Ed: Day #5 of the Deconstructing Managers week. Day #1 is where this whole piece begins.
Back at Netscape, Internet Explorer was threatening, but we were under the illusion the sky was not falling. We were merrily planning the next release of the browser under the assumption that Microsoft was going to somehow screw-up their browser. Besides, it wasn’t about the browser anymore, it was about owning the entire desktop. Yes, someone was actually suggesting the browser wasn’t an application, it was an OPERATING SYSTEM PEOPLE. The perception of unlimited money makes people stunningly stupid, by the way. Anyhow, of course, everyone at Netscape wanted to the be on the “next generation browser” project. We were just waiting for the execs to crown a director to run the effort.
When the promotion came and it was some engineering manager from an acquired company we’d never heard of, heads were scratched. Until that time, the core engineering team at Netscape was a private club. We’d expected one of our long time proven managers to the lead the effort. Nope, Mike the New Guy got it and, in a week, he went from no name to the hottest ticket on Middlefield Road.
What happened? Well, turns out the engineering managers were playing a lot of roller hockey and, while they played, Mike the New Guy was working it. He was chatting it up with the execs, getting to know the relevant players, pawns, and Free Electrons in the organization… Mike the New Guy was hungry… he was driven.. and after six months of incessantly demonstrating this hunger, the execs gave him the keys to executive wash room. Mike the New Guy was a made guy.
Just like delegation, the act of navigating politics in an organization is slippery. The difference between a manager who knows what’s going on in an organization and one who is a purely politically driven slimeball is thin. I would take either of those over some passive manager who lets the organization happen to him. Politically active managers are informed managers. They know when change is afoot and they know what action to take to best represent their organization in that change.
Of all the questions in this piece, understanding your manager’s place in the political food-chain is the trickiest because you’re often not in the meetings where he is interacting with his superiors. Those are the situations where you understand what their view is of him and; therefore, his organization. The next best gauge of your manger’s political clout is cross-functional meetings where his peers are present. How are they treating him? Is it a familiar conversation or are they getting to know him? Should they know him? If it’s his meeting, is he driving it? If it’s not his meeting, can he actively contribute?
The organization’s view of your manager is their view of you. I’m glad you’re a C++ rockstar, but the problem is, your manager is a passive non-communicator who doesn’t take the time to grok the political intrigue that is created by any large group of people. I see him as a non-factor and you’re living in the shadow of a non-factor.
Next: What to do when your manager loses his shit and the big finish.