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 Effective Engineering e-Newsletter – 4/29/2004

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 6
  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 last (for now) in the “Mis-Manager” series (see also eN-040219, eN-040304, eN-040318, eN-040401, and eN-040415), 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, this one describes Mis-Manager characteristics, and concentrates on one specific attribute, rather than the mix of characteristics that will normally be the case.  Clearly every 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 such people are just one person’s view – mine.  Given the position of power that a Mis-Manager may occupy, think carefully about your best approach.

Quick Takes:
The Hands-Off Manager (HOM):
The Characteristics:  The Hands-Off Manager (HOM) basically ignores his/her employees.  The HOM does his/her thing, and the employees do theirs.  When an employee goes to his HOM for advice or guidance, that employee may hear bromides or clichés, but won’t hear anything meaningful; the HOM’s employees are basically on their own.  The HOM won’t stop employees from trying things (which can be a good thing, as employees need to stretch and try new things), but won’t help them or prevent them from making known mistakes.  The HOM basically treats his/her employees as “latchkey kids”.  The employees really have no leader or manager, no one to run interference when appropriate, and no one to back them up or support them when questions arise.  For the HOM’s employees, it’s learn as you go, and support yourselves.  This is not a healthy environment.
The Employee Approach:  Try meeting one-on-one with your HOM to see if you can explain your concerns and need for positive guidance, leadership, and management.  You may be able to turn things around.  Push to get your HOM involved in the activities of the group and to actively support the group’s efforts.  If this fails, seek out other managers who can provide guidance and/or convince the HOM to get more involved.  Let others know, delicately, that you’re getting no guidance or management.  If all else fails, try to transfer to a manager who cares; it’s your career!

The Wheeler/Dealer Manager (WDM):
The Characteristics:  The Wheeler/Dealer Manager (WDM) is always looking for the next big deal to propel him/her to bigger and better things.  The WDM uses his/her employees to promote this next big thing.  It generally doesn’t matter if this is tactical, strategic, or even off-track; if it can gain attention and make the WDM look good to his/her superiors, he/she will pursue it.  The WDM’s employees are usually critical to making this happen, but will often receive little or no credit or attention because the WDM wants all of the attention on himself/herself.  So employees end up being used, and sometimes abused, if their normal responsibilities suffer in order to do what the WDM insists that they do.
The Employee Approach:  You must determine whether you believe your WDM boss is a visionary or a user.  If the WDM’s ideas are good and in line with corporate tactics and/or strategies, and if your and others efforts are appreciated and rewarded, then it may be in your best interest to follow the WDM to, hopefully, greater glory.  If you believe him/her to be a user, then it probably makes sense to distance yourself to the degree possible.  You should talk to peers of the WDM and let them know what’s going on and seek their advice.  If you get nowhere, it may be time to look for a position elsewhere in the organization.
The Credit Taker/Thief Manager (CTTM):
The Characteristics:  To the Credit Taker/Thief Manager (CTTM), any good ideas are his/hers and not the employees.  Any bad ideas are the employees alone.  The CTTM is always on the lookout for anything that can make him/her look good, and for which he/she can take credit.  The CTTM generally keeps his/her employees from meetings with superiors because he/she wants to present all ideas, all progress, and anything positive as his/her own.  The CTTM will minimize the contributions of others, and maximize his/her own, or steal good contributions of others if it helps him/her look good.  The employees of the CTTM are used and abused to make him/her look good; they typically will receive no recognition or reward, and may even be punished to keep them down.  Life under a CTTM is miserable and intolerable.
The Employee Approach: 
If possible, you should try to talk to your CTTM and express your concerns.  If this goes nowhere, you should confront him/her and let him/her know you find this behavior unacceptable.  You should talk to peers of the CTTM and get their guidance.  If you still get nowhere, you should go over CTTM’s head and report what’s going on; you have little to lose if you’re being used anyway.  It may be necessary for you to leave CTTM’s group, or even the company, but you should recognize that you’re never going to advance with a CTTM taking credit for all of your contributions.

The A$$hole Manager (AM):
The Characteristics:  A$$holes exist at virtually every level of every organization.  They’re like weeds, and very difficult to eliminate, particularly as they acquire power in an organization.  A$$hole Managers (AM’s) often belittle those below them, and publicly embarrass subordinates and others.  They also make frequent out-of-place comments.  They typically praise people in private (if they praise people at all), and punish in public, exactly the opposite of the way it should be done.  They can be difficult to talk to and seldom listen.  As with the CTTM, life under an AM can be miserable and intolerable.
The Employee Approach:  First, try to talk directly to the AM and let him/her know that you don’t like and won’t accept A$$hole treatment.  If he/she backs off, then that’s good for everyone.  If he/she doesn’t back off and becomes even more of an A$$hole, talk with some of AM’s peers and get their guidance, or go over the AM’s head.  If none of this gets you anywhere, try to get out from under the AM.  Life is too short!

These are just four more of many Mis-Manager personality types that you will come across in engineering (and other) organizations.  The key is recognizing the various personality types as early as possible, and work to address the problems or opportunities that they may bring.  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.

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