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Posts from the ‘Management’ Category

Everything I know about leadership I learned at AT&T? Part One

Colored Light 06My father worked for 40 years at AT&T in what was called the Long Lines department. He joined the company before WWII, served in the Signal Corps, and then returned to AT&T and stayed there until he retired c. 1981. After his passing in 2011, I found In his possessions a small loose-leaf notebook with his name embossed on it, containing a 1952-1953 calendar, work-related notes to himself, circuit diagrams, etc. At the front of this notebook are several preprinted pages headed, “Supervisory Conference Material” and dated September, 1944. Dad became a supervisor in the early 50s, I think, so these pages may represent his “new manager orientation” materials. I’m sharing a selection from these materials in a series of posts–for several reasons:

First, I want to see what’s changed. Are the issues the same or have they changed in ways commensurate with the degree of social change that’s occurred over the past 70 years? Some changes are to be expected: what’s different, and what’s not?

Second, how do these notes compare to the management and leadership literature we see and share today? Are we smarter about leadership/management issues today, or have we lost something?

And third, are there any lessons here for those of us in the leadership, learning, and change business? What can and should we learn from the answers to the first two questions.

To get started, here’s a paragraph that seems to me like a pretty good argument for how hierarchies in organizations are supposed to work, and for how a hierarchy of managers is to think about the work that takes place within and under their spans of control. (Please note that the gender-specific language in this material is objectionable today but typical for the time. Despite my own discomfort, I’ve decided to preserve the original intact as a historical document. Noting every instance with a [sic] might be even more distracting. I ask for your forbearance in responding to the content and not to the form of the material. I will gladly revise this post if someone can recommend a better strategy.)

(Taken from a talk to a supervisory conference at Toledo, Ohio, on September 26, 1944 by Mr. J. M. Desmond, Division Plant Superintendent, Division 6)

When assigning duties or delegating authority in an organization, we also define jobs and assign them to individuals. It is the history of our business that each of us feels that the job he has is mainly his own concern; that in a way it is his personal property for so long as he has that job. This is a natural feeling and is the obvious result of having job pride in the work which forms such a large part of our lives. The men further up in the organization all have that same job pride so that probably the job that any one of us occupies might be said to have a number of owners. Let’s take the job of a Testroom Man or a Section Man. Either one of these men would feel that the job he normally does or the section for which is is responsible is his own. This is a fine feeling to have and to encourage. The
District Line Inspector fels that the sum of all section jobs is his particular job. The sum of all these jobs in the District is the job of the District Plan Superintendent. The district is the highest unit we have devoted to maintenance work as its primary responsibility and the District Superintendent has a great concern for his responsibility and a great pride in the accomplishments within his District. The same thing is true of the Division Superintendent, General Plant Superintendent, General Plant Manager and the staff supervisors; each one takes the same interest in the work in his territory or his specialty and has job pride in exactly the same way as the Testroom Man or the Section Man.

I invite your comments: What has changed and how much? Are we smarter about these issues today? And what lessons can we learn?