• Mike Burke

Have you ever seen a manager take over a new responsibility and badmouth their predecessor?

How do you think the other manager felt when they heard they were being ridiculed?

Great managers find a way to fix their predecessors problems without belittling them.

Let me tell you how I learned that lesson.

It was when my company was acquired, the first time.

I was a sales manager, and luckily had strong relationships with some large customers.

The managers that were in charge of "the integration," decided who from my company (including myself) would keep their jobs, and who would go.

During the interview process, I thought, "this is so demoralizing!"

Lots of sleepless nights for my wife and me followed.

Eventually, I was "awarded" my job, which was the same job I had before the acquisition.

Then something weird happened, I started getting phone calls from people congratulating me.

All I could think was, "I'm getting congratulated for keeping my job."

I guess I was lucky because I was the only manager they kept from my old company.

I'll admit I missed my old manager friends.

It became especially heartwrenching when Duane, shortly after he was forced out, suffered a heart attack and passed away.

It was an emotional time, and as I write this, I feel the emotions all over again.

Before the acquisition, I was considered the #2 manager in my division, and it probably sounds petty, but I had the second-largest office.

Post-acquisition I was about 5th in line and was forced to move to a closet-sized office.

Losing the office and prestige hurt, but now in retrospect, I realize what bothered most was the fact that I no longer felt valued and respected.

My new boss had these weekly management meetings that I had to attend.

In the meetings, it became a sport for the "conquering managers" to bring up everything they thought my old company did wrong.

I didn't agree with everything my past company did.

But since I was the only one left from my old company, it was like every problem was my fault.

In those meetings, my only goal was to bite my tongue and not explode when they were blaming all my old fellow managers who couldn't defend themselves.

In one particular meeting, when the flogging of my old company started, I snapped.

I said, "well, at least you can't blame Duane anymore – He's dead!"

As soon as it came out of my mouth, I knew I was wrong.

The room went quiet.

But you know what?

They got the point.

Over time I worked my way back up the ladder, and eventually earned the responsibility to run my very own division.

From day one, I promised myself that I wasn't going to treat people like I was during the merger.

The division, unfortunately, was losing money for the first time in its history.

Plus, right before I got there, they had a union trying to organize our warehouse and delivery employees.

With fresh eyes, I saw all that was wrong.

It wasn't easy, but the experience I just went through taught me how demoralizing it would be if I blamed the past management.

Plus, most of the past management was still there; they were just moved to different roles before I got there.

Did you ever feel like you were continually being critiqued?

Well, I overheard some, let's say unflattering remarks about me and my management decisions.

It hurt hearing that stuff.

I remember thinking, "the only reason I'm here is because the division you were managing is failing."

But I knew as soon as I said anything negative about them, it would force people to take sides.

So, whenever I would hear something, I would pull them aside and explain to them why I did a particular thing.

Then, I'd ask them what they thought.

Even though they didn't like my every decision, they knew I was showing respect by involving them in the conversation.

Once the division started its turnaround, I started working with each of my managers to help them become successful in their new roles.

The more I got to know each person, the more I liked them, and I started to care about them.

Before I knew it, the sniping at me stopped.

Believe it or not, some of my past critics are now my biggest supporters.

Now, was every decision I made perfect?

Of course not, I made plenty of mistakes.

I still do.

But here's the thing.

When I was promoted to turnaround a larger division, my staff had a going-away party for me.

During the party, as I looked around the room at everyone raising their glasses, I thought, "man, that was crazy, but I did it."

©2020 by Mike Burke Management.