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 Effective Engineering e-Newsletter – 4/1/2004

This is your bi-weekly e-Newsletter from Effective Engineering Consulting Services (www.effectiveeng.com).  If you would like to receive Effective Engineering e-newsletters as they are published, please send an email to e-newsletter@effectiveeng.com, and we will add you to our distribution list.  Comments and suggestions are welcome and encouraged!


Mis-Managers: Employee Challenges 4
By Tom Dennis – President, Effective Engineering [tdennis@effectiveeng.com]

In my recent e-Newsletter, eN-040205 – Mis-Managers: How Bad Managers Can Poison the Well, I raised the issue of Mis-Managers and the damage they can cause to not only their direct reports, but to the organization as a whole.  I also discussed how such Mis-Managers typically got promoted into their positions and “reached their level of incompetence”.  This e-Newsletter is the fourth in the “Mis-Manager” series (see also eN-040219, eN-040304, and eN-040318) that describes some specific Mis-Manager personality types, the ways they create problems, and some suggestions as to how employees can attempt to survive, and hopefully prosper, with such Mis-Managers.  The challenge of effectively dealing with Mis-Managers can be daunting, as they typically determine (or significantly influence) their employees’ futures.  As with my Herding Cats series, (see eN-031106, eN-031120, eN-031204, eN-031218, eN-040108, eN-040122), which discuss Engineer personality types, I purposefully describe characteristics that are more extreme, and that concentrate on one specific attribute, than will normally be the case.  Clearly every Manager (and Mis-Manager) is an individual with characteristics that are unique, and most have a variety of personality characteristics.  Every situation is also unique and should be treated in a unique fashion.  The suggestions I make for approaching a Mis-Manager are just one person’s view – mine.  Given the position of power that a Mis-Manager may occupy, think carefully about your best approach.

The Power Tripper (PT):
The Challenge:  For the Power Tripper (PT), it’s all about acquiring power.  The PT does whatever is necessary to build and grow a base of power, and will eliminate any obstacles and step on any people (subordinates, peers, and superiors), that stand in the way.  The PT believes that he/she is the best, and that if you can’t recognize this “fact”, then it’s your problem.  Any individual or group is insignificant to the PT, except to the extent that person or group can be used  (and then usually discarded) to help achieve the PT’s goals on the march to the top.  If your boss is a PT, don’t expect to be valued, respected, or appreciated.  In any clash of ideas, the PT will fight any opponent “to the death” to win, not because his/her idea is the best, but because if his/her idea doesn’t “win”, the PT may be perceived as losing power.  If the PTloses” in such a clash, he/she will often move to discredit or disgrace his/her “opponent”, because doing so takes the luster of victory off of the “opponent”, and may help the PT to retain power.  There is usually no logical reasoning with a PT, because it’s not about logic, it’s about power.  Working for a PT can be a demeaning experience.

The Employee Approach:  Some employees may feel that they have something to offer the PT, and may try to “ride the wave” of power with the PT.  If they calculate correctly, they may indeed move up with the PT, at least until the PT determines such employees are no longer needed.  If they calculate incorrectly, they may do their own careers irreparable harm that may be difficult or impossible to recover from.  Employees need to think through such an approach thoroughly (although they generally don’t).  Some other employees don’t recognize a PT, and may end up used and abused.  They should consider this a valuable life lesson (see eN-030605 – Learn from Good Role Models; Learn More from Bad!).  Yet other employees will recognize a PT and decide that they don’t want to play the PT’s games.  They will typically try to steer clear of the wake of the PT, and avoid, as best they can, getting drawn into the PT’s drama.  Other employees may consciously decide to become an “opponent”.  As long as they recognize the “fight to the death” that they’re getting into, this may be a viable approach.  Another option may be to try to move to another, less stressful and less politically motivated manager.

The Turf Builder (TB):
The Challenge:  In some ways the Turf Builder (TB) is similar to the Power Tripper (PT), but they’re not really the same.  Where the PT is always working to move up in the organization and acquire more power, the TB concentrates on building up his/her turf, in terms of more people, more space, more equipment, more everything.  A TB may well be content with his/her position or title in the organization, and may not care about moving up organizationally, but a TB will care greatly about anything that relates to his/her turf.  For a TB, all battles are about the impact on his/her turf.  If an outcome increases turf, it’s good; if it decreases turf, it’s bad.  It’s not about what’s best for the company, but what’s best for the TB’s turf.  The people under a TB are really the serfs of his/her realm.  A reasonable analogy is to “The Borg” from the TV series Star Trek.  Anything that poses a threat must be assimilated.  A benign TB may actually be acceptable or even desirable as a Mis-Manager, as he/she may let his/her people work comfortably, productively, and effectively, as long as they remain part of his/her turf.  But if a TB is not benign, or if a TB gets embroiled in a turf war, then working for one can become a nightmare, where his/her people will be expected to justify why they must remain under the TB, rather than concentrating on their actual work.  As employees never know when turf battles may erupt, their working life is often unsettled.

The Employee Approach:  Employees reporting into a benign TB likely believe that their life is good, and that may well be the case.  As long as they are able to carry out productive and effective work, with little interference, then there’s little to be gained in the short-term from making waves.  Employees who get pulled into turf battles, however, are beset with a host of dilemmas.  They have to carry out their work as productively and effectively as possible, but they are likely being pulled into some of the TB’s battles where they are expected to carry out the TB’s commands.  At times these commands may be contrary to what’s best for the company, and the employee is faced with difficult ethical decisions.  Some may take the easy way out, and simply carry out the TB’s commands regardless of the consequences to the company.  If the TB wins this battle, these employees may be rewarded, but if the TB loses this battle, these employees may well suffer along with the TB.  Others may elect to put the needs of the company first, but then will likely face the wrath of the TB, now and into the future, or may be recognized and rewarded for favoring the company’s interests above those of any individual.  It is the individual employee’s choice to make, although one who favors private interests over corporate interests will not likely have a long future in the company.

These are just two more of many Mis-Manager personality types that you will come across in engineering (and other) organizations.  I’ll get into more in subsequent e-Newsletters.  The negative impact of Mis-Managers on companies cannot be overstated.  The key is to recognize the various personality types and to approach them in the most effective way to help both groups and their Mis-Managers.  Employees must recognize that Mis-Managers hold positions of direct authority over them, and so must approach them carefully.  They must walk a fine line and find what works best for them.  Their work environment, and future, may depend upon it.

[Note: Please let me know if there are Mis-Manager personality types you’d like spotlighted.  I’ll do my best to accommodate you.]

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