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Spotting a bad new manager

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There’s never been a worse time to be a bad IT manager.

IT unemployment rates have plummeted nationwide. Even where it’s bad, like West Virginia, 4.3% is still pretty good. And if you’re an unemployed IT professional who lives in West Virginia and you’re willing to relocate, it doesn’t have to be Nebraska or North Dakota (1.6%). You could probably find work in Hawaii if the island life appeals to you (2.0%) or a true paradise like Minnesota (2.3%) (okay, it isn’t paradise, but it’s where I live).

Right now, if you’re an IT professional with even a few years of experience under your belt and can’t find a job, it’s safe to say you’re doing something wrong.

Which also means that if you’re an employed IT professional working in a toxic situation, there’s little reason for your suffering to continue.

What you might need are ways to spot when your work environment is about to become toxic … for example, when a new manager replaces the one with whom you’ve established a comfortable working relationship and it isn’t clear what working with your new boss will be like.

As always, KJR is here to help with some Workplace Incipient Toxicity Indicators, to help you spot when it’s time to polish your resume, redouble your networking efforts, and scan the landscape for more congenial situations.

But first, a non-indicator, just in case you’re a newbie at this and not a hardened cynic (that is, someone who looks at the world through glass-colored glasses).

The non-indicator: Your new manager says all the right things. Of course he does. In my experience, every new manager always says all the right things because they’ve all been through this themselves and have memorized the Right-Thing-To-Say Playbook.

Instead, pay attention to these, more reliable indicators:

Talk-to-listen ratio: Smart managers know that when they walk into a new situation, they know very little about what they’re facing. Smarter ones know the odds are high that what’s been explained to them has at best a limited correlation with what’s really going on.

The smartest make time to listen to the people who do the actual work of their organization or, if the organization is too big, to ask lots of people who the star performers are and then make time to listen to them.

If your new manager doesn’t invest heavily in organizational listening, it’s a sign it’s time for you to move on.

High-level/low-level attention span: The higher up someone is in the management hierarchy, the less time they have to understand the details. The effective ones understand that this is a problem — that “the view from 50,000 feet” is ManagementSpeak for “wrong” — and make sure their having too little time to master the details doesn’t lead them to make ignorant decisions. They achieve this by delegating decisions to those most competent to make them, namely, those who do sweat the details, to whom they share the strategy without considering it to be the only decision dimension that matters.

Those who care more about climbing than about getting the job done look at upper managers who don’t personally deal with the details and consider it a career advancement strategy. They make it clear they operate at a strategic level — that details are unimportant irritations best left to lesser mortals, so please don’t waste my time with trivia. I have more important matters on my superior mind.

If your new manager doesn’t recognize that, in the wise words of the KJR Manifesto, “Before you can be strategic you have to be competent” … if she doesn’t recognize that strategies that ignore the details are strategies that will fail … it’s probably time for you to choose a new employment strategy.

One that will allow you to succeed.

Too much to do. Too little time: One of the most important skills for anyone in management is to keep control of your calendar. If someone else controls your schedule, they control you.

If your new manager is chronically overwhelmed by his list of appointments, all of which require his personal attendance, your new manager isn’t someone you should tie your fortunes to for the long haul.

If we were living through a replay of 2008, I’d be giving you different advice — about how to survive in bad situations.

Right now, employees have choices. So don’t be victimized by a toxic workplace. You can do better.

So do it.

Comments (2)

  • Sage advice!

  • Perhaps another indicator: A reliance on assigning external, redundant or unnecessary “training programs” rather than actually trying to discover what the issue honestly is.

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