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Malignant Manager?

by Joan Tabb in Blog

Time and again I have clients come to see me in a bad spot. They have major problems with their manager. And when did it start? Typically it started soon after the reporting relationship began. Sometimes it was a ‘bait and switch’ where they were hired by one person and moved to work with another. Sometimes it was a result of a re-org. Sometimes they just thought it was going to work well but as they got to know their new manager, in short order, they realized it was not a good situation.

And most frequently, as we analyze the situation, we see that from the start, it was a bad fit. The manager made comments like, “You know, Tom, you have a mind like a steel trap and I don’t know how comfortable I am with that.” or “Sue, I can see that you’re not very good with taking direction.” Or, “Pete, maybe that kind of thing worked well at your former company, but it does not work well here!”
There are myriad signs and indications, typically within the first 30 – 60 days that it might be the manager from ‘h-ll’ for you.

And my advice, based on many, many client experiences is GET OUT AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!

If it is going downhill fast, right from the start, it probably will not improve. It’s just the way it is. Once in a while there can be some compromise and meeting of minds and perhaps temporary fixes, but in the long run, it is not going to bode well for you…the manager has the power and you don’t.

My advice is to get out. First, look for openings  in your organization, and more specifically, with managers and teams you’ve gotten to know that work well with your style and welcome your capabilities. If you don’t know of such groups, start doing some active networking. Schedule lunches or coffees with some peer level people and gently probe to find out what the managers are like to work for. Ask questions like: “Is Mike more of a hands-on or hands-off manager? Does the team enjoy his leadership style? Do people seem to get promoted from his group? Does he encourage teamwork or growth…?” or whatever other questions you can use to determine a possible good fit. And once you have identified some openings, really work on developing questions that might give you more insight into the prospective hiring manager. And yes, consider the information and perspectives others provide, but take the time and focused attention to get to know that prospective manager to see if there is good chemistry and a good fit. Many times these things are very, very personal and not on the ‘resume or bio level’—it is the stuff of chemistry. And what works for one person with a manager, might not work for you. Yes, sometimes it is very, very personal.

Just as when you are a job candidate you are often asked behavioral questions about how you would approach a certain situation, ask those kind of questions to your prospective manager:
“Jane, if you were to assign a three-month project, how often and in what ways would you want me to communicate with you? OR Jane, please tell me about how you like to structure development plans and how you balance the current workload with opportunities to stretch and grow toward a promotion?” You will learn a lot from these kind of questions and how they are answered. Take the time to formulate ones that really meet your needs to know and give you a chance to get to deeper levels of understanding with prospective manager.

If you have let too much time pass and the relationship with your manager is very bad and they might even be maligning your reputation, then seriously consider looking outside the company. The manager might want you to leave as much as you want to move on. If you are interviewing outside the company you might want to even let the manager know that there will be a parting of the ways (and he/she might in fact, be relieved) and ask them how they feel about serving as a reference— if things haven’t gotten too bad, they might not thwart your efforts to move forward. Another good place to look for new employment is with professional associations in your field. In my experience they are the most under-utilized resource for career growth, development and new employment opportunities. Just google the name of your industry/field and your geographic area such as ‘mechanical engineers, atlanta” and you will find at least one professional group and typically, if you are near a major city, several. Take time to peruse their web sites and look for upcoming events where you can meet people LIVE…then network like crazy and offer to volunteer to gain visibility.

Almost everyone, during a long career, will encounter the ‘malignant manager’ or the potential one. Be alert when you interview and do not let the glow of the company or job get in the way of blinding you to signs of a terrible manager. And of course, to avoid the situation altogether if one sees signs of it becoming a bad boss and knows to avoid the situation even if the company and opportunity seem super, but if you get on board and discover that it is really not going to work, then face the reality and move on.