Ed: This piece is long. Really long. Like 16 pages long. For the original publishing, I’ll be serializing this piece into six days of management deconstruction. Enjoy.
Back in February, I asked the question “Who is the worst person you worked for?” If you print out the responses in a smallish font, you end up with 27 pages full of some of the worst possible management situations. I’ve read those 27 pages several times and it’s now time to turn the tables and get inside the heads of these horrible managers to figure out what makes them tick.
Before I start, I’ve got one ground rule. You can’t be actively hating your manager when you read this. If you completely despise your manager right now, this article isn’t going to help you because you have lost your objectivity. If you’re halfway through this piece, yelling at your screen that RANDS YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND, HE TOTALLY SCREWED ME, I would suggest a couple walks around building before you finish with this article. A level head is required before we proceed.
There is evil
My background. I’ve worked at six different companies in the past 15 years. In those years, I’ve had 10 different jobs ranging from QA engineer to Director of Engineering. Similarly, I’ve worked for a variety managers from first line managers to CEOs. I’ve never worked outside of engineering, but, especially in the senior management roles, I’ve been exposed to the inner workings of the vastly different functional groups that make up a company.
I’ve seen a lot of varieties of organizational pride and panic. At both Borland and Netscape, I experienced the company vibe as it shifted from “We’re the Microsoft killer!” to “We’re screwed!”. At the start-up, I showed up as employee number 20 and it watched it grow to 250 employees before the Internet bust eroded the company to 50 folks wondering what to do with all the extra hardware.
These drastic shifts in organization perceptions showed me managers who were great at the pride part, but turned into jerks when the panic started. Likewise, new leaders and lessons showed up during the panic. Leaders who were quietly getting their work done during the pride.
In all of this, I can count the number of truly evil people I worked with on one hand. There are evil managers out there. I apologize, I lied. These are genuinely evil and mean people. There are less than you think, but they are out there and my only advice is, upon detection, to run away as quickly as possible.
Your Manager’s Job
A key frustration from the Managers Are Not Evil piece is the easiest to explain. You are frustrated because you’re busting your ass, but each time you walk by your boss’s offices he’s got his feet kicked up on the table, coffee in one hand, the other hand jumping hither’n'fro, and he’s talking to some guy you don’t know. How in the world could this be work?
Here’s the deal: Your manager’s job is not your job.
Ever had a meeting with a completely different part of your company? Maybe it’s engineering and facilities and you’re talking about getting additional space for your team. Your goal is clear, “I need more space”, but once the meeting kicks off, you realize that you and facilities are speaking a different language. It’s English, but the context is wildly different. Those facilities guys are rambling about lease agreements, safety codes, and scads of unfamiliar acronyms. In five minutes, it’s clear that you have no idea what they really do.
Before that meeting, if I asked you what the role of facilities was in your company, you would’ve scrunched your face and mumbled something about cube construction. I trust that, like me, you’re an optimist and you believe that everyone in your company is busily working on whatever they do. I also believe the fact that you don’t understand what they do automatically biases you. You believe that because you understand your job intimately, it is more important than anyone else’s.
In your head, you are king. It’s clear what you do; it’s clear what is expected of you. There is no person who rules you better than yourself because you know exactly what you’re about. Anyone outside of your head is a mystery because they are not you. In a social situation, it’s entertaining to figure out what another person is about, but in an employee/manager situation, there’s more at stake. Who is this guy who decides whether or not I get a raise? What’s he saying to my VP about me? Does he see me as a success or a failure? Who is that guy in his office anyway? WHAT DOES HE DO ALL DAY?
Next: Your manager wasn’t always a manager. Plus, Rands lies.