Reflections on the Wise Words of Cartman


Last summer a friend of mine from work laminated this for me. It sits behind my office desk now, and I try to look at it everyday. It’s been nearly a decade since I watched South Park. (I have less of a stomach for raunchiness now.) But the episode from which this quotation was taken has stuck with me. Cartman decides he will take it upon himself to enforce traffic laws, and when he feels people are not showing him proper deference, he starts hitting them in the shins with his nightstick.

Why do I keep this poster by my desk? To remind me of this…

If you demand respect, it means you do not have it.

I try to keep that in mind when I supervise people. “My job,” I say, “is to help you do your job as well as I possibly can.” I ask for feedback to help me do that. I like to ask the question, “What is one thing I could do more of that would help you do your job well?” If I think they are comfortable enough to be frank with me, I might ask, “What is one thing I could do less of…?” Or sometimes I will ask them to rank-order particular interactions that have been helpful and/or frustrating. It is important to use adjectives in the question so that it forces some kind of response but also softens the blow, not for me but for the person who is maybe a bit skittish to give feedback to a supervisor. I am not asking you to say what I do “bad.” I am asking you to say what I could do “better.” You see how that works?

On the flipside, there are times when I have to interact with the more nightstick-wieldy type. (Who hasn’t?) In those situations, I find it helps to remember that they are really just kind of insecure. And also to imagine everything they say coming out with Cartman’s voice. That is probably the most helpful, actually. “Respect my authoritah!”

Let me know your own thoughts/tips in the comments. I am especially curious to hear from other leaders. How do you get candid feedback from those you supervise?


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