual. Just don’t kid yourself that it’s the One True Way for all people. When you make this the rule for people who work under you in all situations, you have become unprofessional in your conduct as a manager. You have stated that you do not trust the people who work for you, so you feel it necessary to play little head games with them and insist that they play along. You have demoted yourself from manager to babysitter.

From what I’ve read about The Green Bay Packers when Lombardi became their head coach, this may have been a valid approach at the time. It sounds like it was a team full of disorganized, unprofessional individuals who had to be whipped into shape in a strict manner. Championships ensued. So yay, Coach Lombardi. Maybe he was the right man in the right place. But when you project this into every work situation and every profession as a basic rule, you only make yourself into a dictator who may be feared and obeyed, but who can never be respected as a fellow professional. In fact, if this management approach is brought to bear upon a group of true professionals, it stands an excellent chance of only destroying morale and loyalty. And folks, I speak from experience, having been on the receiving end of management quite comparable to this approach and having seen the damage it can do to a working team – damage that the manager can never, ever accept as being traceable to their own policies.

So how about this approach to treating me like a professional: Tell me what time you need me to be there, and by God, I’ll be there and I’ll be ready to go. I will figure out what time I need to arrive in order for that to happen. Why? Because I’m a professional. If your approach is, “I’m telling you that you need to be here at 9:00 a.m., but the SECRET time you need to be here is 8:30 or you will have violated my secret rule,” then you’ve just made yourself look like a fool in the eyes of anyone with a sense of dignity and personal accountability. Oh, you actually want me there at 8:30? Fine. Tell me that’s my starting time and we won’t have any problems. Do you see how that works?

In the end, Lombardi’s dictate to his workers may fairly be translated as this: “I assume that the people who work for me are unprincipled and cannot be trusted to give their full effort unless I treat them like mental weaklings. I can out-think them and I can bully them, so I shall. Anyone walking through my door who says they are already an evolved professional with high standards of dependability is assumed to be a liar. There is no place for such people here. Competence, professionalism, and results are not the primary goals here; adherence to an arbitrary code of conduct takes precedence.”

That’s actually a charitable translation in that it gives the manager credit for trying to get some sort of performance out of their workers. The harsher translation would be, “Because I’m in charge, I will abuse my power by making the schedule revolve around my needs. Because there might be traffic delays or acts of God that will make you late one out of a hundred times, I want you to always be here unnecessarily early. My free time is important but yours is not. As your manager, I can dictate to you; I can even punish you for failing to read my mind and you just have to take it. It’s good to be the king.”

Finally, the least charitable translation would be something like, “I don’t actually know much about managing people, so I’ve settled on a few basic rules that cover my ass and keep me in power, while allowing me to tell myself that I’m building character and running a tight ship.”

In closing, let me offer this as the closest thing I can muster to an olive branch for those of you who crave being managed in this manner – If that’s how you as a worker need to be managed in order to function in a professional environment, then I hope you find such a manager.

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