Meshing management styles
February 8, 2021 6:32 PM   Subscribe

My boss and I have very different management styles. How do we mesh this?

My boss has a management style that reminds me a lot of this Metafilter question. I am also a manager, and I have a more "mentorship" approach to management.

I appreciate why she has her approach, but I disagree with it deeply. I don't see it working and it has led to low morale and high turnover. I think she respects(?) my approach and has stated that is why she hired me, but clearly also really disagrees with it deeply. I think she thinks I'm a big softy - which I am in some ways, but my expectations are still high.

This is often a topic of enthusiastic(!!) debate which I think makes us both feel not awesome. Is there any way to mesh these too styles or find an in-between that acknowledges and respects the two styles?

Answers like: "she's the boss, so give it up" aren't helpful or needed here. Talking to her about it isn't really possible - see "enthusiastic debate" above.
posted by Toddles to Work & Money (7 answers total)
Could you frame it as giving you x amount of time to prove your style works? Perhaps with additional metrics such as retention rate that are easier to quantify than low morale?
posted by raccoon409 at 6:44 PM on February 8, 2021

Aside from the ideological disagreement, what's the conflict here exactly? Like is your boss not letting your manage your reports the way you want to? Is she interfering with your management decisions?
posted by brandnewday989 at 7:01 PM on February 8, 2021 [8 favorites]

clearly also really disagrees with it deeply. I think she thinks I'm a big softy

So I agree that I'm curious what the actual conflict is. Does she feel like you are not managing your staff appropriately/effectively in an objective way, or is it more like your style is just different and she doesn't agree with it but can't actually point out a place where it's failing?
posted by sm1tten at 7:11 PM on February 8, 2021

Best answer: You don't see a reason to change, and it sounds like you don't have any reasonable expectation for her to change. So, to mesh your two styles you need to come to an agreement about boundaries. Get away from discussions of which of you is right and into discussions of where you should be setting work standards and where she will be.

Once you understand her boundaries, you'll know whether she is actually willing to let you do the job she hired you to do.
posted by meinvt at 7:13 PM on February 8, 2021 [4 favorites]

This is often a topic of enthusiastic(!!) debate which I think makes us both feel not awesome

I think regardless of the specific conflict it sounds like boss needs to make up their mind about "what you were hired for" and "disagrees deeply." If it's a topic of conversation often, well no wonder you are all screwed up about it: you're working on eggshells. Have you been in that position long enough to compare turnover and other metrics that would carry some indication of management style effectiveness?
posted by rhizome at 7:16 PM on February 8, 2021

Best answer: I was in a situation like this once and it worked out really well, sort of. My boss was a raging asshole (he literally once chased a woman down a hall yelling at her, and he regularly screamed at people on the phone and then hung up on them), whereas I am ... a normal person. Like your boss, he told me that was why I was there, to mitigate or moderate him. We worked together for about four years, until one day he quit in a huff, unrelated to me.

I say it worked well, but actually it was of course super dysfunctional. He started fires and I put them out. He did truly believe I was soft / a wiener, and I knew he was a toxic jerk. But he did respect my ability to get people to do stuff, and I did respect the one good thing about him, which was his ability to go to war for us and get us resources.

The way we made it ‘work’ was by accentuating and being super explicit about our differences. He would dispatch me to go fix stuff he had broken; I would send him off to fight faraway wars, etc. I accepted his stereotype of me and he accepted mine of him, and we sort of pretended we were Ron Swanson and Leslie Knope. (What I mean by that is that we laughed and joked about our differences a lot, even though none of it was actually funny. I needed us to have an easy fun relationship in order to do my job, and so I pretended that was what we had.)

I wouldn’t have chosen that situation and it was not good for our organization. He really was toxic and destructive. But we did find stability, and I was able to do my job for the most part. The gender dynamic helped A LOT, because we were both upholding gender norms, ugh.

So. Assuming you want to make it work, I’d say it’s worth trying to pretend that both your styles totally make sense and can be complementary. That yours is suited to some situations and hers to different ones. That could work, because you say she says she hired you on purpose due to your style. You can’t use gender norms as part of your narrative here, but maybe you could craft something about how lower-down people need to be warmer whereas higher-ups need to be tougher? And try to direct her energies away from your team, towards external stakeholders or vendors or anywhere but the home front.

The truth is of course, as you know, that your style is right and hers is wrong. And is is exhausting to have a boss like her. For everyone, not just you. It’s also exhausting to be pigeonholed as a softy. But you can’t do anything about that. Her worldview is gross, but you won’t be able to argue her out of it with stats or research or anything like that. If you want to make it work, you’ll need to fake-accept her views, without actually internalizing them. Good luck.
posted by Susan PG at 6:02 AM on February 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'd start any effort to evaluate management strategy by identifying specific performance KPIs and determining where your teams are and aren't meeting them right now. Generally, we all perceive the effectiveness of your management styles as better than opposing styles, hence why we use them, but that doesn't mean it's working in reality. Plus, people respond differently to management styles - one size rarely fits all. If you can focus the conversation more on practical goals and outcomes, that would be a good place to start to figure out what is truly best for your team.

It also may help to dig into what specifically you each think you gain or lose with each approach. Identify what you each see as benefits and impediments each style offers and decide what to take or leave from there. Sometimes, being willing to give a bit on a few items but holding firm on others helps smooth out differences.

That said, if you are in a position where even with tweaks you're still being forced far outside what you think is appropriate or ethical, the only solution may be to find a new role with a different manager. I've been in situations where I was able to twist into a pretzel to keep my crazy boss semi-in line and my reports slightly less traumatized by her wildness, but ultimately I wasn't able to actually blunt the impact of her bad leadership by much. It was super toxic for me long term, and we still had massive turnover. There's only so much one person can do.
posted by amycup at 10:23 AM on February 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

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