Thursday, December 19, 2013

Door Mats, Boot Lickers, Cage Rattlers and the Squeaky Wheel

The story of John O'Neill is one of the saddest and frustrating I have ever heard.  I don't know many stories that show the problems with modern American culture more than his story. He was the one FBI agent who knew about the threat of al Qaeda. When he followed protocol, he was ignored. He complained and stepped on some toes, he was made a pariah. He "retired" in frustration and started his job as head of security at the World Trade Center just a couple of weeks before it was brought down by al Qaeda, a horrible tragic irony. His body was found in the wreckage a few days later.

O'Neill's story is another example of the wrongness of the old idiom "the squeaky wheel gets the grease." When the squeaky wheel is a person, it usually doesn't get the grease. They usually don't get listened to or placated in anyway. They usually get ignored and as the squeaking gets louder, they eventually get labeled a "complainer" and get marginalized. I like the term Cage Rattler better than the Squeaky Wheel. It has better imagery. One of four things can happen to the Cage Rattler in any modern American organization.

(1) The Cage Rattler can become so frustrated that they stop complaining, they internalize their frustration and then they become apathetic. Like a doormat, they learn to be quiet, accept that they will be stepped on, learn to say "thank you" and are just glad to get a pay check. Most people are Doormats. They have lost all passion for their jobs. They learn not to question authority, not to speak up; it isn't worth the effort. They know they can't change anything. Their work with lack creativity and are, possibly, not very productive because of this.

(2) The Cage Rattler can get sick of being ignored and just quit, like O'Neill, and move onto a new job hopefully where they are in charge. The best place for a Cage Rattler is to be self-employed or to be in a position where they are beyond reproach. They need to have a lot of freedom and power to implement meaningful change. (3) If the economy is bad and they can't move on to another position, this can become a bad situation. The complainer can escalate their complaints so much that they annoy the wrong people, they rattle the wrong cage, and just get fired. This is the worst scenario. I've seen this happen to a lot of people. It is can get explosive. It is best to quit any job, if you can, before things get this bad. Just remember, one common way of fixing any problem, is replacing the person that keeps bringing it up. The Squeaky Wheel doesn't get more grease, it just gets replaced by a new quiet wheel.

(4) The best scenario of course, is the complainer gets listened to, the problem is resolved and everyone moves on. If O'Neill had been listened to, there would probably be a few more skyscrapers in Manhattan right now, there probably wouldn't have been a very expensive war in Afghanistan, the Patriot Act probably wouldn't exist and hopefully, the NSA wouldn't be tapping all of our phone. It is my experience, working in software support for almost two decades, that complainers are your friends. When one person complains, they are usually representing a bunch of other people who haven't bothered to. If your organization is a software company, complainers help identify bugs to improve your product. If you are a teacher, complainers help educate more students. If you are a security organization, complainers save lives. Embrace your complainers. No, they don't like complaining. No one does. If no one is complaining, there is probably something very wrong.

Cage Rattlers aren't the problem. The worst person you will meet in any organization is the Boot Licker. I'd rather have someone complaining to me than to have someone manipulate me. I once worked in a team of four guys at a software company. We shared a workload. Three of us worked very hard, but one guy did nothing. He spent most of the day socializing, usually on the phone with friends. Whenever a manager walked by he appeared to be talking to a customer. All talk of Whoopie's gown at the Academy Awards or which restaurant was hotter ceased at the right time. He was good at this. How did he get away with it? For one, Doormats were everywhere. He was such a "nice" guy and so well liked that if you complained about him, you were the problem, not him. He was a great talker. Whenever big meetings came up, he always chimed in at the right time. He was very good at getting himself on the right project, at the right time and taking as much credit as he could get away with. There aren't many more frustrating experiences than when you have worked very hard on a project and someone who has done nothing gets all the credit. A team with two Door Mats, a Boot Licker and a Cage Rattler is not a good combination. Boot Lickers are rare, but there is no better way to turn a Door Mat into a Cage Rattler.  Put him/her on a team with a Boot Licker and watch the transformation.

1 comment:

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