I DO care about how you do it BUT not about the final results
June 11, 2011 4:47 PM   Subscribe

How much impact does a boss have over an employee’s happiness and career? What is your experience?

Started a new job about 1.5 months ago. The culture is play hard, work hard, the management team seems to be on top of everything, and my coworkers all seem decent and likable. The problem? My new boss, let’s call him Bob.

I can tell we're going to have some issues and while I can learn to manage my boss better, I am not sure if I'm committed to invest so much. I think his bosses realize some of issues (listed below) but may not care due to 1) high volume of work he produces (although not all successful), 2) his expertise due to being in the same team for 6+ years, 3) there will be an inevitable HUGE org change at the end of the year due to external factors.

Summary and questions at the bottom
Bob and I are on a team where we make decisions about the products – what to build, what to fix, long term strategies, short term tactics, etc. If we make the wrong decision, it’ll result in a lot of wasted time and resources as well as pissed off customers. This is in the web service industry. Below are the issues I have with him:

1. Doesn't listen to people, including his people, his peers, or people above him.
Example 1: After I presented to him about 3 ideas for a project, his only feedback was pretty much dismissing everything I presented and said, "so do you agree with MY concept for this?" If he paid attention, he would have realized one of the ideas I had was directly in support of his concept (which I stated earlier in the meeting).

Example 2: I noticed the same thing happened in other meetings with his peers or upper management. Everyone has been mentioning their (mostly the same) concerns to me about a project but I noticed Bob would just dismiss them and keep moving forward despite their very valid concerns. He doesn't seem to care or want their feedback, unless someone goes and hammer it in to him. My impression is that most people just gave up after working with him for so long and only a select few really challenge him, which I think he respects.

2. Makes people feel stupid (unintentionally) and puts them on the spot to justified their actions or thoughts to him.
Example – I sit right next to him so I hear a lot of his conversations and it’s things like, "Why didn’t you add this on there?... It didn’t occur to you? You’re kidding, right? That’s so obvious we need to put this here." For the first month or so, I really struggled with this until I realized he does this to everyone.

3. Is a micromanager.
He is more concerned with how I do something rather than on letting me know what the goals of the projects are, what are the visions, how does this tie with other projects, what failed in the past, who I work with, etc. If he does mention something, it's very superficial compared to the "how to create this spreadsheet."

Example 1 - He told me to create a document, made me redo it 2x (no impact to final results, btw), pass it off to another team, the other team started working on it... only for me to realize we were going in the wrong direction. This is like creating the dashboard of a car, only to realize you're supposed to be building a motorcycle.

He also does this to other teams as well. He'll write documents with one level above doing the actual coding for the programmers (Bob and I are on the business side). Same with another team. Again, if we were eating at a restaurant, he'll tell them when/where to get the tomatoes, when to boil the water, and how much of each spice the chief should put in the dish.

4. All his direct reports have problems with him.
A few years ago, someone quit after a few months of working for him because that individual couldn’t stand his style.

Another coworker, Jess, told me Bob used to check in every 5 minutes or so, asking questions, 'why haven't you replied back to my email I sent 5 minutes ago? What's the status of project X? Are you even working?' Every 5 to 30 minutes. Bob even jokingly suggested Jess was not really working (Bob did this to me at about 2 or 3 weeks in). Jess and Bob still have moments where I can tell they have frictions.

5. Great individual contributor but a LOUSY manager / team player
He works very fast – thinks of an idea, quickly gets data for it, writes up the documents, and pass it to our technology folks. He expects the same of his direct reports but I have already told him that even though he’s been working here for over 6 years, I just started. I don’t even know how to get IT to come and fix my computer yet. He gets it - for about 15 minutes and then goes back to why am I so slow.

Another time, our team traveled out to support our internal partners on a project and worked about 3-5 hours overtime each day. At the end of the project, we left office halfway through the day (as planned) in order to get back to our city before 5pm and Bob made a side comment that next time, we shouldn't be leaving so early because "it doesn't look good."

Boss is a micromanager, doesn't listen to other people, cares more about how someone does their job rather than if their work is supporting the goals of the project, dismisses people's concerns, jokes to his people that they're not working if he doesn't seen immediate results, has a way of making people feel stupid (unintentionally), and seems to care about how his team looks to other people rather than making his people feel good. He's also relatively young (although older than me) and is looking to move up.

So my questions are:

1 - Can a person have a successful career with a micro-manager (such as get recognized for their work, get raises or promotions)? Is it also possible to be stress-free and happy during that time? What are some of your experiences?

2 - In your experience, is it possible to work around your manager and/or be the liaison for other team to manage your boss better?

3 - If not and I start my job search again, how should I tackle this current position with new prospective employers? What should I put in my resume, especially after being here only 1.5 months? What should I say if asked about this?

Thanks in advance.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My experience is that it takes a thick skin, and the ability to give as good as you get, to work for people like Bob.

I'm not one of those who think Ask/guess theory explains everything, but here I think it is apposite. The Bobs of the world are askers ... Things get done through a more abrasive, conflictual, friction (and stress) heavy style. You (and I) are more polite and reserved (kind of "guessers") and we have trouble with the Bobs of the world.

To thrive under someone like him you need to be more outspoken and vocal, more comfortable with conflict, and less sensitive.
posted by jayder at 5:01 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

My initial feeling is that you have not been there long enough to get a sense of what you should do. Bob sounds like a jerk. But it is obvious he does produce something of value since he has been there for quite a while.

I agree, you need to develop a thick skin or he will drive you crazy. I had bosses like Bob, it never worked out. Perhaps you can stick it out until the reorg?
posted by fifilaru at 5:05 PM on June 11, 2011

You have been there only 1.5 months and Bob has been there for 6 years....give it a bit more time, for you to adjust.
posted by Mr. Papagiorgio at 5:05 PM on June 11, 2011

Answers as you numbered them:

1) Not in my experience, no. Others who say they have probably have different work values than it sounds like you or I have. I have a work value which posits that if you spend the money, time, and careful effort recruiting and hiring a team member, than it is your job, after hiring, to trust that person to do their job. A long time ago, on metafilter, someone asked what about America the founding fathers would be most surprised by (the question was fishing for innovation/political change I think). Some smartypants mefite answered that they would be appalled to see the changes in management values. In short, back in the colonial day, you front-loaded your efforts and your brains into finding the very best person and leader for the job and then--you let them lead. It was a feather in your cap as a manager when your people showed as excellent alpha-leaders themselves and had unique ways of doing things. This value, in my opinion, creates an atmosphere of innovation, even if it's a bit riskier feeling for the employee. It sounds like you value this, and so you will likely not get recognized for the kind of work you want to do (recognition being raises and promotion). Others may have different work values and be able to work from the backend with mirco-management in a way that satisfies them and keeps a micromanager happy, but I can't work this way and I cannot manage this way, so when I'm in this kind of situation, I remove myself and move on.

2) See "working from the backend." In this scenario you're going to be spending all of your time filtering a lot of micro-management so that you have time to position yourself with the other team and inevitably dropping balls on both sides. And, you'll make yourself unhappy, faster, because you're not going to have time to use your brains at work and innovate. This would be a deal-breaker for me, as well. Again, I'm speaking from my own experience from the position of my own working values, which I suspect you share d/t the background included in this question.

3) Clarify and articulate your professional goals and make sure they represent on your resume. You can get professional help on this, and I would recommend it. Consider, as well, a head-hunter that specializes in looking for good working fits. In the meantime, scope out the landscape for a project that you want to really make awesome for your current company, and spend energy isolating that project, as much as you can, from your manager's influence. It would be best if it were something someone else above you could write about in a rec letter. This way, you leave the company with something great, and get something under your belt to show someone new that gives you an introduction in the interview process to talk about your working values. Never make it the previous company's or manager's fault, make it the opportunity to be erudite and searingly specific about what you have to bring to the next institution, on your terms.

I totally changed careers to get away from this kind of management style that was pervasive in my field. To get into my next career I had to go back to school and take some seriously hard-core risks. But OMG, the FEELING of having what I do on a daily basis line up with how I like to work and use my brain and deal with other people--I can't even describe. Cue music. Send in the bluebirds. Etc. Work is way more challenging, but I surprise myself all the time and get better all the time and more and more cool opportunities find me as I have the freedom to gravitate towards the kinds of people I like to work with and who motivate me with their trust. Plus, when I am in positions where I am supervising or managing someone else, I find that the trust in me spills over and I never feel compelled to micro-manage, myself. Which is so freeing.

Good luck, you're asking the right questions and thinking about the right things to get where you want to go, I think.
posted by rumposinc at 5:21 PM on June 11, 2011 [6 favorites]

1. I think micromanagers are the sorts of people who can never be pleased or delegate (which is why they are micromanagers). I suspect if you can't please your boss, then you can't do well under the boss and get promotions.

2. Depends on your work culture. I can't answer that one.

3. Say "it wasn't a good fit," same euphemism that everybody else uses.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:37 PM on June 11, 2011

Hurm. 1.5 months isn't long, but then, it doesn't take too long to identify an incompetent ass. On the other hand, I've had to deal with new hires straight out of college or grad school who had absolutely no idea what the working world was really like and were shocked to learn that socks were a mandatory part of professional dress, and yes, being regularly 5-15 minutes late is a big deal. I don't know where you fall on the experience spectrum, but this is assuming that you are have a healthy level of common sense and functioning BS radar.

I have worked for a few utter asses, one certifiably crazy person, and a mensch. ...Pretty much in that order. Having a bad or crazy one nearly broke me, despite my strong work ethic and tying self-worth to professional performance (which is badbadbad, but speaks to how hard I tried to make it work). Having a great boss is an amazing, golden experience: they play to your strengths, help you strengthen your weaknesses, and build a solid team of competent people. FIND THIS PERSON. Stupid or politically difficult work situations become bearable when you know your boss has your back.

Now, onto your questions.

1. Hmm. Are you normally a laid-back person who's good at separating life and work? A Buddhist or someone good at working on meditation and calmness? If so, you have a fighting chance. If you're anything like me, then no. In my experience, micro-mangers are only happy if they do the job themselves. They will find the flaws in anyone else's work. Very personality dependent.

2. I suck at managing people, so take my thoughts with an *extra* grain of salt. This is only possible only if upper management knows what an ass this person is. ...But that begs the question: if they knew what a crappy manager this person is, why not sack him/her and get it over with? I've sort of been in this position, but the people above my boss didn't know/care about their craziness (in fact, crazyboss got PROMOTED); but the rest of the staff learned to work together around this person. So in that sense, definitely possible, but not fun or sustainable.

3. Agree with the "it wasn't a good fit" as a standard and acceptable non-answer.

If I were you, I'd be looking for a better situation. People like Bob don't stay in the game for 6 freaking years without even stupider people above. Get out to a better situation when possible.
posted by smirkette at 7:17 PM on June 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I quit after 6 months of my Bob. I still have nightmares about him once in a while. This was several years ago and he has outlasted a number of brilliant and lovely people. He was like the cockroach of Web services product management -- useless, indestructible and fucking gross. My condolences -- his longevity is a sign that there's something wrong and my metaphor doesn't have room for an exterminator. Good luck to you.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:25 PM on June 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

See if you can print out and sneak this article on his desk somehow. Unfortunately these types are hard to sway unless they are encouraged by their bosses...I wish you the best of luck.
posted by samsara at 7:32 PM on June 11, 2011

You don't mention how much experience you already have in whatever profession you're working in. This is huge. If you're just starting out and don't know shit, you eat shit until you learn how to do things right. In that case, a micromanager is precisely what you need because you're clearly doing things the wrong way.

But once you can demonstrate proficiency in something, once you've established a track record of positive results, that's when the micromanaging has to stop. Personally, if someone told me how to do my job I would leave. I simply do not tolerate other people telling me how to work. You ask for a result, I deliver that result, otherwise you leave me the fuck alone to do the job I've been hired to do.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:18 PM on June 11, 2011

I've had a better time doing menial tasks for a person whose company and respect I enjoyed than I did doing high-profile work for an incompetent, insensitive micromanager. I think it's worth it to take some interpersonal lumps in the interests of paying dues and putting interesting work history under your belt, but that I also think the quality of your boss (and, incidentally, your commute) are very important to consider when planning your career trajectory.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:34 PM on June 11, 2011

From the OP:
I have been working in the professional world for over 5 years now, as well as various office jobs during school. Counting only full-time jobs, all my previous managers loved me, including one who was previously reported to HR by 2 former employees due to personal conficts. I was able to produce major results at my previous positions and was promoted 3 times.

I cannot separate personal life from work. In fact, the first month was a nightmare! To the point where my friends could tell I had (another) bad day at work as soon as I greet them. Even last week, I started to get anxious as soon as I was on my way home from work everyday and only recently did I realize it was because I was dreading to go back to work.

From everyone's comments, it sounds like the majority votes for finding something better and I will work on this tonight.

Any advices around whether I should list this current position on the resume? How about the cover letter? If not, then when should I bring this up to potential employers?
posted by restless_nomad at 9:37 PM on June 11, 2011

2nd paragraph of the first post tells me everything I need to know. Never stay at a job where people say things like "Work hard, play hard." If someone says that during one of your upcoming interviews, just run away. It's a coded way of saying "Most people in this line of work need to drink themselves to sleep because they are under more pressure than they should be because the corporate culture here is dysfunctional."
posted by Mr. Yuck at 10:49 PM on June 11, 2011 [6 favorites]

The thing that kept running through my mind when I read your comments about being interrupted all the time was that I would probably have snapped in the first week with "I'm unproductive because you keep asking me what I'm doing and disrupting my flow! Go AWAY and let me do my damn job."

Then again, I keep a daily log which records everything I do all day. Mostly for my own benefit, but it happens to keep my managers happy as well (I email it to them at the end of the day), without them interrupting me more than once a week unless something urgent comes up.
posted by ysabet at 11:11 PM on June 11, 2011

He's a boss, and not a particularly bad one. You either need to accept that's what he's like or find another position. If you try to fight him your life will be utterly miserable and you will lose.
posted by unSane at 4:45 AM on June 12, 2011

I sympathize very deeply with your situation. I also take work very personally and cannot separate work from life effectively, so being in a situation like this is intensely stressful for me as well.

Working for a terrible boss is not worth it on any level unless you are very zen, don't take work personally, or need the job for either feeding yourself or moving somewhere better in your career. You definitely need to start working on an exit plan.

I hate micro-managers and become an awful employee under them. I work hard, am very quick, and do incredibly well on independent projects and working with teams. Bosses are not so great for me. I don't enjoy authority and I really hate being pushed around by incompetent idiots. This is not a great attitude, so I've definitely had to temper it to get by, but I have recently realized that absolutely nothing is more important than putting yourself in a situation where you can be successful if you care about being successful. Money is not more important. Power is not more important. Prestige is not more important. That being said, I think it's a very personal equation, but I get the sense you are more similar to me than different.

To answer your specific questions:

1 - Can a person have a successful career with a micro-manager (such as get recognized for their work, get raises or promotions)?

Yes. This is possible, but only if you have someone on the team who recognizes your worth and recognizes that you are working for a micro-manager. This person needs to have power over the micro-manager and tell your boss to give you more rope. I have had this experience with one micro-manager and in retrospect I was incredibly lucky. Another micro-manager I've worked for does not listen to feedback (sounds very much like Bob) and I just couldn't be successful in that situation because no one could save me. You'll just have to look around your dept and see if you can create a functional dynamic for yourself. You need a strong advocate and fan in upper management.

Is it also possible to be stress-free and happy during that time?

With lots of exercise, maybe. Not for the long-term. It's not sustainable.

2 - In your experience, is it possible to work around your manager and/or be the liaison for other team to manage your boss better?

Yes. This is possible if everyone knows your boss is terrible. It's also very stressful.

3 - If not and I start my job search again, how should I tackle this current position with new prospective employers? What should I put in my resume, especially after being here only 1.5 months? What should I say if asked about this?

"It wasn't a good fit" and think about the things you have learned and what you can say that is positive. You may want to work indirectly on your next job for the next 2-3 months by networking with people who know you are in a bad situation and can help. Once you have six months under your belt it won't be as hard to explain. Most people would have figured out a job isn't going to work out after six months. I don't doubt you know it now (and in similar situations I haven't ever experienced a bad job getting any better) but others may want to know you gave it a serious effort before moving on.
posted by rainydayfilms at 11:47 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sorry for the double post - forgot to give you some managing up advice from the trenches:

You should have an honest conversation with Jess if you haven't already.

There are a few things you need to know to see if you can ultimately handle Bob or not.

1. Is Bob a good person?

If Bob means well, but is just inept, that's much more manageable than an actively mean manager. Does Bob help his people get promoted? Is he well liked by people who aren't under his direct management? I get the sense Bob is not a good person, in which case you should definitely not try to make this work. If Bob is a good person you might be able to focus on his positive points and minimize your irritation at the negative aspects.

2. Is he a constant micro-manager or a situational micro-manager?

It's really crucial to know if your micro-manager is the type that only micro-manages sometimes. There are managers like that who will give you much more rope once you have proven yourself. I worked with someone like that and he was a pretty decent boss in some situations and did advocate for me once I earned his trust. It was irritating to have to earn his trust and I don't believe in that management approach, but he did relax after a while. I also documented project status at the end of every week because I realized it was a stress point for him. If you can identify what really triggers your boss and give him the info he needs to relax the micro-management may ease a bit.

Honestly, the not listening to anyone is a major red flag. That signals someone who probably won't change even if the business need arises.
posted by rainydayfilms at 11:56 AM on June 12, 2011

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