Manage your team without turning into Bill Lumbergh

Managing employees so they don't hate you

Note: This is a guest post whilst I am away getting some fresh air in The Highlands. Back next week.

At one point or another, we have all worked for a Bill Lumbergh. The character, immortalized in Mike Judge’s film Office Space, is the epitome of the soulless, droning, irritating manager whose choice in shirts is every bit as maddening as his ability to magically appear at the most inconvenient moments of the workday.

Some of us may have even been a Lumbergh and not realized that our managerial style fomented hatred amongst those working under us. Anyone who has been a manager knows that the responsibilities involved in keeping a team both productive and content can often become difficult to the point where we find ourselves making decisions that would have appalled us when we were the ones toiling away in cubicles.

Management doesn’t have to be a despised position. It is possible to keep a team focused, productive, and–dare we think it?–happy. Here are a few tips to help you on your way to becoming as un-Lumbergh-like as possible.

  1. Get to know your employees. Team-building exercises are excellent, but in order to be a good manager, you need to know something about what each member of your team does. You should not be expected to become an expert on programming, graphics, sales, and marketing, but learning something about your team members’ fields of expertise will improve communications immensely. It also gives the team potential extra worker when things get too busy.
  2. Don’t be too proud to get your hands dirty. One of the first things we learn as managers is how to effectively delegate work. Some managers take this to mean that everything outside of the strictest definition of “management” should be done by employees, and this is a mistake. If you have skills that match any of your employees’, help out during crunch time. Get coffee for people every once in a while. Even something as simple as throwing away garbage or wiping up a spill can go a long way toward showing that even though you are higher up the corporate ladder, you are still a regular person like everyone else.
  3. Don’t get too close. No matter how much your employees like you, there is still a barrier between you that no amount of goodwill and donuts can eliminate; it is the nature of the workplace. Respect that barrier and keep it from being insurmountable by allowing your team members to assert their solidarity as employees when necessary. If they go out for drinks after a hard day and don’t invite you, don’t begrudge them that. Why not call up the bar and order them a round?
  4. Hire and fire well. Of course we do our best to hire the people whom we feel will be right for each position. This is not always under our control, and sometimes we end up with an employee who drags the team down, consistently under-performs, or can’t adhere to policies. After trying all reasonable methods of correcting the issue, the best solution may be to let that person go. It may cause some hurt feelings among those who remain, but consider how keeping that person on would affect the team over time.
  5. Be yourself. Cliché? Yes. But if you come into work every day and put on a mask, you will not only be unapproachable, you will be unhappy. So what if you have a house full of Star Wars toys or have been to five hundred Rush concerts? Your eccentricities are not (necessarily) going to be negatively impact your ability to effectively manage your employees. A wall full of Darth Vader posters or Geddy Lee’s soprano wailing over the intercom might come off as too un-managerial, but if you let your team get to know you appropriately, you become less Lumbergh and more human. It is your humanity above all that will make your employees like you.

What do you think? Are there any tips that you would add onto this list?

Guest poster: Al Natanagara is a writer, journalist, and blogger whose career includes stints with ZDNet, CNet, CBS, LexisNexis, and Law Enforcement. He has written on a plethora of topics including: homicide forensics, app development, and the finer points of cooking and enjoying offal.

Thanks to CReactions for the image.


  1. 6. Get out of your office and get over yourself. You are no where near as important as you think you are and if you haven’t got time to talk to your team why on earth would they have time to talk to you.

    Think that is me off the fence

    Nice post


    • Hi James,
      I just back from my Highland jaunt and just catching up.

      Thanks for adding a great number 6 to the list. Too true.


  2. The most horrifying thing is how so many of us inevitably turning into Lumbergh when given even limited managerial powers, even without realizing it. I’m pretty sure I’ve been guilty of certain Lumberghisms throughout my working life, even though I absolutely loathe the man and everything he stands for.

    Reminds me of the old Nietzsche quote of “be careful while fighting monsters lest you become one yourself” or something like that.

    • Hi Alex,
      I think you point to something that can affect everyone. Being continually mindful of how we are with even a small amount of power and responsibility is a skill part of not turning into Lumbergh.


      Ps. Like the Nietzsche quote :)

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