Ed: This is Day #2 of the Deconstructing Manager’s piece. Day #1 might help you figure out what is going on here.
I am not going to explain what your manager does all day. Sorry.
I am going to hand you six critical questions that you need to answer in order to figure out if this guy is capable of looking out for #1 — you. Ideally, you’d be able to get answers to these questions before you took a new job, but you didn’t and now you’re working for a manager who isn’t speaking your language. These questions might give you insight into where he’s coming from.
Where does your manager come from?
I’m going to start and finish here because the pedigree of your manager determines not only how you should communicate, but also what to expect when the shit hits the fan.
Ironically, the second most common complaint from the Managers Are Not Evil entry was, “My manager has no idea what I do.”It’s good to know the problem goes both ways, no? There are a couple of possible causes for this situation. Your manager may not care what you are doing. It doesn’t mean the work you are doing is good or bad, it’s just not on his radar. Some folks find this arrangement of ignorance to be a cozy warm blanket. It’s a no fuss job. No awkward hallway conversation, just me and my code and… I’m what? I’m fired? Holy shit. Well, that’s the risk of having a covert job. No one knows your value which puts you first in line when it’s time to trim the workforce.
Another likely situation is that your manager doesn’t actually understand what you’re doing because he was never an engineer. I’m not talking about the prequalified disasters where some brainiac on senior staff decided it was a good idea to put the head of marketing in charge of engineering, I’m talking about the engineering managers who are hiding the fact they never really did much coding. Sure, they can talk the talk and they’re buzzword compliant, but what was their last programming assignment? What piece of code are they really proud of? Is their degree in computer science?
If you’re getting vague answers full of words that sound right, my guess is you’ve got a faker on your hands. I’m talking about someone has managed to wedge their way into position of engineering leadership on their chutzpuh and not their technical ability. You’re not automatically screwed in this scenario. A person who can convince the organization they’ve got leadership ability and hide the fact they haven’t a clue what a pointer is… has, well, moxie.
This person has spent their entire career wondering, “When are they going to figure me out?” This paranoia has give them solid information detection skills which can be useful to you and your organization. They know when the layoff is coming, they know how to talk to senior management, but they don’t know how to talk to you because you’re actively, passionately doing something they’re clueless about and they believe they have to maintain the appearance they know what they’re doing.
If this is your manager and you believe there is value in what they do, your job is to figure out how to speak their language. Maybe they snuck out of QA? Ok, then speak QA. Maybe they just never got around to that computer science degree? Ok, take the time to teach them about your work. I’m not talking teaching this guy C++, I’m talking 15 minutes at the whiteboard with flowcharts. THIS IS WHAT I DO and this is WHY IT MATTERS.
Your manager is your face to the rest of the organization. Right this second, someone you don’t know is saying something great about you because you took five minutes to pitch your boss on your work. Your manager did that. You gave him something to say.
Next: Figuring out manager flaws and speaking managementese.