A few years ago, in his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tackled the widespread American myth that successful people are self-made. “[They] are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies,” he writes, “that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot.”
The “hidden advantages,” can be chalked up to any number of factors — socioeconomic class, teachers, parents’ education level, country of birth, sex, race, and hundreds more — but I think one that is overlooked in the modern workforce, especially among the most ambitious among us: Your boss. A good boss can be a huge hidden advantage, while a bad one can hurt, even cripple your career.
Think back to some of your best managers, and how they impacted your progress and development. I imagine they did many of these types of things for you and your career:
· Created an environment that best positioned you to thrive
· Removed obstacles that you encountered along the way
· Mentored and developed your strengths along with your weaknesses (Career Coaching)
· A staunch advocate for you and your career advancement
· Provided honest and useful feedback
· Inspired you to push beyond what you thought was possible
Managers who consistently do the type of things listed above are the ones you should align yourself with. They will build you up and help you achieve your career objectives.
Bad managers, though, are career kryptonite. Unfortunately, most of us will likely end up working for a weak — or even aggressively bad — manager and may not know it at first. It happens because we are engrossed in our daily responsibilities, lack perspective due to being too close to the problem, or have no reference point/awareness of what we should expect from a manager. Let’s take a quick look at some of the more common archetypes of weak managers that you should be on the lookout for:
The Micro Manager — This is the manager who hovers over you constantly and wants to be overly involved in every tiny decision and element of your work. Checking in umpteen times a day for updates or wanting to be cc’d on every email not matter how insignificant are a couple of their “go to moves”. This lack of autonomy ends up being a large impediment to your overall effectiveness and frankly, is just exhausting to deal with.
The Glory Hog — This is the manager who takes credit for everything positive that is happening. After a big team success, even though they added little to no value, they are quick to swoop in and marginalize the credit given to others for their contributions. Glory Hogs are also typically quick to point fingers and pass blame if something goes wrong.
A Whole Lot of Sizzle, But Very Little Steak — This is the manager that talks a giant game about all they are doing, but actually contributes next to nothing to the overall success of the team and organization. Every word out of their mouth attempts to play up the role they played in the completion of daily activities and successes. The inefficiencies in the organization have allowed them to skate and climb up the ranks simply by being a blow hard. They are a close “cousin” to the Glory Hog.
The Politician — Have you ever had a manager or coworker that you had to choose your words very carefully around because you knew that they would likely twist them and ultimately find a way to use them to their personal advantage? Meet the Politician. This is the manager that spends the majority of their time angling for other positions, gossiping, slinging mud, and engaging in office politics. With every interaction they are trying to find an angle or something to exploit for their professional gain. It is extremely difficult to get things done or understand the ulterior motives when working with them.
Know It All — This manager accepts no input from anyone. Team meetings and discussions feel like a formality, because they use them solely as a means to demonstrate that they are smartest person in the room (which in most cases they are not). This manager is also unwilling to acknowledge their missteps.
The Pretender — This manager is under-qualified for the role. Chaos ensues around this manager as problems “boil over” because nothing gets handled properly. Their team pays a heavy price because of their ineptness.
The People Pleaser– This manager lacks the backbone necessary to lead. They have a hard time holding team members accountable because they are preoccupied with trying to be liked by everyone.
Ideally, you will be able to sniff out a bad manager before accepting a new role. During the interview process for a new role there are several things you can do to vet the quality of the manager and hopefully, avoid one of the weak ones outlined above.
Get to Know the Hiring Manager
When interviewing for a new position with the hiring manager ask questions to better understand:
· Their priorities and personal ambitions
· Their approach and philosophy to the professional development of their staff
· Ask for a couple examples of things they have done for former or current team members
· How your role would relate to them and the broader organizational initiatives
· Take note of how they describe the role and emphasize (or downplay) its importance
Observe the Manager
During the interview process with the hiring manager pay attention to the small things:
· How easy or difficult was it for the hiring manager to answer your questions?
· Did it seem like that was the first time the hiring manager had even contemplated the topic? If so, that is not a good sign.
· How does the manager treat the receptionist or any of the administrative staff that have helped with the hiring process?
· How attentive to you is the hiring manager during the interview process
· Do you get a good or bad gut feeling from the hiring manager?
Get to Know the Team and How They View the Manager
Try to meet with a couple of the hiring manager’s direct reports. Interview them on what it is like to work for the hiring manager and company:
· What is their favorite and least favorite thing about working for the company?
· What is their favorite and least favorite thing about working for this manager?
· How would you describe their management style?
· How does the manager engage his/her subordinates with professional development?
· Specifically, what has the manager done to help you achieve your objectives and advance your career?
When meeting team members pay attention to:
· How do they respond to your questions?
· Do they hesitate before answering?
· Does it seem like they are laboring to come up with the right words or the correct thing to say?
· Do they look around before talking?
· What did they not say when answering the questions?
· Avoidance — Did they answer a different question?
· Do they look genuinely happy to be there and meet with you?
· How they interact with other team members/colleagues
· How they interact with the manager
· How the manager interacts with them
Vetting a manager or a career opportunity is not an exact science, but these questions and observations can help reduce the risk of working under a weak manager. Bad managers make your job more difficult than it already is. If you find yourself working for one, there’s only one thing to do: Run! Nothing is more detrimental to your career prospects (and sanity) than continuing to work
under their direction.