Do You Suffer from 'Thumbprint Management?'

It is only the leader's thumb pressing down firmly upon your head which counts for anything in their book.

However, here is where you can begin to have some fun. Never tell the boss that had he left you alone, you could have jumped five feet.  If that leader is that short-sighted as to ignore a subordinate’s potential, that is their loss.  Save the tall jump for the moment when it will benefit you, or someone you really trust and admire.  This is one of the primary secrets to surviving in a bureaucracy.  Find out just what people want.  Give it to them and be sure that they are aware that you gave them just what they wanted.  There are two positive points to this:

  1. It might keep you out of trouble.
  2. You will always be operating within your comfort zone.

The second step in our plan is to fill the system with a paper trail to keep the boss informed of all of the steps that we are taking.  Let them know that we are accomplishing every aspect of what they wish in the exact manner desired.

This is a somewhat longer version of the ancient Roman appellation: “We came; we saw; we conquered.”  It reads a bit more like this:

Dear Sir:

Day 1.  At your personnel request, we set sail on yesterday to perform your task.

Day 2. While sailing on the way to success today, we encountered some rough weather.  But we persevered and are on target for success.

Day 3. We are approaching the gate of the kingdom you wished us conquer.  We saw the enemy at this time.

Day 4. It being a holiday, we pitched camp and waited a day.

Day 5. As we approached the gate, the natives appeared unfriendly; so we sent for a friendliness consultant from headquarters.

Day 6.  We attacked, but were forced to stop at roll call time, for lack of the requisite overtime pay.

Day 7.  We attacked again.

Day 8. We think we have conquered, but being unfamiliar with the concept of conquest, we have requested a conquest consultant from headquarters.  We await his arrival.

Day 9.  The consultant says we have conquered, so I guess we have.  We will be back, as soon as weather and personnel conditions permit.

And so runs our journey on the seas of bureaucracy.  By operating in this way, you will keep the boss off your butt.  You will also offer him frequent opportunities to butt in.  Rest assured that your judgment will not be trusted and the guidance will be frequent, extraneous and off the mark.  But available it will be.

Does this seem a bit cynical to you?  Good, you are still paying attention.

Step three of our plan involves the use of a few simple words in a highly repetitive manner.  You may recognize them:

  1. Yes sir
  2. Yes sir
  3. Three bags full

It has long been my experience that a person's career will be filled with sadness and sorrow in those cases where they forgot these three sets of words.  Let me suggest that as you become more senior in your department you will find this advice to be true.  It will always play a part in this comedy-drama we call life.

My final rule is equally simple, just like all the rest.  Become a master at knowing the rules and regulations of your agency.  I have long liked to use the analogy that the rules must come to serve as the parameters of the ring of life, wherein all of your career’s boxing matches are held.  Think of them in the following way:

The world outside the rules
where all is evil and improper

The world within the rules where all
is right and proper

By remembering this as you spar your way through the boxing match of life, you will have the quality of right on your side.  It is tougher for the boss to have your kiester if you are cloaked in the robe of righteousness.  He or she may not like it, but the boss has to live with it.

So what is it that I have shared with you in this short missive?  Quite simply my friends, there are those supervisors within the fire service who have developed all the people skills ever used by Atilla the Hun.  And no matter what we say or do, that person will still be the boss.  However, I want to assure you that does not mean you cannot labor mightily to enjoy the period of your slavery.


  1. Always know what the boss wants and give it to them.
  2. Write about everything you do.
  3. Create a record of your journey through life.
  4. Cloak yourself in the righteousness of your motives
  5. Learn how to say, “Yes sir,” when your heart is filled with obscenities.
  6. Always operate within the rules and regulations.

We sure hope that you do not need to operate under this set of rules.  It can be tough, but it can also be the best way to make the most of a bad situation.  And remember, a little prayer will never hurt.