Show of hands: How many of you have a great boss? Not just a successful boss, but someone who supports, nurtures and appreciates your work, treats you like an adult, and gives you room to be creative. How about it?
Judging by some of the evidence out there, let’s just say… there’s room for improvement. It didn’t take much of a Google search to find “entertainment” listed among the 10 industries with the worst bosses. For the record, I have only had the best bosses, especially those who may be reading this now — you were terrific! But in my experience, even superior managers make mistakes. And as a network boss myself, I freely admit I was marginally acceptable at best, and made my share of decisions that unfairly affected others.
It’s not always about competence. I chalk it up to the nature of TV programming, production and the entertainment industry in general. The engine that drives the business — the creative process — is frankly not always in sync with the ultimate goal of a company, which is making a profit. The result: constant tension, triggered by a boss who’s under the gun to meet financial goals, and who doesn’t always have the necessary skills to manage the situation.
Some of the reasons are clear, at least to me:
No one cares. As a boss, you have to “make the numbers” — profits, margins, budgets, revenues, ratings, volume or overall productivity. There isn’t much of a premium paid for keeping employees happy and motivated. At upper management and board levels, it’s often impossible for them to know if the troops are content — and frankly, as long as the profits keep coming and they keep churning out the programs, who cares?
Creative people in uninspiring jobs. It’s surprisingly common: you’re a great producer who gets bumped to a managerial position, where you’re not making a program or film anymore — you’re supervising others. Big difference. Your skills in the field or edit room don’t necessarily work in the office, where you’re in charge of those doing the creating, not the creating itself. Your employees may do things differently than how you’d do it and need guidance that you may not be equipped to give.
Constant chaos. At the network level, the higher up you go, the more it’s like managing the Cleveland Browns — you get a couple of years at best. That endless change ripples through the organization and fosters instability and cynicism among the staff, which kills creativity.
Managing up. This is a big one. You know these people. They manage their own bosses so well that it obscures the fact that they’re resented by their peers or employees who report to them. Surprisingly, the big boss who’s being played doesn’t see it… or consciously ignores the sucking sounds.
Micro-managing. Another huge problem. The micro-managers can’t help themselves, giving notes on the tiniest things, overriding their employees’ smallest decisions and thus undercutting their authority. Instead of managing their managers, they leapfrog into the fray and make it clear that their nit-picking is not meant to be instructive — it’s the way they do business.
“I know how it’s done.” The pro has arrived! Without doing any homework, the new boss is going to rip up everything that was done before to show you how a great network/company/production team operates. See above — micro-managing and chaos.
Too many meetings. When confronted with a problem, the boss’s first instinct is to fill up a conference room and “have a meeting.” The group meeting — say, 8-30 people — is a time-suck abuse that’s rampant in the industry and takes valuable time away from actual work. We’re talking about large groups, not a couple of people hammering out a solution to a problem. Studies (well, at least my own!) show that group meetings with more than 6-7 people end up being less about decision-making and finding solutions, and more about positioning among the louder employees and seething by the quieter ones.
My conclusion? Bosses come in all categories, and those can include screamers and schemers. The best boss, though, respects the creativity and efficiency that the staff provides, gets out of the way, and realizes it’s not all about the boss.
Michael Cascio is president and CEO of M&C Media LLC, where he advises selected media and production partners, and produces documentaries. He is also a guest speaker and writer, whose recent article for the Sunday New York Times revealed how his experience as a backstage janitor prepared him for a career in television. At National Geographic, A&E, Animal Planet, and MSNBC, Cascio has won four Emmys, two Oscar nominations and a “Producer of the Year” award.