Q&A: What do I do when I’ve lost all respect for my manager?

Posted by on May 24, 2011 in Managing sponsors & politics | 0 comments

Question: I have a situation where I have lost all professional respect for my manager. She is a very nice person but takes advice from her best friend, who is another manager here. We can’t implement any policy or process without her running to her friend to check it out. It appears that her friend is taking advantage of this by doing whatever he wants. Any advice?

Answer: It sounds like you have at least three problems here:

  1. your manager’s behavior,
  2. your manager’s friend taking advantage of her and
  3. your loss of respect for her.

Let’s dispense with the easy one first, No. 2. Forget about doing anything about your manager’s friend unless he’s doing something patently illegal, demonstrably immoral or dangerously unethical. If he is, then consider going to your human resources representative or corporate counsel.

As for No. 3, try to cut your manager a bit of slack. She’s probably not the bozo that you think that she is. Being a boss is a tougher and lonelier job than you probably realize. Resist the urge to judge her so quickly. You’ll always have the opportunity to do that later. And if you’re going to be of help, judging will be an impediment.

Now for the tough problem, No. 1. As for your manager’s behavior, it would help to know why she is going to her friend for so much advice. What is driving her to seek out such detailed counsel? Does she really respect the opinion of her friend? Is she afraid of her boss? Is she new to her job? Is she concerned about the judgments of her subordinates? Did she make a really bad mistake recently that she’s eager to avoid repeating? Is she up for a major promotion or overly cautious by nature? For some reason, she probably feels insecure or overly tentative about her position, her knowledge of the position or her political strength.

Chances are that if you think carefully about the situation, she has some good reason for feeling and acting this way and is using her friend as a crutch.

From the way you stated your question, I’m assuming that you like your boss, harbor no ill feelings toward her and would like to help her — and you — to be successful.

Once you come up with a reasonable theory about what’s driving this behavior, you’ll be in a better position to help.

Your goal should be to get into the loop before she announces any new policies she and her friend have dreamed up. You want to become her trusted adviser. You may not be able to stop her from seeking advice from her friend, but you may be able to become a better source of help.

But you can do this only if you really understand why your manager is doing what she’s doing. Next time she comes up with one of these new policies that you feel is wrongheaded, go to her office and initiate a private conversation. Honestly seek to better understand her thinking behind the policy. Don’t issue any objections or opinions. Don’t challenge her or be aggressive or threatening. Just ask and listen carefully and sympathetically.

Once you get an answer that makes sense, you’ll be in a position to dmonstrate your understanding of and empathy for her challenges. For example, if she says that the policy is meant to avoid miscommunication between departments, you can ask her, “Is this a response to your boss’s recent tirade over the missed connection between departments?”

If you become a better adviser than her friend is, you may be able to save her bacon, and yours.


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