Keep Your Inner “Jack Donaghy” in Check

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 24, 2020

By John Baldoni

I want you to do what I want you to do when I want you to do it. And it will be good for you.

That is Alec Baldwin summing up the mindset of executive Jack Donaghy, the character he plays on NBC’s hit comedy show 30 Rock. As Baldwin explained on NPR’s Fresh Air, Donaghy is not arrogant; he is in a hurry and so he does not value take time to explain the reasons behind his directives. He just tells people what to do.

While the Donaghy character is comedic, there is a degree of logic behind his approach to management. Giving orders and expecting obedience is a manager’s prerogative but it does have limitations. Chiefly, it disempowers employees, turning them into order takers. While some employees actually enjoy being told exactly what to do, those employees who can think and do for themselves chafe under a boss who makes all the decisions for them.

Once upon a time managers were order givers, but over the past forty years management has evolved into more participative modes. Managers more often seek consensus in the hope that employees will be more engaged in their work, and to a large degree they are. Sometimes the desire for consensus leads managers to be less directive and in the process to become unfocused or wishy-washy, leaving themselves and their teams at a loss as to what to do next. What they need is a bit more of the Jack Donaghy approach. Here is how:

Set clear expectations. As expected as this may be, too many managers send mixed messages. They ask for one thing but expect another. For example, the manager may ask an employee to complete a task—say meet with a customer—and when the employee does so the manager wonders why he did not do three other things: engage with customer service, set up a meeting with other customers, and develop a prospective customer list along the way.

All of these are valid tasks but if they are not completed the manager is at fault for not giving specific directions. Yes, the employee must provide initiative but the manager must provide proper direction. The manager’s failure to provide clarity and consistency drives people batty. Managers need to be specific about the task. Employees can deliver on how to do the job better must be given direction and resources to succeed.

Keep everyone in the loop. Seldom does the status quo hold. Conditions change and so managers must be flexible, but too often they fail to communicate new priorities and tasks to employees so employees fall behind. They work on previous assignments rather than what the boss needs done now. This is not the employee’s fault; it is the responsibility of the boss to keep people up to speed.

Hold people accountable. This is the principle of good order, but too often an unfocused manager will let things slip so that things that supposed to get done do not get done. Projects slide. Reports go unwritten. Budgets are blown. And nothing gets done but it continues because the boss fails to hold individual and self accountable.

The operative concept in this style of management is control. Without it, systems and people are adrift. However,  too much of it drives capable people crazy. Therefore a manager must balance the inner Donaghy with a more facilitative approach, more like his opposite number at 30 Rock, Liz Lemon—caring, solicitous, and collaborative.

Management is a process of imposing order on chaos. The net result is control over systems and actions as well as guidance over people in ways promote their ability to contribute and collaborate to achieve intended results. At the same time, success will not occur unless management does its job.

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About the Author(s)

John Baldoni is president of Baldoni Consulting LLC, an executive coaching and leadership development firm. He is the author of many books, including Lead with Purpose: Giving Your Organization a Reason to Believe in Itself and his most recent, The Leader's Pocket Guide. For more information, visit: