In my life I’ve owned many, many cars and motorcycles. Most were used and some were practically used up. If you’ve ever bought a “pre-owned” vehicle (particularly a cheap one) you know you may be buying someone else’s problems. The previous owner may have ignored maintenance or made modifications and repairs that didn’t make much sense, were stupid/silly, or just unexplainable. Sometimes, the previous owner was – I’m being generous here – an idiot.
Some car-types call these people DPOs, which stands for Dips**t Previous Owner. As in, “I’m spending this beautiful Saturday afternoon replacing the seatbelts that the DPO removed.” Or, “How did the DPO manage to crack the frame on this motorcycle in three places?” Or, “How did the DPO get so many cigarette burns in the upholstery without setting themselves on fire?” [true stories]
Deep down I know two things: 1) the behaviors that created these results made sense to the person at the time; and 2) when buying used vehicles you always need to factor in the time, money, and effort that may be required to find and fix any possible weirdness caused by a DPO.
Which has me wondering if we need to carry this concept over into the business world. How often do leaders come in excited to manage their new team only to discover that they need to clean up the mess, carnage, or general dysfunction left behind by the previous manager? How often are leaders blindsided by issues the previous manager created and then left behind to be mopped up by someone else? How often are leaders stuck with the legacy of the person they are replacing?
The previous leader may have been great or they might not have. There are many, many terrible managers in the world. Even those with the best of intentions don’t always do a good job. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are doing the best they can with what they have, but it’s worth acknowledging that the previous manager may have made mistakes. Might have done some things that don’t make sense to anyone else. Perhaps they were – I’m being generous here – an idiot.
Maybe we call them DPMs or IPMs (Idiot Previous Manager). As in, “Thanks to the IPM’s tyranny, no one on my team is willing to make a decision or even voice an opinion.” Or, “Because the IPM refused to hold anyone accountable, I’m stuck dealing with several people who should have been fired years ago.” Or, “The IPM ran this place like a fiefdom and it’s going to take months to rebuild relationships with other departments.”
Just like buying a used car that may have had an idiot owner in its past, it’s useful to recognize that the previous manager may have been an IPM and plan time, money, and effort to correct problems and issues they left behind.