Stanley Bing

Ask Bing: My boss is a slacker

What do you do when your boss, and his boss, do no work? And what's with the cigar, anyway? Fortune's Stanley Bing answers readers' most burning questions.

By Stanley Bing

Q: How do you handle a boss who is physically present at work, but never does any work? All day, every day, he spent his time taking care of personal stuff (rental properties, trading accounts, real estate deals, family matters, food and jokes, telling stories to other people).

All work that needs his approval or reviews are pending...for weeks if not months. Should I go above him? His boss is not that much better. Or simply do things my way?

A: I'm guessing that you already do things your way, otherwise nothing would be done and your whole corporation would be barking at ants. Keep up the good work and have faith. There's somebody in your corporation who needs to make sure business is done. Eventually, somebody will sniff out the fact that you're doing it.

Make sure that you are copied on memos that supposedly come from your boss, that you are invited to meetings even if you're not supposed to speak, that you preserve e-mail chains that you can then forward upward for 100 percent good business reasons. You can also push very hard for advancement in your title and your pay. Believe me, even if nobody else knows that you're doing everything, your lazy, good-for-nada boss does. The prospect of losing you probably turns his guts to water.

Q: I manage an IT team which includes one slacker who basically comes and goes as he likes (he comes late a bit more often than I would like). He basically delivers the goods, but only barely. I do not want to impose a strict 9 to 5 on everyone. How do I get this guy to be as productive as some of the other guys in the team, without imposing strict working times on everyone?

A: I don't mean to be rude, but... what's the matter with you? Aren't you the boss? Don't people want to please you? Don't they cringe when you frown? Don't they hunger for a kind word from your twisted lips? Perhaps the key is in your question, which begins, "I manage an IT team..." (italics are mine).

It's just possible that you think of yourself too much as a manager and not enough as a good old fashioned butt-thumping boss. I salute you for your humanity. But let's not take it too far, Spunky. You're never going to go anyplace until you acquire a whip and learn how to crack it.

Get the guy into your office. Tell him what you'd like his hours to be. Tell him also that you think he's a good worker and a talented dude who could possibly rise in the ranks without too much trouble, given the fact that he's doing the requisite work on pathetically little time, the slug. Then, after you lather him up a little, push him firmly in the chest with your virtual finger. He should leave the exchange a little daunted, a little flattered, a little frightened, and definitely straightened out. Look at that! You've just graduated from managing to bossing -- and don't that feel gooooood?

Q: I wanted to know what a Business Administration diploma in Human Resources involves... and also an MBA in Marketing.

A: It involves your starting salary when you emerge from Business School. Beyond that, it involves several years of your life in which you must sit in classrooms being taught about business mostly by people who have never been in it.

I have an axe to grind with business schools, because they graduate so many consultants. Many of them also teach you really bad things -- like how to view business as a clinical, rational process rather than a human activity that provides jobs for people and products for consumers. The best business people I know did not graduate from business school. They worked their ways up in real jobs, being managed by crazy people until they became one themselves at a level that gave them great perks and satisfaction.

That said, okay, in HR you will learn a lot about the functions that help control a band of disparate individuals and corral them into a workforce: This includes stuff about pensions, benefits, and most important of all, executive compensation. I'd say at a corporate level more than 75 percent of your HR executive's job is to manage the compensation of his or her bosses. This is both rewarding and incredibly perilous and aggravating, as you can imagine.

When it comes to Marketing, you learn about positioning and product management and a bunch of other material of some sort or other that's very squishy if you ask my opinion. That's a good thing. People in Marketing are happier than people in Sales, because the accountability factor is a lot lower. The money isn't as good, though.

I guess the bottom line for you is pretty clear from what you're asking. You are confused and relatively clueless about the direction your career should take. That makes you a perfect candidate for business school.

Q: I question your need for a cigar, especially the need to use a cigar throughout your site, like some iconic symbol. This is really uncool, you should consider losing it.

A: Hey, bro. Go to the dictionary. Look up the word "branding." It takes years to establish a brand and you mess with it at your leisure. Imagine Julius Caesar without the laurel wreath... Genghis Khan without the horny hat... the Google Guys without their white lab coats. I do appear in public, by the way, without a stogie. And it's been years since I actually smoked one. But if I got rid of the cigar, what would I replace it with? A propeller beanie?

As for coolness, you wound me to the quick. When did a fine cigar become uncool? Is it a tobacco health thing? Would you rather I displayed a fistful of bean sprouts? Look, I'm open to suggestions. If you guys would like to write in and suggest another core branding concept for me to be pictured with, please do so. Until then, I'll stick with the game that got me here, even if it is gross, dangerous and makes me unpleasant to kiss.

Would you like to know how you could be more profitably useless in the workplace? Stanley Bing will answer readers' career questions. E-mail your questions to stanleybing@turner.com. Top of page

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