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Underlings and Overlings

“You who do the work have the ultimate power. The wheels of civilization are greased with your sweat.”
—Some Guy



I’ll admit right off the bat: I have no idea why the “ling” is considered a standard of prestige to be under or over. Is this some French thing like the meter?


And while I’m in a questioning mood, has anyone noticed that there are shiploads of information written to teach overlings how to lead? I suppose this is because they need the extra help. We underlings have no such resources; no one has written about how to get production done in spite of leadership.


At least not until now! I’m undertaking a new quest: Spreading the technology of handling leaders. By ignoring the standard “follow the leader” paradigm, I could cause a tear in the very fabric of our universe—but I’m willing to take that chance.


First of all, foremen, supervisors, general contractors and presidents are just like us. Except they can fire us. Sometimes, depending where we live, they can torture and kill us. But underlings who know their craft don’t worry about these things; we can always find another job.


Also, overlings have a concept of themselves—they’re “the leader.” They lead us over here, then they lead us over there. As long as you don’t burst that bubble, you can get away with almost anything—even production.


Seeing themselves as leaders, overlings believe they have something called “authority,” which means the overling gets to lord it over the underlings. And, of course they expect the underlings to believe their proclamations and comply to their directives.


Overlings are a necessary fact of life, but when the battle is won, the pyramid built and the spacecraft launched, it’s the underlings who wielded the sword, put their shoulders to the stone and drove the screw. They get the work done by carefully handling their overlings.


Here are the do’s and dont’s of managing the managers.


Don’t back talk. This minimizes the leaders’ authority and makes them want to torture and kill you. If they’re unable to take those measures, they’ll fire you. This is fine, but you’ll just have to train a new one on the next job.


Ridicule is not a good tool to use on overlings either. Again, it lowers their sense of authority and they’ll go weird on you. Yes, I know that sometimes we underlings can say very witty things that will earn the applause of our colleagues—but if it’s at the expense of unbalancing the leader, problems will arise.


Misdirection is a double-edged sword. Sometimes, if the leader is really bad, directing his attention toward some easy problem gives him something to do and will get him out of your hair. But a good overling needs accurate information so he can lead us—over here and over there.


From the waitress to the princess, the pauper to the king, we all want respect. Overlings are no different. True respect is earned; it is based on perceived worth to the team. Good leaders earn the respect of their minions. However, we’ve all known the other kinds of leaders: A dwindling spiral from good to completely incompetent. It’s a beautiful example of cosmic symmetry that incompetent leadership never lasts. If you’re not getting the job done, you’re going down that road to the unemployment line. But until poor leaders go down the road, it doesn’t serve to disrespect them.


Positive reinforcement works. Back in Sonoma County, my brother called this brown-nosing and would irritate the heck out of me with some stupid song he made up about it (sung to the tune of “Brown-Eyed Girl”). But he’s an overling now, so what does he know? Here’s my take on the subject: Lying to the bosses about what wonderful people they are doesn’t work. They know better. However, if you observe carefully, there is probably something that your overling is doing right. Acknowledge it to reinforce his good behavior.
The primary thing to remember is leaders who are confident act a lot more rational than those who aren’t quite sure what they’re doing. So don’t mess with their heads. Help them.


Greet them in the morning. Nod your head in a vertical fashion when they express authority. Smile, and then get back to work.


About the Author

Pat Carrasco is a drywall hanger, trainer and writer who lives in Montana.

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