Tuesday, June 30, 2009

ARGHHHHH! My new boss is 30-something with absolutely no leadership or management experience!

An email from a reader:


My new boss is 30-something with absolutely no leadership or management experience. We are a group of 10 field-based employees with backgrounds that range from brand new to the role all the way to PhD and everything in-between.
This woman is driving us all nuts with her knee-jerk reactions (project assistant sends an email reminder about time cards; then so does she. One team member sends her snail mail to boss's old address and the entire team has to re-send our CURRENT address for an "up-dated roster" and 3 emails about timelines.)

We are frequently 'blind-sided' by taking initiatives on our own....never knowing if we will be punished or praised.
This boss has favorites, but it's nice that they rotate without knowledge or reason....quietly wait for your turn to be in-her-good-light!

I hear little about my company goals, her goals or my goals. It is nose to the grind stone.

I LOVE WHAT I DO FOR WORK but hate the constant worry of one tiny slip up. I have to use my peers when I have a question or a problem as this woman can (knee-jerk) the wrong answer at 9 am and then rescind it at 3:20 pm!

I have gone to next layer of management with examples and asked for help. No obvious response from this except now all my emails are addressed by my given name, not my nickname.

Any ideas of how and old goat like me can get this problem dealt with? The team will not go above her seeing that I had little response and we all need jobs!

Thanks for your insight!

Reader, you’re not alone. Dealing with seemingly nutty bosses has been a part of work life since the dawn of time. I can empathize with your situation. It’s usually not the work that stresses us out or causes us to want to quit – it’s the manager and/or co-workers.

It sounds like to you your new manager is coming across as scatter-brained, inconsistent, playing favorites, and unpredictable, and to make matters worse, you’re getting no support from your boss’s manager.

Whenever I get these “help me my boss is driving me nuts” emails, I always try to take a look at the situation from both sides, although I never get the opportunity of hearing the other side directly. And quite frankly, given that my blog is a leadership & management blog, I may even give the manager more of a benefit of the doubt.
So my answers aren’t always what the reader wants to hear. In your case, however, it sounds like you have a legitimate gripe.

Here are a few options for you to consider:

1. Keep it in perspective, it could be worse.
Take a look at Stanley Bing’s Crazy Boss blog. It’s filled with horror stories from readers about crazy, narcissistic, and bully bosses that makes me want to laugh and then cry.

Here’s an example:
“My boss came into my department one day and was trying to get us to hurry an order that was to be picked up by the customer. The time frame from when the order was taken and the time they were picking it up was not even realistic. Nevertheless, we were working as fast as we could. But he just lost it and starting jumping up and down. He then laid on the floor on his back and started kicking his feet in the air like a bicycle and yelling, "just go, go, go, go."... His dad (the owner) was standing next to him and told him to get up off the floor and come outside for some conversation. He was about 34 years old at the time. I am glad there were two other witnesses in the room at the time, although I doubt his dad will ever admit it happened to anyone (which is part of the problem). This is one story of many.”

Misery loves company, and it might make you feel relatively better about yours.

2. We could outlaw bad bosses or turn to the government for a bailout.

3. Complain to your boss’s manager and/or HR

It’s sounds like you’ve already tried a version of this and it didn’t work. I’m not surprised; I’ve been there. I was once elected to take a sensitive issue to our manager in a meeting, and when I did and she overreacted, all of my peers all developed a sudden case of group laryngitis.

I’ve never been an advocate of taking issues over my manager’s head or to HR. In my experience, as an employee, manager, and HR manager, it has a higher potential to backfire and do more harm than good.

Although, not always. One of my best friend’s manager was driving him crazy and doing all sorts of abusive things to him. He asked me for advice. I told him to ride it out while he looks for another job, and not to go to HR. If he did, he’d probably be labeled a trouble maker and it wouldn’t serve him well in the long run. He wisely ignored my advice, went to HR, his manager was fired, and he was promoted.

OK, so it can work….but not usually.

4. Dear Lord, please grant me the serenity….
Yes, you could just cope, suffer in silence, lower your expectations, raise your tolerance level, etc… This is sometimes an OK strategy in the short term. I’ve been around a lot of bad bosses, and usually (not always), it catches up to them. Organizations generally in a Darwinian kind of way weed out incompetence.

5. Try to help your new manager be successful.
It looks like your manager is going the same painful learning curve most new managers go through. I think I made 50% of my managerial mistakes in the first year. Does your company offer any kind of training program for its new managers? Unfortunately, many don’t. If they did, they could speed up that learning curve, minimize those mistakes, and do us all a favor.
Even if she did go through training, she’s still going to make mistakes – its part of the learning process.
While I’m sure it’s been hard on you and your team, she doesn’t sound evil based on your description. She may have good intentions and just be tripping over herself. Given your experience, and perhaps informal leadership amongst your peers, have you tried helping her in a genuinely caring and constructive way? I know these are extremely tricky conversations to have, so I’d recommend reading the book Crucial Conversations in order to improve your chances of success.

5. When all else fails, leave.
I don’t like this option for you, because you love your job. But it’s a last resort – we all have choices when it comes to our jobs; no one’s a prisoner.

I hope this helps. Maybe a few of my readers may have a few more ideas for you, or want to disagree with mine.


Sarah T said...

Um, how about some sensitively delivered but direct feedback to the boss? Indicate an interest in her success, and also share the situations, actions and results that are causing her to lose credibility with the team. Find ways that she could regain that credibility, and help her achieve them. She probably knows that people aren't being straight with her and are walking on eggshells. Perhaps you can "coach up" and get somewhere.

Mike Henry Sr. said...

Actually, I'd take step 4 a bit further (and make it first). It IS your job to make your boss successful. Ask about her goals and ideals for the team. Ask what else you can be doing to make "the team" more successful. Ask, ask, ask. When receiving some critical feedback or some response that you think doesn't fit the situation, I would even telephone to ask why you got that feedback. Reach for the phone or ask to schedule face time. Then, act based on the answers. That's the best way I know to earn your boss's trust and get in a position where you can coach.

www.bretlsimmons.com said...

Your boss has yet to realize that it is HER job to make YOU successful. She will only thrive to the extent that you thrive. That is a tough lesson to learn, and many never get it. Do everything you can to help her understand this - it is going to take a lot of time and patience because obviously she has a different paradigm. Be patient, but be resolute. In the meantime, dust off that resume. Be VERY, VERY good at what you do. In the end, if you have to leave, you want them to realize they screwed up.

Wally Bock said...

Great job, Dan. I concur with all recommendations and add another. Years ago I worked with a police department who had a "reform chief." The chief was astoundingly popular with the media and the city government, but hated by the officers for a variety of reasons, mostly valid and some not. When I was done with my work and getting ready to leave, a sergeant came up to me and handed me a package.

It's not unusual to get a small thank-you gift when you train police sergeants, so I wasn't surprised. Over the years I've received things like a belt and a "made-in-the-basement-and sold from-the-pickup" Chris Ledoux tape and assorted plaques, so I wasn't surprised at a gift. I was surprised at his instructions that I was not to open the package until I was out of town.

I complied. I packed the gift away until I got home. Then I opened the card which said: "Thank for some great and practical ideas. We feel like you're one of us and we're all wearing these under our uniforms." The package contained a t-shirt with the words: "Outlast the bastard."

Mike Myatt said...

Hi Dan: The issue of young/inexperienced leaders is something that most people will have to deal with at some point in their careers. You might find a post I authored entitled "Young CEOs" to be of interest: http://www.n2growth.com/blog/young-ceos

Best Wishes,
Mike Myatt

Wally Bock said...

Congratulations! This post was selected as one of the five best independent business blog posts of the week in my Three Star Leadership Midweek Review of the Business Blogs.


Wally Bock

Dan McCarthy said...

Wow, this reader is greating some solid follow-up advice!
Tafe, Mike,bretlsimmons, Wally, Mike.... well done. Thanks.

And Wally, thanks for the fbibbpotw!

Alex said...

I like the fifth advice a lot. Through helping her become successful, you will also become successful. What's more, you will develop new skills that you've never had.