advice/perspective on jobs, work and management

My manager drives me nuts

I work for a small biotech company. For the most part, my manager is fine. He leaves me alone to do my work, and is generally supportive. But some days he drives me nuts! Thoughts?  – Name withheld

According to The Gallup Organization, only one in 10 human beings has the “God-given talent” to manage a team of people. They furthermore estimate that an alarming 82% of all managers have been “miscast” in the role.[1]

So consider yourself lucky. That you like your manager at all suggests you’re one of the fortunate few.

Nevertheless, I understand your frustration. Most managers can be tough to work for, even when they’re at their best. That’s not to excuse their shortcomings, though. Nor is it meant to suggest they can’t improve – perhaps even dramatically. Gallup might claim the capacity to manage well is something you’re either born with or not, but in my opinion the inept are not beyond salvation.

Instead, the problem seems to be more fundamental than that.

You see, your manager probably sees himself as being “in charge.” He’s the boss, in other words – which means he does the telling, while everyone else does the listening. What to do, how to do it, and by when – that’s for him to decide, not you. And sure – while he may be willing to leave you well enough alone most of the time, should push come to shove and the two of you disagree on something, obviously it’s his opinion that rules the day, not yours. That arrangement probably make sense to him (and you too), and might seem absolutely necessary if your organization is have even a chance of succeeding.

Unfortunately, however, there isn’t a shred of evidence to back that assumption up.

In fact, according to the best available evidence, just the opposite. Managers are more effective when they behave as if their employees are in charge of them, not the other way around. I’ll say that again:

Managers are more effective–and their organizations are more profitable–when they view their role as one of support, not control.

So when you say your manager is supportive, and suggest you appreciate this, research by Google, Gallup, Harvard, and studies associated with the Wharton school all demonstrate that’s how a manager should behave.[2] And the logic isn’t hard to follow:

(1) Engaged employees are more productive than their less motivated counterparts; by some measures, up to 40 percent more [3].

(2) This level of engagement gives the businesses they work for an advantage over their rivals in a competitive marketplace.

(3) The best way to achieve these hoped for levels of enthusiasm is to support your employees, and give them the things they need to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

Or, as one study sums it up:

Companies profit when managers give employees what they want.[4]

So be patient with your manager. After all, it’s not really his fault.

How is he supposed to know the one thing he thinks he knows about managing is wrong?



[1] The Gallup Organization. The State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders. 2015. 

[2] The Google study, “Project Oxygen,” is available as a free download at the company’s website. Also: Wagner, R. & Harter, J. 12, The Elements of Great Managing, (New York: Gallup Press) 2006; Hill, L. Becoming a Manager, (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press) 2003; Sirota, D., Mischkind, L. A. & Meltzer, M. I. The Enthusiastic Employee, (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing) 2005.

[3] Pfeffer, J. The Human Equation, (Boston: Harvard Business School) 1998.

[4] Sirota, et. al.

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