A manager at work said "I go to great lengths to make a complete idiot out of myself so people feel comfortable coming to me". This gave me a bad gut feeling but I realize there is some rational behind it.

Is it a good management style to degrade oneself so others feel comfortable approaching? Could this approach be bad? If so, how?

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    I'm more interested in where he's taking this management advice from or what precedent he's following and if it actually works for him. I'm hard pressed to find another real life scenario(military, politics, sports) where this style of management will work out. – kolossus Jul 27 '13 at 12:38
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    People won't come to you if they do not respect you. – Telastyn Jul 27 '13 at 14:44
  • This style of management only works when your reports are idiots. If they are competent, they will want a manager who is also competent. I would have no respect whatsoever for someone who consistently acted as if they were an idiot. I want to be able to approach my manager because I trust them to solve my problems, not worry they will screw up whatever I need/request. – enderland Jul 27 '13 at 19:14
  • This could just be a communication breakdown where "make a complete idiot of myself" means joke around and be approachable and not act 'like the manager.' I'm not commenting on that approach, but just that he may have meant it that way. – jmorc Jul 29 '13 at 20:18

Making a complete idiot out of yourself just for the purpose of appearing approachable is disingenuous at its core. All it will achieve is making you appear as if you are not fully qualified for the position, and create unnecessary doubt in others regarding your ability to contribute positively and adequately respond to their needs.

You can make yourself approachable without having to make yourself look like someone you're not. You want people to view you as intelligent, reliable, and helpful. Listen more than you talk. Answer the questions you're asked honestly, completely, and descriptively. Ask people for feedback when you help them and when they help you. Be genuinely interested in who they are as a person, not just as a coworker. You don't have to be best friends, but you also don't want to create artificial boundaries, either.

It's really not that hard if you take the time and effort to understand that even though it's work, there is a social perspective which cannot be ignored.

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  • It's also quite possible the manager was joking. – jmort253 Jul 27 '13 at 16:39
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    @jmort253 - a bad joke, if a joke at all. I'd rather suspect rationalization/coverup of own incompetence. – Deer Hunter Jul 27 '13 at 18:19
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    This really is a great answer. I've taken classes on social skills and what you said does not only apply to the work place. One shouldn't be an idiot to get people to like them; imagine having friends only because they think your an idiot. – JohnStewart Jul 28 '13 at 3:43

A great deal depends on the context. What, precisely, is the manager doing to "make an idiot out of himself"?

There are situations where this might be beneficial depending on exactly what the manager is doing. If "making an idiot out of yourself" means that the manager is willing to sit in the dunk tank at the company's charity carnival or is happy to be the first one to get up on stage when the team decides to go hang out at a karaoke place after work, that could certainly make people more comfortable approaching him. If "making an idiot out of yourself" means having the confidence to regularly admit in meetings that he doesn't know something or to risk asking questions and exposing gaps in his knowledge, that may make others more willing to be honest when they don't know something or need some help.

Of course, there are many ways to "make an idiot out of yourself" that would not have a positive impact. If you are "degrading" yourself, it is highly unlikely that you are doing something productive.

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  • After reading your post I think it's ok to make a fool of ones self if it's not directly related to work, for example a fund raiser or hanging out after work, but it's probably bad to make an idiot of oneself on calls and in meetings. – JohnStewart Jul 28 '13 at 3:40

What I expect from a manager is someone who keeps me supplied with the resources I need to do my job. In one dimension this is the usual computer - desk - network connection - comfortable office nexus, in another it's having an appropriate level of taskings, in another it's keeping me up to speed on the progress of the project and the situation of the company overall. Being approachable simply means having the door open and be willing to listen. Managers are, very often, in the business of comforting people that are frustrated - whether they like it or not. What is more important at that point is emotional intelligence. One can make self-deprecating remarks to inject humor in tense situations from time to time, but doing it all the time just leaves everyone disgusted. In general, is this someone you would like sitting at the same table at lunch in a crowded restaurant? If the answer is no, your manager is causing more problems than he's fixing.

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