Managing Your Manager

by Dino Londis

Managers come in all shapes, sizes and levels of
competence. What makes some of them insecure is anyone’s guess, but an
incompetent boss is dangerous. They’ve got your job in their hands.

Managing Your ManagerI’ve worked for some gifted managers and some true
nightmares. One was bi-polar, another a humorless zealot, another a paranoid
sneak. And this was all at the same company, one coming right on top of the

In your favorite bookstore or
library, you’ll find shelves of books for new managers, new techniques for old
managers, tips on handling difficult employees, turning management into
leadership, how to fire someone, and so on. But you’ll find few titles about
dealing with bad managers. The reason is simple: Managers hold all the cards.
We employees hold but one: We can leave. But how realistic is that?

War Stories

At the time I made the transition
from mail clerk to network administrator, my boss by her own admission was
bi-polar. When I was trying to make heads or tails of IT, and spent a slow afternoon
adding a user to NDS while trying not to break anything, or sticking an RJ11
jack into an RJ45 port wondering what the difference was, she said, "Get
to work. I know your type." The next day she either didn’t recall or
didn’t believe it anymore. Several times, she nearly fired me on a whim. When
she left the firm, she was literally screaming and crying.

Her replacement trusted me until I
fell ill for a month. Like her predecessor, she needed daily nurturing. That is
I had to check in each day to make sure things were okay and nothing was festering.
When I was sick, she turned on me. The IT integrators – the guys who I replaced
when I took the position – returned to point out every mistake I made.  From then on she made my life miserable,
until I quit. 

When my new boss at a top-ten law
firm took me out, he said, "Don’t tell the others I took you to lunch."
That should have told me everything. He told me I’d been hired to improve our
group’s customer service by setting an example. When I tried this, it turned my
colleagues against me. When I turned to my boss for support, he balked.

I spent eleven months working
harder, but getting more isolated. I responded to accusations with what I
thought was professional silence, letting my work product prove my value. I
thought that as long as I worked hard, management would have no reason to fire
me. I found out that hard way that wasn’t true. My manager sent HR an e-mail
asking for my termination – but accidentally bcc’d me.   

At that point, I went over his head
to HR to say I could no longer work in such conditions. I chose the date I
wanted to leave, offering a two month window. That’s a long time, but I knew HR
would rather see me depart on my own terms than dismiss me and risk litigation.
That was my only smart move in eleven months on that job. Had I engaged like
that earlier, I would have stood a better chance.

Lessons Learned

And that’s what I do now. When
pushed, I push back. I call it being sticky. Surviving in the workplace has as
much to do with personalities as the work. Because I thought I didn’t need to
respond, I was easy to push out because I was easy to push around. In that
first firm, I was scrambling to meet every whimsical demand by my manager,
putting out real or imagined fires.

Today, I am in a much more stable
environment, but I still apply the lessons I’ve learned. I document each
conversation, phone call, and e-mail. Just the bullets, no emotion. I can’t
emphasize this enough. It works for so many aspects of what I do in a day. I don’t
cut and paste from e-mail. Typing the materials forces me to remember the
details I would otherwise forget. It also creates a detailed timeline in case
my actions are called into question. I not only know when something was done,
but the mindset leading up to the decision. 
So I can push back with accurate and winning information.

In my free moments, I review the
document for technical information, so that can be on the tip of my tongue. And
if I can’t remember something, I know right where to look.

Yes, it’s a lot of work, and it adds
a great deal of overhead to my day. But like anything proactive, it prevents
small fires from flaring out of control.

Dino Londis is an applications management engineer in New York.

14 Responses to “Managing Your Manager”

  1. Guys remember women are wives of men who need the income to survive. Some women don’t behave like these women on the job and don’t take jobs they know nothing about just to “fill a quota”.
    I just got fired by a man who knew nothing about web marketing or web development. I know about both and have for the last 15 years.
    The male boss saw fit to hire a man half my age with a third of my experience because HE WAS INTIMIDATED BY ME.
    This economic knife cuts both ways so it would be good not to blame the sexes for our troubles…

    Opinions are like assholes. Everyone has them. And bosses that are assholes come in all sexes.

  2. I am dismayed by this male/female discussion. I am a woman who worked in IT in a very sexist corporation, so my experiences might not be the norm. But I know that statistically, women get paid 70% of what men get paid for the same job, and that women do not get promoted as quickly as men. I wish that men would own up to the reality that they benefit greatly from a sexist environment and act in ways that will move all people towards equality. And I wish that women who discuss this issue would set their anger aside and refute from swearing or using unsavory metaphors because it is a turn-off and does nothing to further a woman¿s cause.

  3. Brent Wise

    we got sidetracked on the sex thing. that is not the issue. I had an issue with a team leader, no need to say what sex. they rode me until I got the heart to tell them that they had more important things to do than be concerned over what had been designated to me. That first step was hard yet helpful. I immediately gained favor with the more experienced people the engineers, and they would come to me and bypass talking to the team leader. I just chose to be more professional. In another job there was the good guy club and if you weren’t in it then you couldn’t do anything right. I have yet to figure what to do, other than document tasks which are assigned to me.

  4. Joseph Sherlock

    When you document a conversation, what do you do with these remarks? Do you also send your manager an e-mail description of your understanding of his or her instruction to you?

  5. I was recently pushed out of a job by an extremely manipulative, controlling, deceitful and disreputable manager, known throughout the company for being that way, hated by several. HR has gotten earfuls about her in recent years, but does nothing to “fix” it. Upper management keeps her there because she can run roughshod over anyone who gets in their way, thereby eliminating THEIR credibility (and showing their lack of a spine). I’ve seen several former colleagues also get pushed out by her, or leave voluntarily because of her. As a result, I now have a very low opinion of that company in general. I don’t think all the documenting in the world would have changed things in this case. But for “normal” situations, your advice is good, even if for no other reason than to get it off your mind so you can peacefully get on with your work.

  6. Time Magazine’s Special Report in the Oct. 26, 2009 issue reports the rise of American Women since 1972. However, it has been at the expense of qualified and competent men who were short-changed to make room for women.

    The managers whether female or male generally felt threatened by qualified men under them due to their own job insecurity. If the men can be disposed-off, it will be very easy to replaced them by females, whether qualified or not, as long as the % of females
    kept increasing.

    Taking a real example : inspite of having a Post Graduate degree in Engineering from UCLA, a male engineer wound up reporting to female managers of an engineering department who had humanities degrees in Political Science, English, or Sociology!

  7. Suffering_Intellect

    I think I will not agree that women get paid 70% of what men get paid for the same job or higher one. Aligning to the same discussion about women workers, I have my own example. Fortunately or unfortunately, I had been surrounded by women bosses – from my company and from my customer side. And guess what, I never needed any of their value-add to fulfil my tasks from the last few years. They take almost twice the pay-package of what I am. I have awards, certifications, real accumen for my job , have done white-papers. But, I am working on a job on which I see guys of half my experience or the ones of average type works. I am still measured with those guys. If I had ever sounded like a guy with 15 yrs of expertise in my area and tried to prove my fact ( from my expertise and expereince), I have been counted on the list of ‘bad attitude’ or egoistic folk.

  8. Being successful at work has everything to with politics. You can get around education, experience, and even quality if you know the right people and play the networking game accordingly. With the shortage of jobs right now it is more evident than ever. Extremely qualified candidates are losing the battle for jobs to “politicians”.

  9. Patrick Bolino

    There are no limits on the assholedness of either men or women. Aerospace is a their cauldron. Up from the line to QAEngr, then Audit then Supervisor , Prdctn QA Test line, covered systems and clean room test, Enviromental Test, vendors and more. What counted least was my work, what counted most was My (female) Manager, who parroted the front office and took credit for everything, no support just crap. When the company was sold to a radar group, the older, ie:me and my coworkers, group that did the grunt for the politicos ALL got laid off, and it was “sorry we don’t have any work for you! Make no friends with Managers, keep it straight ahead, chart the tides of politics and get out early when you’re secure in what you do. Find a younger company if you can, take the reduction in pay and do all over it again, because That, is the american way. P.S. , Its no better the second time around. Take Care

  10. If you never saw your boss, and only got your instructions via email, could you tell the gender of your boss? I completed my degree online and never saw my classmates; I only read what they posted in the forum. Gender and manager came up as an issue, much like it has here and if I took the names and transposed male and female, the comments looked just as valid from each. In other words, I don’t think gender has anything to do with it.

  11. Joseph,

    I keep those for myself. My gut feeling in email my manager would be confrontational. I could see it appropriate in some circumstances, but I’d just as soon as clear it up with a phonecall and just quickly document the call for myself.

  12. I recently was terminated by a power hungry manager who was NOT my supervisor but wanted me to report to him on a daily basis….yet I covered two states and had a VP in the other state who never cared where I was…he was HAPPY with my work…My own boss had no backbone and gave into pressure…and terminated me on a lie….I have the EEOC involved (as it was retaliation for a racial complaint I filed with the company against said power hungry manager…and I am white btw for those wondering) I have had some great bosses and then some real asses..and the assholes just seem to keep climbing no matter how bad they do!! we wonder WHAT is wrong with the American economy??? I can tell you….but most managers wont agree with it (wonder why!)

  13. I can identify with the second post by Dora and I agree that gender is misplaced in the discussion. Check your gender biases at the door. My direct manager was female and the best. The hiring manager for my practice was spectacular. However, I had a PM that is surely the poster child for adult autism. I nicknamed her Purple. She earned the name for the incoherent and disjointed assignments, instruction, and expectations that she distributed. Like Dora, this PM had burned through analyst to the number of 4 in about 7 years. Absolutely nobody wanted to work with this PM. Throwing associates under the bus was company past time so the culture was an aggregate of guttless wonders who felt powerless. Powerless because this PM had been with the firm for 20 years and on a specific client for nearly half of that time. We are all rational people with a critical thinking mindset. I could not understand why the firm would continuously invest in new hires versus removing this PM. The answer was that this PM managed and had nurtured a relationship with the largest revenue yielding client in the region. CHA CHING! A good friend that had a similar experience introduced me to the term Toxic Management. I then researched and purchased a book by a Standford professor titled “The No Azzhole Rule” and another book titled,”Coping with Toxic Managers, Subordinates . . . and other difficult people” The first is more focused on building an organizational structure and eliminating these toxic people. The second book identifies characteristics of the toxic people and what makes them tick in an effort to survive the hostile environment that they create. I have learned that these impressive organizations are not interested in models of efficiencies or equitable resolutions. Instead they are only interested in people who will continue to perpetuate the status quo. The perception that everything is okay, if not then it must be you. It’s in everyone’s interest to identify these toxic people sooner than later and expend some effort in learning how to navigate them well. These toxic people are everywhere in every level of every organization. When interviewing, is your responsibility to ferret out through research and questioning those keys and characteristics of the company culture and role that might place you directly in the cross hairs of a toxic manager in a toxic manager nurturing organization.