I have had managers that have inspired and encouraged me, while others have driven me nuts and forced me to resign. Sometimes things just click and other times they don’t, and the relationship can be disastrous. When I look back on managers that I thought were terrible, I am still thankful that I went through the experience because I’m much better because of it. In this article, I wanted to reflect on and compile a list of the types of managers I have had and lessons learned on dealing with each type while still excelling at your job and achieving your goals:
- Strict Uncle: This is the kind of manager who is direct and doesn’t sugarcoat things and tells you exactly what you are doing wrong. The first time I had this type, I was mortified. I am a bit of a sensitive soul so I was on the verge of tears when I received the “talk”, which consisted of 5 bullet points on a printed sheet. He started each bullet with “this is what you did wrong”. To be fair, nothing he was saying was incorrect but the approach was draconian. My response was to tear up and his response to that was “don’t be sensitive”. I am a compliment sandwich kind of girl when it comes to crucial conversations so this was not fun. However, it did inspire me to not mess up on any of those bullets that he listed. He was not a bad manager, just very strict. And at least he was direct – I knew just what to expect from him and also what his expectations were. The best way to deal with someone like this is to not let it affect your work. It is easy to try to “even the score” by working slower or just plain giving up but this will not help the situation. I promise you, it will make things even worse. If you can keep your head up and keep trying your best, you will be motivated and everyone around you including your “strict uncle” boss will see that.
- Lazy Susie:This is the kind of manager that really doesn’t care. This person doesn’t motivate you or micromanage you. I personally love these kinds of managers. The more space I get, the more motivated and creative I become. I also find with this type of boss, however, that if you ever become a target, no one will have your back. The best way to avoid this is to document everything and have regular meetings with your manager. When your manager asks you for something, follow up with an email. If you are working on something, write it in an email and make sure your manager is in the loop. Even if this person doesn’t care, you are covered and prepared to pull out documented proof that you included your manager in whatever you are working on.
- Squirrel:You know those managers who can’t focus? They want the next best and shiny object. I think this is my absolute favorite type of manager – they are typically someone you can talk to and bounce ideas off. The downside is you receive multiple priorities and potentially feel like you can’t accomplish or finish anything. This could also make you feel like you are never good enough because they are always looking for excellence and constant improvement. With these types of managers, you need to be able to manage your own workload. If they throw an idea at you, write it down on your board of ideas from your boss. I like to use tools like Trello to keep track of what I am working on. These visual tools help with this type of manager. You are able to show them exactly what you are working on while ensuring they feel acknowledged that their new shiny object is still relevant and amazing and you believe in their vision.
- Nice Guy: This is usually not a bad thing but there can be a downside – it’s impossible to have a crucial conversation. I once had a manager who was extremely sweet. She would bring in cookies and donuts every week and I felt like she genuinely cared about me and my feelings. The level of attention was awesome, except I felt like I was walking on eggshells sometimes because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. The best way to deal with these managers is to be kind in return, but also truthful. It doesn’t help either party to ignore issues. It is best to give your feedback in a respectful manner and then encourage her to return the feedback.
- Best Friend: The manager who wants to be your best friend. The one who wants to be friends with you on Facebook and you have no choice but to say “yes”. The one who wants to have drinks with you after work and invites himself/herself to your wedding. If you are like me and prefer to keep your personal and private life separate, this is so hard. A manager should be your mentor, not your friend. If this person can’t draw the line then you will have to. Make sure your colleagues and others know that you are dedicated to your job but it’s okay to distance yourself from your manager. It is okay to not want to go to lunch every day with your boss or make plans after work or the weekend with them. It’s your life so if you feel uncomfortable crossing that line with your manager, gently distance yourself and have legitimate excuses to not hang out with them.
- OCD: These are your typical micromanagers. I had a boss who used to read every single thing I wrote and would take a red pen to it and leave it neatly on my desk. She would also give me a to-do list with elaborate explanations every week for what she wanted accomplished. She would then ask for updates – constantly. It would drive me nuts. I felt suffocated. Surprisingly and in hindsight, she was the best boss I have ever had and I’m so thankful I met her. Because of her, my deliverables are always something I can be proud of and as someone who taught herself to speak and write English only in her late teens, my writing has improved significantly with help from her. My advice in dealing with a micromanager is to study them. I love the big picture and fall asleep when I have to address details – look at your work and see where you are falling through the cracks and what gets nitpicked the most. I also suggest you anticipate what she is going to do – if she asks for updates, be proactive and provide one before she has the chance to ask. If you email her updates and tell her what you are working on a consistent manner, it will save you both time and may even surprise her. The other tactic you can try is to assign her work. Give her something else to focus on so you can get your work done. Provide her with a problem and ask her for a solution.
These are the types of managers I have had and the ways I navigated around their brands of leadership. What is your thought or advice on how to deal with these types of managers? Do you have a type that you have found the secret to that is not listed above?
Lekshmy Sankar is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.
My favorite supervisor was probably a hybrid of your ‘OCD’ type and ‘Best Friend’, although I would have to trim it down to just personable and caring in the workplace but with an amazing sense of humor. On the ‘OCD’ type you have listed, you recommend giving a problem to your supervisor for a solution to buy time. As a supervisor, I’ve had employees try that tactic when I was very new to management. Not knowing any better, my meeting notes ‘Action Items’ always had the items assigned to me. Now, with some experience behind me, I’m aware when it occurs and no longer allow staff to ‘upwards delegate’ work to me. It typically won’t bode well for them with performance reviews so I personally wouldn’t recommend that as a tactic, especially to buy time for completing work. From my perspective as a supervisor, I expect high earning employees in today’s competitive and saturated workforce to be able to not just bring me a problem, but a proposed solution. There’s a famous article by the Harvard Business Review, ‘Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?’ that addresses this issue with employees. Many supervisors are aware too so if you have a concern with your supervisor, I would simply recommend having a candid conversation as two adults and come to terms on a realistic deadline if more time is needed, for example on a project. Regardless of our role in the workplace, I try to appreciate everyone’s diversity of thought, as we are all much greater than any labels, categories or personality types.
Thanks for the recommendation on the HBR article! I love it! I think ideally having a candid conversation is what we all need to do but for some reason or another, I find that we all love to be “drama queens” and go to the extreme instead. Upwards delegation is very tricky – at the time that I had this manager, it was what worked for me. I think if I tried that now with my current leadership, they would possibly laugh in my face.
I really like this article probably because I’ve experienced most of these bosses and it helps me understand them better. Noticed you didn’t go into the least favorable types though.
Thanks JJ! It’s funny when I think back to my “least favorable types”, I can’t help but still have a “rose colored glasses” and think it wasn’t so bad. I am starting to find that with a little appreciation and kindness, it makes working with any boss easier.
As someone who trains on Situational Leadership and has supervised for more than a decade, I would state that in my opinion a really good supervisor is one who is flexible enough (which generally confident enough) to move among some of the various styles above. There is an appropriate time to be more directive and blunt, and a different time may call for more supportive behaviors. I am not a big fan of trying to “assign work” to a supervisor, and would advise against that as it will most likely backfire. A good manager sees something in you that you don’t see in yourself, and brings that out in a positive way. They should be pushing you to address your areas of weakness, while providing opportunities to build on your strengths, and doing so requires a flexible style. Most of us don’t want to go outside our “comfort zone” and a good manager will need to be more directive when trying to get us to do so, but then provide support when the time is right. It is not an easy task, and one that I see many fail. You won’t necessarily “like” a good manager, as they may push you to do things that you don’t want to, but you will respect them.
The only thing I would add to this article is that trust, no matter what type of manager you are dealing with, is imperative. If you can’t trust them, and/or they don’t trust you, there can be no relationship. Supervision always boils down to relationships in the end.
I couldn’t agree with you more! Trust is so delicate, it takes time to build but can be broken in an instance. I had an incident with a supervisor where I didn’t agree with something he did and my trust was completely broken (I would even say I was heartbroken by losing faith in someone who I looked up to). No matter how much I tried to “get over it” or treat past as past, I still had this nagging thought of that broken trust. It’s amazing how your mind works and how relationships can affect your well being and your effectiveness in the workplace.
You left out the managers who are OCD but never say anything to you then blast you. They also are the “Hearsay” manager…and go with the office clic…a headache