I took a management role at a fast-growing startup for a mix of good and bad reasons. Eight months into the new role, I'm realizing my boss & I have very different styles, that the expected "management perspective" and accompanying behaviors feel itchy. I don't want to leave the place — I just don't think I like a situation where I'm constantly managing up, down and sideways. How can I get out of this without having to leave altogether?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I've been with the company for a couple of years. I was hired on the basis of my mix of technical and creative skills. After a period, I moved to another team where I could focus more on my creative side. About a year after that, I was approached to manage my former team. I accepted because I wasn't thrilled with the state of the team I'd moved to, had some ideas about how to improve things for the team that needed a manager, and initially felt very comfortable with the person who was going to be my new boss. I was also flattered to be considered for a management role and thought of it as a chance to leverage my experience and build something better than what I could as an individual contributor.
This was not, to be clear, a case of me being disciplined: I performed very well on both teams, my evaluations reflected high performance, and the CEO herself consulted with me a few times because she said I had a reputation as a leader in the company.
Since then, it's been a mixed bag.
I've been put on point for a few cross-departmental things that were already far along in flight and causing tension between teams when I arrived. There's way more skulking around and game-playing than I'm used to or can muster any empathy for, and I'm expected to take a pretty hard line with my counterparts, which is not my natural state for dealing with people. I'm inclined toward looking for compromise, but it feels like that's perceived as weakness in this setting. When I try to take a harder line my discomfort manifests in ways that I feel like are costing me the goodwill I built up over a long period of being a quiet, accommodating, reliably collaborative person.
My team is great, but I'm in a classic "generalist leading specialists" situation where it sometimes feels hard to do much more than offer a broad organizational perspective and some encouragement. It's hard to get up in front of them sometimes, especially as the company moves more and more to hiring specialists over the older model of generalists like me.
And I don't think my boss quite understood what he'd be getting. He's a very quick, opinionated thinker who's been around our industry for a while and seems to know what he thinks about just about everything. I'm smart enough, but I struggled in early adulthood with undiagnosed ADHD and I've adopted a very deliberate, controlled, outlook to regulate myself. I tend to consider things at a slow simmer, forming opinions slowly: Everywhere else I've ever worked, I've spent a good, long time listening and letting my opinions form behind my back, with my teammates repeatedly saying things like "it's like you just suddenly appeared in our midst — we always knew you were there before, but had no idea what was going on in there."
I've been called a "utility infielder," perhaps because I prefer to spend my time listening and figuring out how to help when things come up. I don't think that works for him, and he periodically comments on how quiet I am and how I should speak up more (as has another senior manager he's good friends with). I also think he sees me as too unopinionated, and he's snapped at me or given me pretty exasperated looks when I haven't had an opinion about something right away. He's kind enough to me in general, has sincerely asked my advice about some sensitive matters in a way that suggests he sees some value in how I think about things, and he's offered good feedback about my people management style — I did do a decent job of settling my team down after a protracted period of neglect and mismanagement — but it's hard to forget an early conversation where he talked about people managers as "*just* people managers." If I had to sum it up, I'd say there's some part of him that knows he ought to be listening to people like me, even if he can't understand how on earth anyone like me actually functions.
When I first started at this place, there wasn't any clear progression for individual contributors. You just got chucked into cubeland and sort of found yourself in the middle of an undifferentiated crowd of other individual contributors along with a management layer comprised of people who'd made their names being microcelebrities in our space (and who have slowly been moving on or being marginalized now that more experienced managers are being hired in from the outside).
I'm beginning to think that perhaps management is a bad idea for me, at least in this setting and with this boss, and that the pay cut I think I'd be in for wouldn't be as bad as waking up every morning thinking about what confrontations I'm expected to engage in, or whether I'm appearing decisive or opinionated enough, or what I'm going to tell a team of people who are way more proficient and experienced than I am in their field. And I like where I work in general. I'm a firm believer in what we're making, I love the people I work with when I don't feel like I'm sitting across a Panmunjom conference table from them, I've learned a lot about our niche I'd hate to give up, and I'd like to actually vest.
I've just never seen anyone get out of a management role who's been allowed to walk out and find an individual contributor role on their own terms. I have the feeling it must happen sometimes, it's just outside of my experience and I don't have a model for how it would work, how to have that conversation, or whether it's even a good idea long term (or if it's in the category of things like accepting a counter offer after looking around the market—where you're running a high risk of becoming a dead person walking even if you get what you want in the short term).
I also don't know what this will mean if I need to go outside the company. I get that there are professional managers who're fine moving around between industries or spaces and just showing up on day one with a sense of entitlement to lead. That's not me, and I don't know what it does to my hireability to leave so soon after a promotion looking for a position lower than what I have.
I don't know what to do, I don't really have any mentors I can turn to, and the people I'm closest to in my personal life don't seem to understand the idea of doing anything besides figuring out how to get promoted.