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Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.

Don't Be a Seagull Manager

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Donald Trump crashed headlong into the plans of Congressional Republicans Tuesday, demanding they hurry up and repeal Obamacare, with or without a replacement plan.

Forgive the GOP leaders if they roll their eyes at yet another inconvenient outburst from the incoming commander-in-chief. While they’re hip-deep in intricate legislative maneuvering—they want to follow up on their election pledge, while keeping nervous senators in the fold—Trump has again made a mess of their work.

There’s a term for this kind of boss: a seagull manager. First coined by management gurus Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson in their book The One-Minute Manager, they wrote that “seagull managers fly in, make a lot of noise, dump on everyone, and then fly out.”

Other writers on management have adopted the concept, and fleshed out the characteristics of the seagull manager:

  • Fly in: They avoid involving themselves in the details of a project, but at the first sign of trouble, swoop in and attempt to play hero.
  • Make a lot of noise: They frequently overreact, feign shock, send mass emails (or frequently in Trump’s case, tweets) and offer little more than formulaic advice.
  • Dump on everyone: They’re quick to criticize and cast blame—often in front of others—but rarely, if ever, accept responsibility themselves.
  • Fly out: They exit the situation at the first opportunity, and expect that someone else will clean up the mess.

While a few unfortunate souls are unlucky enough to work for a manager who exhibits all of these behaviors, it’s more likely that we’ve worked for—or have been—bosses who exhibit some of these traits, some of the time.

As Travis Bradberry, a contributor for Forbes, writes: “Every single one of us are seagull managers sometimes, in some situations, and with some people. The real challenge lies in understanding where your seagull tendencies get the better of you, so that you can fly higher and eradicate the negative influences of seagull behavior.”

Of course, avoiding seagullish behavior means recognizing it when it happens. Whether Trump sees a water fowl when he looks in the mirror remains an open question.

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