That ubiquitous sign in many a bathroom stall represents what is perhaps the single most dangerous management myth of all time.
First of all, it’s a lie. You will never see an executive wrapped in a tool belt and screwing seat-cover dispensers into the stall wall. It’s a facilities person that’s covering your butt, not the management. In fact, they provide for the management’s protection, not the other way around.
The sign represents an arrogant, overinflated, self-indulgent, and pitifully self-important attitude. Management as the Benevolent Protector. The Bestower of Blessings. The Big Mommy-Daddy.
The fact is, in business, nobody really provides for your protection, except you. Sounds harsh, but it’s true.
If that’s so, then where does the Love element fit in? After all, I’ve said over and over that love is at the foundation of great leadership and business. Is this a contradiction, then?
Fact is, there are different kinds of love. A business should be socially responsible and ethically minded. That’s a kind of love, isn’t it? And it should love its employees for devoting talent, time, and energy to the enterprise–and it should show it in all kinds of ways.
But a business also has a responsibility to itself. It has to stay healthy, and sometimes that means making decisions and doing things that will upset–or release–its employees. Sometimes love for the health of the company and love for individual employees smack right up against each other. Sometimes love hurts, and sometimes it’s got nothing to do with personal love at all.
Doesn’t it follow, then, that all of us, as individuals, have to take responsibility for ourselves? We can’t abdicate our personal responsibility to some supposed “higher authority.” Nobody–not your friend, not your minister, not your rabbi, not your mullah, not your momma, and certainly not your management–is going to protect you from the big, wild world.
Because they can’t.
What they can do–and what we all should do–is help each other by striving to create an environment where people can thrive as adults and grow as leaders, so that if and when they leave the company–for whatever reason–they are more capable, valuable and experienced than the day they started.
In that spirit, let me offer an alternate version of the infamous bathroom sign:
These covers are provided to you by a member of the facilities crew who works all day in a laborious job. And we’re delighted to help. Management doesn’t even know how these got here, but we’re sure they’d approve, because we all sit here eventually.
With these seat covers, you have an opportunity to protect yourself. We recommend that you take it.
After all, it’s your butt.