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 of every 10 human beings has the ‘God-given’ talent to manage a team of people. They also estimate 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 among 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. Gallup might claim that the capacity to manage, and manage well, is something you’re either born with or not, but I would argue otherwise. Inept or bad managers are not beyond salvation. Instead, the problem is likely 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 do 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 alone most of the time, 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 arrangement would appear 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 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 logic isn’t at all 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 a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Getting the hoped for levels of enthusiasm from your employees is, in the end, easy enough as well: Listen to, support your employees, and give them the things they need to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

Or, as one of those studies sums it up, companies profit when managers ‘give employees what they want.’[4]

So don’t be too hard on your manager. It’s not really his fault.

How is he to know that 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, termed ‘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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