When a manager turns untrustworthy it’s a notable event. I had just completed a very complex launch of an online community site and my boss was harping me about why we kept having trouble hitting our deadlines. This was on the morning of the successful launch, mind you, so I was confused, frustrated, and a bit worried.
Bad Manager Gone Worse
I was already prepared for my manager to play games. She’d demonstrated her tendency to assign a task to a team member and then go off and do the task herself. That’s more than micromanagement, that’s subterfuge. I already had a few examples of bad behavior, but no lies. Yet.
I was about to leave for Spring Break, my first vacation since accepting this job 8 months earlier. So I wanted to smooth things over with my manager before I left. I didn’t understand her criticism. The launch had been challenged, but primarily from a vendor’s inability to enable our full feature set on schedule. My boss had been in a few of the meetings as this vendor was missing milestones constantly. I didn’t know what was wrong with the vendor or my boss’s behavior.
I tried communicating with my manager via Slack, but those usually don’t go well. We had a 1 x 1 Zoom call that afternoon, so I was prepping her for my questions later. Her initial response surprised then angered me.
In our 1 x 1 a few hours later, I asked her point-blank,
“So what message does that ‘sigh’ give to me?”
Maybe I should’ve remembered previous lessons: you cannot win an argument with your boss. I spoke honestly. It was a heated meeting, but I felt like we’d established the FACT that the delay was caused by our vendor’s issues, and not some failure of leadership on my part. Or, obviously, her part.
I learned a core lesson about this manager in this one interaction. At the end of the Zoom call, I said, “HL, I’m sorry if my communications were not clear about this project. And I’m sorry I got emotional about your “always late” assertion.” I paused.
I might have hoped for a more sincere manager to say they were sorry as well. She looked at me through Zoom, said nothing, and looked away, probably at her email queue.
I let the silence last a tad too long and revealed my hand. “I will commit to doing better, and keep you more ‘in the loop.'”
My turn to “sigh” with my inside voice.
Getting off the call I pulled up LinkedIn and began updating my job accomplishments for this role.
Learning from a Bad Manager
A manager who has exhibited a tendency toward CYA rather than CYT is a liability. (CYT – cover your team) Resumes and job apps began to fly. I had a great spring break in New Mexico with my girlfriend and 20-year-old daughter. I didn’t worry about my job too much. I knew I was coming back to a tense relationship after the break.
In the end, it took me about three months to find my next “fit.” I am much happier under a manager who is less threatened. (Well, maybe, more on this later.) I don’t really wish my former “boss” well, but I don’t wish her harm either. Let #karma take care of things. It’s no longer my concern.
I really wanted to ask her, “What is your strategy for leadership?” We can guess at the answer. She hadn’t really thought about it that much. She sort of got promoted up into a team manager. Her skills were developed by leading a band of call center support newbies. In my final act of anger, I wanted to send her a copy of my book about her (anonymously, of course) and a copy of a more important book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. She really needs to read that one.
I heard a koan about spite and anger the other day. “Holding on to anger is like running with a hot coal and hoping to throw it at your enemy. You are the one getting burned.”
Keep it classy out there San Diego.