Effective Engineering e-Newsletter – 3/4/2004
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Mis-Managers: Employee Challenges 2
Tom Dennis – President, Effective Engineering [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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 third in the "Mis-Manager"
series (see also eN-040219 – Mis-Managers:
Employee Challenges 1) 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
As with my Herding Cats series of e-Newsletters (see eN-031106,
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
suggestions that 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 Builder-Upper (The B-U):
The Builder-Upper provides positive reinforcement using verbal
praise to help build up his/her employees.
This can be an excellent type of boss to have.
The employees learn what they are doing that is praiseworthy and can
use this as encouragement to do more and better work.
So far, so good.
However, when the B-U goes overboard, praising everything that
every employee does, and providing no feedback on what can be done to help the
employee grow and improve, this can have a negative effect.
Just as when everything is of the highest priority, nothing is really
of the highest priority, when every action every employee takes is
praiseworthy, no actions are really praiseworthy.
Further, where such praise really counts is in the actions the B-U
takes – what the B-U does ultimately means more than what he/she
the B-U rewards praise with actions (e.g. public recognition, more
challenging assignments, monetary or non-monetary awards, etc.), then the B-U
is putting his/her “money” where his/her mouth is.
If this doesn’t happen, then the praise may show itself to be empty.
The boss who follows through in some way on praise given, however
minor, will be rewarded with loyalty and strong performance.
The boss who is all praiseworthy talk with no action actually
undermines what he/she is trying to accomplish in giving praise – employees,
particularly engineers, will see right through it, and will not always give
the job their best.
The right kind of B-U can be a great boss!
The Employee Approach:
First, be grateful for having a boss who recognizes praiseworthy
Not all do, as is described below.
Thank your boss when you are praised, but, in private, go beyond simple
thanks to ask your boss what in your actions most prompted the praise, and
what you should continue doing to further improve.
Further, ask your boss what meaningful areas for improvement he/she
sees for you, and then act upon these.
By asking about both the positive and the not-so-positive, you help
yourself, by getting meaningful feedback on what to do and what not to do or
what to change.
Further, you help your boss, not only in helping to feel comfortable in
continuing to praise employees for work well done, but also to feel
comfortable giving critical, meaningful, and constructive feedback on what you
can do to further improve yourself.
You can help shape your boss from a good boss to a great boss, and both
of you will be better for it.
The Tearer (Terror?)-Downer (The T-D):
The Tearer-Downer is the opposite of the Builder-Upper.
The T-D provides negative reinforcement using verbal abuse on
his/her employees, and then wonders why the group isn’t performing well, or
why morale is bad.
Employees do everything wrong, and they will be publicly berated until
they start doing things right.
The T-D seems to operate under the motto, “Floggings will
continue until morale improves!”.
As an example, employees may work late into and through the night to
get a project done, but when they come in late the next day, the T-D
will angrily question why they’re late and demand that this never happen
again; the fact that they worked a lot of extra time, on their own volition,
is of no consequence or interest to the T-D.
As another example, an employee may devise a new and elegant way of
implementing something that is a significant improvement, but the T-D
will tear it down saying it took too long, or it’s not the way it has always
been done. Instead
of getting credit for creative work, the employee is punished.
Another motto of the T-D is, “No good deed goes unpunished!”.
Working life under a T-D can be a dismal existence.
The Employee Approach:
If the T-D is approachable, he/she should be approached, in
private, to let him/her know how destructive and demoralizing this negative
style really is.
An open boss will react positively to such a discussion and change
Unfortunately, few T-D’s really are approachable, and when you
try, you may likely receive even harsher invective.
In this case, first try to address the T-D’s concerns and
point out what you’re doing specifically to address them.
If you get even grudging acknowledgement from this, continue doing it
– there may yet be hope.
If continued attempts to satisfy the T-D continue to get you
nowhere, then talk to peers of the T-D with whom you have a good
relationship, and get their advice on how to best proceed.
You may want to talk to the T-D’s boss to let him/her know
what is going on, and the negative impact it’s having on you, your group,
and the company; but recognize that there is always some danger in going
around your own boss, and this could backfire.
If nothing seems to work to improve the situation, then you have a
choice to either seek a position under a different boss, or to seek a position
in another company.
Living forever under a harsh T-D is no way to live in the long
health and happiness are too important to sacrifice for such an ungrateful
These are just two 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
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: If you have a Mis-Manager personality type you would like to see
spotlighted, please let me know.
I will do my best to accommodate you.]
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