As usual the normal disclaimer applies: don’t take yourself to seriously. Relax
Where great managers can make a serious difference in many ways to both the success of a company and to the personal achievements of their employees the opposite also happens. Many types of managers exist. Dealing with or even controlling them, depending on whether you live above or under them is well documented. The aim of that is to get the best out of the resources and people available. The better the managers, the better this will work out. Perfection is not of this world and you won’t have the best possible manager for every possible position. That’s a given, just like they won’t have the best possible employee or consultant for every job or project. So there is no need to get emotional about it or expect perfection before calling something good. There is however one type, the bad manager, that should not be controlled. They should be dealt with in only one way which is termination. If that’s not possible you need to get as far away from them as possible. Mind you the latter is only an option if you’re a subordinate employee. If, as a boss you run away from bad subordinate manager than you really need to reconsider your career choices.
Me, Myself and I
A bad manager will never choose you over his or her own priorities, nor will they put the organizations needs first. The first is by definition. Don’t take it personal. The company does not exist for your needs. The second is more problematic as the organization’s needs are priority one. Let’s take a look their priorities in order of declining importance as determined by experience.
- Me, myself and I. This is normal and it applies to everyone. But there is more to this than just plain self-interest. People who are given or rise to power, have a strong tendency to put their own needs and interests above those of others. Your manager’s ambitions & agenda (professional, personal and financial) will always take precedence of any need you might have. They need to fill their treasury and the pressure to “live up to expectations” of their overlords is on.
- Reputation. Managers need to be seen & act as very reliable, trustworthy persons who can get results. With some luck they are. But we all know about “perception is reality”. This is true until you hit the ground after jumping of the 36 floor because you pretend you can fly. Whether a bad manager actually delivers anything is irrelevant as long as the perception is there. Office politics are part of the game and they don’t take prisoners. Your boss is going to be more prone to protect his or her reputation than to protect yours. That’s why managers get pissed off about even only a perceived loss of reputation. In the dog eat dog world they’ll even ruin your reputation if and when needed as they can’t be seen as the root cause of problems. They’ll blatantly steal your work and take credit for all that goes well in the same way. You’re an expendable asset and you should never forget it.
- Their superiors. This is both hierarchical and functional. It’s not only the fact that a lot of people feel the need to please others for whatever reason. It is also just self-interest (promotions, ego) and self-preservation. So realize that your managers will almost always choose to follow their bosses or the peers they fear or need in order to gain a stronger or more favorable position with them. Yes, they will do so even if it is bad for the company or organization. This holds a warning: if you’re a functional superior to your managers than you’re a threat and they might try to get rid of you.
- Customers. You can forget about being more important than the needs of the customers. Whether these are external or internal customers is irrelevant. Your managers job is to serve the need of the customers. Your managers will not get ahead if he doesn’t serve their needs.
- The team. Yes the team, the assets are more important than you. As long as managers can have the team do what needs to be done, they have a way of serving the above priorities, which are more important. In that respect the ability of a manager to keep the team running is paramount. They’ll feed the teams just enough to keep them alive, hopeful enough to carry on and will challenges them to keep them sharp. Keep ‘m mean, lean & hungry.
- You. Sure you have some skills they needs. If not they might keep you around just to add another FTE to the head count in order to proof the importance or the weight of their jobs. So he won’t kick you most of the time and will even throw you a bone every now and then. Good doggy. But you know that saying “People are our biggest asset?” It’s a lie, especially to them.
How to deal with this?
The above is always true in a lesser way for all individuals and as such also for managers. The big difference is that the balance has totally shifted to the dark side with really bad ones. In essence you have a couple of options. Grow a pair of balls and make sure you have some power as well, play the same game and get them terminated. If your upper management is worth their pay they might be way ahead of you and that will bet the end of it for you. If it has to come from the bottom realize that this is not easy. Terminating a manager from lower in the hierarchy always upsets the powers that be. To them such an event is highly disconcerting and visions of guillotines, tar, feathers and pitch forks pop up. Another option is to take evasive maneuvers. You could do so by moving laterally or vertically in the organization out of harm’s way. Last but not least. Leave. Yes, that might not be fair on you and what you already accomplished at the company but life is not fair and is certainly too precious to put up with the above. In the end you must know your opponent and know yourself. Perhaps you can live with them and there are various ways of dealing with various types of managers, who all have their weaknesses and strengths. It’s a personal decision, but a real bad manager, that’s something you really can do without and shouldn’t tolerate ever, for your own health and well-being.