My manager drives me nuts

3 minute read

I work for a small biotech company. For the most part, my manager is fine. He pretty much 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 out of every 10 humans has the ‘God-given’ talent to manage a team of people. They also estimate an alarming 82% of all supervisors have been ‘miscast’ in the role.[1]

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

Still, I get your frustration. Most ‘bosses’ can be tough to work for, even the very best. That’s not to excuse their (mis)behavior, though. Nor is it meant to suggest they can’t improve – perhaps even dramatically. In other words, Gallup might claim that the capacity to manage, and manage well, is something you’re either born with or not, but I would disagree. Inept or otherwise bad managers are not beyond salvation. Their real problem, I’d argue, is even more fundamental than that:

Most managers struggle because the one thing they think they know about managing is wrong.

Here’s how your manager probably views his role: As manager, he’s ‘in charge.’ That means he does the telling, and you and everyone else who reports to him does the listening, then the doing. What to do, how to do it, and by when – that’s for him to decide, not you. And while he may be willing to leave you well enough alone on occasion, as you say, undoubtedly you both understand that should push come to shove and the two of you disagree on something, it’s his opinion that rules the day, not yours. That’s what being ‘the boss’ means, to him— and probably to you, too—and seemingly for good reason. This sort of understanding is would seem to be absolutely necessary if the business you work for is to have even a chance of succeeding.

Unfortunately, however, there isn’t a shred of evidence to back any of this up.

In fact, according to the best available evidence managers are more effective—and their organizations are more profitable—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 when they see their function as one of support, not power, control, or authority.

Research by Google, Gallup, Harvard, and a study associated with the Wharton school all demonstrate as much.[2] But the underlying logic isn’t hard to follow. Engaged or ‘enthusiastic’ employees are more productive than their less motivated counterparts (by some measures, as much as 40 percent more[3]). This gives the businesses they work for an advantage in a competitive marketplace. The key then is to get the hoped for levels of enthusiasm from your employees – and that’s best achieved by listening to, supporting, and giving them the things they need to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

Or, as one study bluntly puts it, managers are more effective when they ‘give employees what they want.’[4]

Needless to say, most managers don’t really see things this way. Again, your manager considers himself to be ‘in charge,’ and behaves accordingly. He wants to tell you what to do, because to him that feels more ‘managerial.’ And he’s likely bristle when you try to tell him what you want, or need, because he feels it’s not his place to listen. That might explain why the best thing you have to say about him is that he leaves you alone.

So don’t be too hard on your manager. If he drives you to distraction on occasion, it’s not really his fault.

I’m guessing nobody’s told him the one thing he thinks he knows about managing is wrong.

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

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

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

[4] Sirota, et. al.

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