Managing the Manager

Four people sitting around a modern glass table with white leather chairs, laptops open, talking

Why are so many managers so terrible at their jobs? I mean, really, let’s be honest, when you work for an excellent manager, it’s a relief, like the beating has stopped.

Part of it has to do with how they’re sometimes chosen. Perhaps you were also once under the misguided impression that working hard and being good at your job would lead to someone in power to notice your diligence and rewarding you with a promotion. I was naive about office politics at the start of my career.

Then I noticed who around me was getting promoted. More often than not it was the guy who went golfing with the boss. The woman who hung around the office talking shop. When you’re good at your job you can get overlooked. The boss decides to put their supervisory energy elsewhere because “this” is under control.

Now, let me be clear: I don’t feel overlooked or like I missed out on anything. I was never a good schmoozer and I’ll tell you without shame that I also wasn’t the best people manager when I first became one. (I was too soft and too serious!) But I took courses and asked for advice and really tried to improve. (Part of that meant ignoring the way my own managers managed me! I practiced the “George Costanza opposite” way of working long before Seinfeld made it a thing!) I forgave myself for my short-comings long ago. And now, the only person I manage is me and if I can’t figure out how to manage myself, I may as well crawl under a rock and stay there.

When all you have to do is open a browser and ask Google for advice, there’s no excuse for not knowing how to manage people. Legitimate complaints about managers too often don’t get taken seriously because of the aforementioned way some were hired. If you’ve put your golfing buddy in a managerial role, how awkward is it to tell him his skills aren’t up to par?

I once worked for a manager who was unable to make a decision, no matter how small. Another who delighted in telling tales-out-of-school about other employees, always leaving me wondering what he was telling them about me. Another’s open-door policy was to shut his door the minute he arrived and keep it that way all day, ignoring all who knocked.

If you have a great manager, let them know. They’re employees, too, and many are doing the best they can. They also need mentors and the smart ones find someone to coach them. I can think of a few great ones I’ve worked for and others I’ve heard are excellent. Julie Adam at Rogers comes to mind. Her staff respect and adore her. I’ll stop there before someone thinks I’m making a comprehensive list. The list would be short, believe me.

Brigette Hyacinth, a leadership expert I follow on Linked In, says people don’t leave jobs, they leave bad managers. (I wouldn’t want my last manager to think he’s the reason I left my job because he’s not!) They also leave toxic workplaces and companies where they don’t see room for advancement or growth. While executives and HR departments are busily writing codes of conduct and business mission statements, they’re also missing a fundamental part of the employee experience: what it’s like to work for their manager. It’s much more than processing paperwork and filing goals & objectives for the quarter. People skills need a higher priority. What’s it like to get direction from this supervisor? Are they consistent? Honest? Available? Apathetic? Skilled? Confident?! Willing to pitch in? These things matter.

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