A Potential Bad Manager

I’ve been reading your wonderful blog for a while, so I’m hoping you and/or your readers can come up with some helpful suggestions. I’ve been working at the same medium-sized company for 15years. My current manager is getting ready to retire within the next 2 years. He supervises 8 people (including me), divided into 3 teams, and is generally very by-the-book but can be flexible with the rules if one makes a good case. My current team leader has been with the company 2 years longer than I have and is a smoking buddy of his (they are the only2 who smoke).

It is generally known within the department at the non-managerial level that the reason my team leader got the position instead of me after the last team leader resigned is because she used her special relationship to sabotage my reputation with our manager while I was on maternity leave. As might be expected, my team leader has started campaigning for the manager slot, but the rest of us in our unit feel she would be a terrible manager. Leaving aside the fact that she doesn’t understand what our unit does except at a very superficial level, she is very vindictive against people who call her on her mistakes, and she’s even more strictly by-the-book than my current manager.

Unfortunately, she has seniority over almost everyone in the department who is likely to apply for the manager position, so she is very likely to become my manager soon. Other than hunkering down and trying to be invisible, is there anything constructive that my coworkers and I can do? The head of the department is pretty clueless about personnel issues, so I’m pretty sure talking to her would be a bad idea.

Two years. Your manager is getting ready to retiree within the next two years. On the one hand, I applaud you for looking at your career that far in advance. (Despite the ubiquitous “where you see yourself in 5 years” question, people don’t do enough career planning.)

Anything can happen in two years. Your arch nemesis could quit. Your “clueless” department head could quit, be promoted, or gain a renewed interest in your group. You could quit. You could get promoted. You could be transferred to a different department. The whole company could collapse. [Enter presidential candidate you don’t like] could win the election and the entire country could be taken over by Iran. Anything can happen in two years.

Why do I mention this? Well, to give you some perspective. Here’s some other perspective. Your department head may well know precisely what is going on. She may be simply waiting for your manager to retire before making big changes. She may be counting down as well. It may be a carefully calculated decision to appear to be ignoring your department personnel issues.

And speaking of not knowing what is going on, how is it possible that the team lead, who has the most seniority, doesn’t understand what the department done, yet she is very by the book? You may be letting your distaste for this person color you views as well. You say it’s “well known” that she sabotaged your relationship with the boss while you were on maternity leave. I’d ask you to figure out what evidence there really is of that.

My suggestions are as follows:

1. Approach your manager and ask for career planning guidance. You want to move into a manager role. Ask her advice on how to achieve that.

2. Let your manager know that you are also going to approach your department head on the same topic. Let her know you are interested in taking your manager’s job when she retires, and ask if that is a possibility and what skills you will need to gain and ask for help in gaining those skills. Are there projects or classes you can take on to help with this.

3. If it really is clear that the team lead will be your new boss, evaluate how much you want to stay in this job. You have two years to find a new job if you don’t wish to report to this person. Did I mention two years? If something bad is going to happen in two years, I’d make plans now to change that. You can work to gain the job yourself (see above), you can work to get a job in the same company in a different group, or you can look for a new job with a new company. You can also try to get to know the team leader. Just because she’s smoking buddies with the boss doesn’t mean she’s a bad person.

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5 thoughts on “A Potential Bad Manager

  1. The sky is falling the sky is falling!

    If someone had told Chicken Little the sky would be falling in two years, do you think CL would have run around NOW? No, CL would have done something to prevent it.

    Try to be more proactive in your stance on this, like Evil says, anything could happen in two years. Even MORE can happen, should you not stand apathetically by the sideline waiting for it to happen TO you so you can whinge about it later.

  2. Chicken Little here.

    1. I cannot apply for the manager’s position because it requires a law degree. I do not have a law degree and am not remotely interested in getting one.

    2. Team Leader has a law degree but not the subject knowledge needed to deal with the material my particular section of the department handles (specifically, environmental science – her undergraduate degree was in history). She has picked up enough over the years to fake it, but when anything complex comes down the road, it’s pretty obvious she doesn’t have a clue. The “by the book” part refers to adherence to personnel rules. The few times she has subbed for my manager, she consistently applied the rules in the most punitive way possible (e.g., Coworker’s husband was in a car accident but Team Leader put the first day of absence in as personal leave instead of sick leave because coworker didn’t apply for sick leave 2 days ahead, even though Coworker had plenty of sick leave).

    3. I am looking around for another job, just in case, but this job comes with terrific medical and dental benefits, including mental health coverage, which I need for my husband, who runs his own business and is therefore on my policy.

    4. As for the sabotage, aside from the nasty stuff she put in my personnel file while I was on maternity leave (that it took quite some time to deal with, BTW), Team Leader spent part of every weekly meeting making sure the manager had some examples of how sloppy, unreliable, or unpunctual I was (almost all of which were her own mistakes). One of my coworkers started documenting the instances while taking meeting notes, so it isn’t my imagination. The sad part is, Team Leader and I got on pretty well before I went on maternity leave.

    5. I thought I was being proactive by seeking some constructive advice here, 2 years in advance of the possible event, since nimble is not a descriptor that would apply to my company or my department.

  3. Managing a dept well goes beyond knowing every technical issue to be answered. I've seen too many technical experts become terrible managers. I find it harsh to dismiss her as "clueless" because she's not solving every complex issue herself. If she knows what she doesn't know, then her involving the right experts is what's important.

    Every company I've worked for has sick leave reserved for injury or illness to the employee, not to care for family members. If a relative is injured, it's personal time or, if applicable, FMLA. Because an employee has plenty of sick time to spare is irrelevant; she's administering the policy as intended.

    There's not enough info to comment on the sabotage. It sounds like the 'mistakes' were later clarified and fixed. If that's the case, why not have a heart-to-heart with her to ask if there are performance concerns and talk through what her expectations are? Seems like everyone's all to ready to crucify her for perceived transgressions.

    If everyone hates the thought of her managing so much, you should ask the current manager & HR if key employees can also interview the candidates. That's not unheard of and employees will have a voice. One of the biggest development opportunities for managers is getting constructive feedback from employees; she has no opportunity of ever becoming a good mgr if employees can't have open dialogue with her.

  4. I agree with EHRL on the steps to take. It almost sounds to me like there were problems that came to the surface when you were on maternity leave. How they were clarified is not clear but you can’t fabricate problems. And if she did, you should have had no problem discounting the issues.

    You do have a lot of time and if you really feel you can’t work for this person if she were to get the job, you can try to find something that has similar benefits. If the benefits are part of your decision, weigh everything out.

    Unfortunately, it seems like I’d need to ask a whole lot more questions to give advice any differently than EHRL has.

    Good luck either way.

  5. @ jaded hr rep – I’m surprised to hear about your experiences with sick time; I have found the opposite to be true. Every company I have ever worked for has allowed sick time to be used for the care of an immediate family member.

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