Updated: Nov 17, 2021
I recently saw a post on LinkedIn which said something like: ‘Would you rather work for a good boss in a job you don’t like, or for a poor manager in a great job?’ and it got me thinking, not because it was a conundrum but rather because it’s abundantly clear. I would ALWAYS choose a good boss, on the basis that the person you work for has influence over so many things in employment and can potentially make even a ‘bad job’ better. Frankly, I don’t think ‘good boss’ and ‘job I don’t like’ go together. A good boss will make all the difference to how we perceive our jobs and act and contribute in them. Conversely a bad boss, will very often make most aspects of the work environment unpleasant.
It also got me reflecting on some of the individuals I’ve worked for over the years, each of whom are not infallible, but for some reason or another have unfortunately ended up managing other people. I’ve placed these managers into the following categories*:
Dresses impeccably and presents very confidently but has no common sense or ‘people sense’ whatsoever. They are in corporate life for themselves and the power, trappings and position it brings, rather than for any remuneration (as they – or their partner – are usually financially ‘well off’). They feel and act important and love to attend ‘executive team meetings’, usually populated predominantly – or solely – by members of the opposite sex. Even more appealing is when they get the opportunity to take centre stage and do a presentation or a pitch for a pet project that will immeasurably benefit the company and rocket them into annals of corporate super-stardom. They spend inordinate amounts of time cultivating a relationship with their boss and minimal ‘catch me when you can’ time with their subordinates. You are left in no doubt where you sit on their hierarchy when you work for these people.
The Secret Conniver
The worst aspect about this insidious two-faced chameleon is that they have the outward appearance of someone who is ‘easy going’ (or ‘blokey’ to use a masculine term) but are in fact only thinking about themselves and their success. They generally go into jobs, make changes for the sake of changes (because that’s what managers do) and usually end up doing more damage than when they stepped into the role originally. They only get found out when their rhetoric and bluster is found to be baseless and shallow and promised results are not delivered. They are generally rude and aggressive in meetings, rationalising this approach with the belief that others are paid to do a job and if they don’t (in their mind), they deserve to be bollocked. They would fail Management 1A and terms like ‘Praise in public and criticise in private’ or ‘Provide feedback sooner rather than later’ don’t even occur to them. They take little personal interest in their staff, but still put on the superficial veneer when it works to their advantage. Karma loves The Secret Conniver, because what they sow, they eventually reap…Unfortunately, like the bad penny, they tend to keep popping up elsewhere to do damage in other environments.
The Night Owl
Similar to Madame Matriarch, but this person operates 24/7 and expects their staff to do likewise. If you don’t respond to an email on Sunday for something due on Monday morning at 9.00 am, God help you! Do you want to leave work before 7.00 pm? Not a good look, because The Night Owl will be there most of the night or checking emails from home and then take great pleasure in letting people know how they were doing this or that presentation or report ’till the wee hours, but also condescendingly letting their staff know that ‘If I do it, there’s no reason you can’t as well!’. The Night Owls only portal for self-esteem and positive feedback comes from work. They rationalise their manic dedication to the job by saying they are paid to do whatever it takes to get the job done and if that means 24/7 so be it.
There are many other ‘types’ of poor manager out there and perhaps you’ve had the misfortune to work for one of them as well…If you are like me, your credo is then, ‘What I learnt not-to-do from that person was…’ and then consciously not repeating that when you are handed the important mantle of people manager…
How can you avoid working for a poor manager? It’s difficult because very often organisations change and you don’t have any say in who you inherit for a boss. However, if you are interviewing for a job, make sure you interview your potential manager by asking something like: ‘So, I understand you would be my manager in this role. Something that is very important to me is the leadership style of my manager. On that basis, can you describe your leadership style, but more practically how you communicate with the team, manage performance and the like…’. Now, it’s almost certain each of the above managers would attach the leadership skills of Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Gandhi to themselves, so don’t just take their response at face-value. Check-in with your network. Who do you know that may know – or know of – your future manager? This is where LinkedIn is of immense value.
What about great managers, or true leaders? In my experience they generally do or have the following characteristics:
Don’t do the power-trip or positional-power thing
Are genuinely good at what they do
Are interested in – and practically support – your development and success
Avoid surprises and don’t blame others
Can admit to their own mistakes and oversights
Share successes with the team and provide individual recognition where appropriate
While not being your best friend, they have an interest in you personally and know something about you and your family outside work
Are approachable and available
Invest time in providing constructive feedback
Are prepared for and conduct effective one-on-one meetings and performance reviews
So, would I rather work for a good boss and leader than a poor boss? You bet! Regardless of other things, they can make the difference to turn a not-so-good or mundane job into an enjoyable, challenging and worthwhile experience.
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* Note that these characters are amalgamations of several people and don’t represent any one specific individual. However if you do recognise yourself in any of these amalgamations you should be ashamed.