Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mis-Managers 7: Hands-Off, Wheeler-Dealer, Credit Taker/Thief & A$$hole

In a recent blog post, Mis-Managers: How Bad Managers Can Poison the Well, I raised the issue of Mis-Managers and the damage they can cause to not only their direct reports, but to the organization as a whole. I also discussed how such Mis-Managers typically got promoted into their positions and “reached their level of incompetence”. This blog post is the last (for now) in the Mis-Manager series (see also Mis-Managers 2: Janus & Old Yeller and Mis-Managers 3: Builder-Upper & Tearer-Downer, Mis-Managers 4: Micromanagers - People, Design &amp: ProcessMis-Managers 5: Power Tripper & Turf Builder, and Mis-Managers 6: Mentor, Tactician & Strategist), that describes some specific Mis-Manager personality types, the ways they create problems, and some suggestions as to how employees can attempt to survive, and hopefully prosper, with such Mis-Managers. The challenge of effectively dealing with Mis-Managers can be daunting, as they typically determine (or significantly influence) their employees’ futures.  As with my Herding Cats series, (see Herding Cats: The Art of "Managing" Knowledge WorkersHerding Cats 2: Problem Child & Elitist BastardHerding Cats 3: Boss Wannabe & Social ButterflyHerding Cats 4: "Wally" & Prima DonnaHerding Cats 5: Solid Citizen, Valued Expert & Rising Star, and Herding Cats 6: Complainer/Whiner, Eternal Optimist, Chesire Cat, Loner, Credit Taker/Thief & A$$hole), which discuss knowledge worker (see Knowledge Is Power!) personality types, this one describes Mis-Manager characteristics, and concentrates on one specific attribute, rather than the mix of characteristics that will normally be the case. Clearly every Mis-Manager is an individual with characteristics that are unique, and most have a variety of personality characteristics. Every situation is also unique and should be treated in a unique fashion. The suggestions I make for approaching such people are just one person’s view – mine. Given the position of power that a Mis-Manager may occupy, think carefully about your best approach.


The Hands-Off Manager:
The Characteristics:  The Hands-Off Manager basically ignores his/her employees. He/she does his/her thing, and the employees do theirs. When an employee goes to such a manager for advice or guidance, that employee may hear bromides or clich├ęs, but won’t hear anything meaningful; his/her employees are basically on their own. The Hands-Off Manager won’t stop employees from trying things (which can be a good thing, as employees need to stretch and try new things), but won’t help them or prevent them from making known mistakes. They basically treats their employees as “latchkey kids”. The employees really have no leader or manager, no one to run interference when appropriate, and no one to back them up or support them when questions arise. For the Hands-Off Manager’s employees, it’s learn as you go, and support yourselves. This is not a healthy environment.

The Employee Approach:  Try meeting one-on-one with your Hands-Off Manager to see if you can explain your concerns and need for positive guidance, leadership, and management. You may be able to turn things around. Push to get him/her involved in the activities of the group and to actively support the group’s efforts. If this fails, seek out other managers who can provide guidance and/or convince the Hands-Off Manager to get more involved. Let others know, delicately, that you’re getting no guidance or management. If all else fails, try to transfer to a manager who cares. It’s your career!


The Wheeler-Dealer Manager:
The Characteristics:  The Wheeler-Dealer Manager is always looking for the next big deal to propel him/her to bigger and better things. They uses their employees to promote this next big thing. It generally doesn’t matter if this is tactical, strategic, or even off-track; if it can gain attention and make them look good to their superiors, they will pursue it. Their employees are usually critical to making this happen, but will often receive little or no credit or attention because their manager wants all of the attention on themselves. So employees end up being used, and sometimes abused, if their normal responsibilities suffer in order to do what the Wheeler-Dealer Manager insists that they do.


The Employee Approach:  You must determine whether you believe your Wheeler-Dealer Manager is a visionary or a user. If their ideas are good and in line with corporate tactics and/or strategies, and if your and others' efforts are appreciated and rewarded, then it may be in your best interest to follow this manager to, hopefully, greater glory. If you believe them to be a user, then it probably makes sense to distance yourself to the degree possible. You should talk to peers of the Wheeler-Dealer Manager and let them know what’s going on and seek their advice. If you get nowhere, it may be time to look for a position elsewhere in the organization.


The Credit Taker/Thief Manager:
The Characteristics:  To the Credit Taker/Thief Manager, any good ideas are their's and not the employees. Any bad ideas are the employees alone. They are always on the lookout for anything that can make themselves look good, and for which they can take credit. They generally keep their employees from meetings with superiors because they wants to present all ideas, all progress, and anything positive as their own. They will minimize the contributions of others, and maximize their own, or steal good contributions of others if it helps them look good (see Stolen Credit - It's Not Just About Credit Cards!). Their employees are used and abused to make themselves look good; their employees typically will receive no recognition or reward, and may even be punished to keep them down. Life under a Credit Taker/Thief Manager is miserable and intolerable.


The Employee Approach:  If possible, you should try to talk to your Credit Taker/Thief Manager and express your concerns. If this goes nowhere, you should confront him/her and let him/her know you find this behavior unacceptable. You should talk to peers of the Credit Taker/Thief Manager and get their guidance. If you still get nowhere, you should go over this manager's head and report what’s going on; you have little to lose if you’re being used anyway. It may be necessary for you to leave this group, or even the company, but you should recognize that you’re never going to advance with a Credit Taker/Thief Manager taking credit for all of your contributions (see Know When To Fold 'em!, and When It's Time 'To Walk Away', Don't Turn Back!).


The A$$hole Manager:
The Characteristics:  Assholes exist at virtually every level of every organization. They’re like weeds, and very difficult to eliminate, particularly as they acquire power in an organization. A$$hole Managers often belittle those below them, and publicly embarrass subordinates and others. They also make frequent out-of-place comments. They typically praise people in private (if they praise people at all), and punish in public, exactly the opposite of the way it should be done. They can be difficult to talk to and seldom listen. As with the Credit Taker/Thief Manager, life under an A$$hole Manager can be miserable and intolerable (see Floggings Will Continue Until Morale Improves!).


The Employee Approach:  First, try to talk directly to the A$$hole Manager and let him/her know that you don’t like and won’t accept asshole treatment. If he/she backs off, then that’s good for everyone. If he/she doesn’t back off and becomes even more of an asshole, talk with some of his/her peers and get their guidance, or go over his/her head. If none of this gets you anywhere, try to get out from under the A$$hole Manager. Life is too short!


These are just four more of many Mis-Manager personality types that you will come across in knowledge worker-based (and other) organizations. The key is recognizing the various personality types as early as possible, and work to address the problems or opportunities that they may bring. Employees must recognize that Mis-Managers hold positions of direct authority over them, and so must approach them carefully. They must walk a fine line and find what works best for them.  Their work environment, and future, may depend upon it.


[Note: Please let me know if there are Mis-Manager personality types you’d like spotlighted.  I’ll do my best to accommodate you.]

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