Slow-walking the boss

“Since assuming office, Trump has issued many private demands to aides that have either been slow-walked or altogether ignored.”

That line is from a good story in the Atlantic about the damage President Trump’s impulsive tweets are doing to government and the nation. But it describes a management style I used for years in the newspaper business. I assume everyone does it.

Once when I was the editor, I was asked to begin a weekly series of profiles of successful businesses in the community. “In this bad economy, we want to show companies that are doing well,” I was told.

The idea isn’t terrible, except that, because of layoffs, our business staff had been pared down to two reporters. We couldn’t even cover the news of the day, much less do puff pieces on companies that weren’t suffering during the Great Recession.¬†I ignored it for a month, and then, when I was told to do it, I slow-walked it for another month. Finally, at the third request, I created a simple graphic in which I would gather the information with a quick phone call.

Most of the time, I’ve had bosses who would float an idea for a story or a personnel matter and I knew it was simply an idea.¬†Sometimes I liked the idea and we’d do it. Others, I listened to it and didn’t act on it. I always believed that the bosses purposely let me make the decision.

I had a box on my desk in which I kept the ideas that I was ignoring. That way, if a boss asked me the status of a task I’d been given, I could immediately put my hands on it and say, “I have it right here. It’s in process.” On the third request for a status report, that’s when I knew it wasn’t just an idea; it needed to be done. And I’d get it done.

My record for slow-walking was 18 months. To protect the innocent, I won’t describe it. But I still believe that it was a bad decision forced on me.

These never happened around ethical issues. Those, the boss and I would talk come to an agreement on a course of action. Those discussions were rare because my bosses and I normally agreed on the ethics of the business.

Instead, the slow-walking occurred around productivity issues or issues I thought weren’t important.

Once – when I was a lower-ranking editor – I was told to begin assigning more stories to one of our best — and slowest — writers. “What’s he doing?” I was asked. “We are paying him to put stories in the paper.” I wasn’t the first to get this complaint about that reporter. It was an inside joke among other editors. I slow-walked that one forever.

And yes, I assumed that people who reported to me did the same thing to my always brilliant ideas. I usually trusted their judgment that my idea wasn’t the best use of time.

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