Broken Washroom Doors…or Don’t Jump 36 Floors!

Peter Drucker felt that every organization had its share of dysfunction. But he described it in a very vivid way:

Every business has its ‘broken washroom doors,’ its misdirections, its policies, procedures and methods that emphasize and reward wrong behavior, penalize or inhibit right behavior.” 

He described one very funny example of a dysfunctional organization to me, when he told me how Henry Luce—the founder of Time, Inc. as well as Life, Time & Fortune Magazines—managed his company. 

Drucker told me a few of the highlights of Luce’s story: Luce was “a very peculiar man.” He had been raised in China and managed Time, Inc. “by misdirection and by running around people.” Drucker told me Luce could not fire anybody, especially any classmates. (Remember that Drucker’s ideal manager could hire, fire and promote people, and here he was telling me that Luce could not fire anyone). 

That was a problem.

That’s because when Luce and Drucker met, about 70 years earlier (Luce apparently loved Drucker’s first book), the chief editor of Fortune Magazine was someone named Mitch Davenport. Drucker described him as “a very fine writer but a hopeless editor, and hopeless for one reason: he did not believe in deadlines. Simply did not believe in them,” he repeated for emphasis. Of course, deadlines are the lifelines of a magazine, whether it be a monthly or weekly. So Luce kept him “but managed around him,” asserted Drucker. He then made some noises that suggested that Luce wanted Drucker to take a management position at Time, Inc.

“And he [Luce] had another problem,” said Drucker.  He had a foreign editor at Time who was [allegedly] an ardent admirer of Hitler. And paranoid, by the way, but a classmate [of Luce’s], who eventually killed himself by jumping out of the 36th floor!”

Drucker then told me flat out that Luce wanted to hire him: “He wanted me to come to Time and be the foreign editor around that man (I assume he meant the man that admired Hitler). Fortunately, I said said no to all of these things,” said Drucker. “I wanted to do my own writing.”

Somehow, all of this helped Drucker make the decision to get into consulting, something he would do (and love) for the rest of his life.

The moral of the story? If you are interviewing with a company and sense that they have as much dysfunction as the company Drucker described…run! Even if the company is very successful, as Henry Luce’s Time Inc. certainly was.

If you are currently working for a company with as many “broken washroom doors” as described above, then prepare your resume and quietly make some industry inquiries. The company doesn’t have to have a manager who admires Hitler or a manager who cannot live by deadlines. There are a million other ways a company can be dysfunctional. In fact, if you work—or have worked—for a company that is dysfunctional in some unusual manner, I want to hear about it. So please drop me a comment and tell me about the dysfunction. I am curious by nature, and would love to hear how other organizations harbor, contribute to, or tolerate dysfunction. And who knows? Your story might make it into my next book (with your permission, of course).     



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