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Seagull management


Disciplines > Leadership > Leadership articles > Seagull management

Description | Why it happens | What to do about it | See also



'Seagull management' is a humorous term that is used to describe a  style of management whereby the person 'flies in, poops on you and then flies away again'.

When they are there, they typically give criticism and direction in equal quantities, often without any real understanding of what the job entails. Then before you can object or ask what they really want, they have an 'important meeting' to go to.

The experience of having a seagull manager is not positive. Whilst they are there, they talk non-stop and actively discourage anyone else from saying anything. This can include avoiding eye contact and continuing to talk over you if you start to say anything.

You may typically feel under-valued and generally abuse. The best thing that can be said is that they are typically there not very often and you can largely get on with the job by yourself.

Why it happens

The Seagull Manager like to consider themselves as important. However they also know that they do not know that much and fear being exposed by questions or debate. They consequently grab the talking stick and do not stop until they can excuse themselves and leave.

It is possible that they really are busy, but what they miss is the importance of person-management. They are likely to be strongly task-based and consider the 'soft stuff' as fluffy and unnecessary. Their approach is thus highly transactional, based on the simple premise 'do as I say and you'll continue to get paid'.

What to do about it

What you need to do about Seagull Managers depends largely on your job. If you can work independently, then the best approach is often to listen patiently then ignore them. As long as you are delivering value, they may not actually be too concerned about how you get there. Unlike the micromanager, they are not that interested in control over you.

If, however, their approach is damaging to your career and health, then you need to address the issue. Book a meeting with them (if you can) to discuss your work. Write down what your objectives are and what you are doing and give it to them. They may ignore it but this will give you tacit ammunition if you need it later.

If things are particularly bad, this is a definite case for assertiveness (which is probably good anyway). Talk to them about what they are doing and the effect they are having. You may also need to talk with their manager or HR. Worst case, look for another position with a better manager who knows how to lead.

A novel approach is to deliberately 'chase' them with complex detail for which they have 'no time'. As they retreat or woffle at you, offer a simpler alternative that is easy for them to accept. You can also always reframe what they said, casting it into a more sensible light.

Because the most important thing in the Seagull Manager's life is the Seagull Manager, if you can deliver results, then they may well leave you to your own devices or give moderate support. Deliver regular short messages that shows you are making good progress. Also work to make them look good to the rest of the organization (despite temptations to the contrary!). If they think you are acting contrary to their interests, they will just fly by more often and poop on you even more!

If you are a manager

If you are a manager, then seagull management is of course something to avoid. It is a trap that may seem easy but in practice it will alienate and demotivate your staff. If there are wiser people above you, then they also will find out what is happening and your advancement will halt or regress.

The real lesson here is to sustain a good relationship with your people. Whilst you need not (and should not) be best mates with them, you should respect them and communicate regularly and with integrity. Listen too -- this is a key skill and frequent activity of good leaders.

See also

Post-hoc Management, Mushroom Management

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