Managing the Manager

Bill Lumbergh,played by Gary Cole in the epic film Office Space, is quite possibly the worst boss who has ever lived. He’s smarmy, he’s plastic, and  he’s oblivious to the feelings of the people who work with him. Bill Lumbergh is a jerk, and he is universally hated by everyone he encounters.

When I think of horrid bosses, I seem to default (unfairly) to the assistant manager at a chain restaurant or a chain store. At a chain, uniformity is absolute. The Big Mac gets made only one way. The name tags have one style. “Associates” many times have to greet customers the identical way, every time.

Pity the poor assistant manager, who has the daunting responsibility of making sure that her/his employees never adlib. There’s only one way to do it, people. This is counter-intuitive to the entire human experience.  These managers have to call you out when you dare venture out of the monoculture the mega corporation has created.

There are a zillion examples of empathic, kind and decent assistant managers in our world. I mean no disrespect to you. This is an easy position to caricature, for the purposes of our conversation today.

I cut my teeth in my industry working for an intimidating, larger-than-life manager who was able to silence a room by merely walking into it. He had gravity and credibility. He was a known innovator and maverick. When Buzz Bennett said something, people listened. When Buzz Bennett scowled at you, you felt 3 inches tall. He dressed me down in this quiet way, not raising his voice above a calm, even, measured tempo. I had immense respect for him, but he scared the crap out of me sometimes!

He created the aura of the powerful leader that I tried to emulate when I got my first opportunities to lead teams of people. We take our cues from those who have “parented” us.

My problem was, I had no gravity. I was just bossy. What a jerk I must have been sometimes.

There can be no do-over. It was what it was. I have tried over the years to ask some of my old employees for forgiveness. My request was sincere, and I think atonement was usually accepted.

They, too, have evolved.

If we have any self-awareness at all, we mature, we learn, and we become more comfortable in our own skin. If we’re smart, we start listening more and listening better. We walk a mile in our team’s shoes and understand where they are coming from.

A manager needs to be managed, by you. Managers are just people, no matter the title. They are flesh and bone, just like us.

Learning what kind of person your boss is when they are not at work will help you manage him or her. What are their hobbies and passions? What are their values? Are they slightly emotionally crippled, maybe a little insecure?  If you like your job but dislike your boss, do some networking. Find some people who have worked for them, and ask for advice. You’ll find people are usually willing to unload!

We understand people so much better when we have an idea of where they are coming from. We can use this knowledge to create a better relationship with that difficult boss.

It might even be a job-saver.


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