This post is just a story about a terrible manager.
I was working at a large tech company and had been there for several years. I was the expert in the area I was in across 4 different teams due to my tenure. I had just been assigned to a new manager who wanted to enforce his new rule.
At this point in my career I was losing patience with the repeated broken promises of management, the flood of incompetent hires as part of the resource tripling recruiting campaign, and the dilution of expertise that left me in charge of any problem that was too hard for anyone else to solve. As a result, I was pretty irritable. This new boss decided he’d put me back in line by isolating me from my peers and being the only point of contact I had.
Very frequently this type of conversation occurred via instant messaging:
Boss: Are you free?
Me: Yes [Internally: Uh oh]
Boss: Come to room 203. Don’t speak; just listen.
*Boss immediately logs off*
Here are the options I considered:
- Don’t go.
- Go and don’t speak.
- Go and speak anyway.
- Immediately quit.
If I went with 1, the following would happen:
*Boss walks up to my desk*
Boss: Why didn’t you come to the meeting?
Me: I was paged and had to prevent the loss of several million dollars to the company so I couldn’t go.
Boss: This was a really important meeting I wanted you to be at. Next time ask someone else to do the investigation.
*Boss walks away without waiting for a response*
I hated working for this guy.
If I went with 2, this following would happen:
Nothing. Yep. He just wanted me to be there for no particular reason apparently.
If I went with 3, the following would happen:
Boss: I told you not to ask questions. You need to really focus on listening to others.
*Immediately walks away without waiting for acknowledgement of this statement.*
I really hated working with this guy.
I eventually ended up leaving his team. I never got the chance to explain to him why this behavior was bad because he never let me speak. He was very surprised when I told him I was leaving and was confused that it was so unexpected. Maybe he needs to focus on listening to other people more.
You might be wondering what the deal was with this. I can explain.
This manager had a grand plan for everything and played a long game. Often in order to create the outcome he wanted, he’d plan out a multi-month or year long campaign to manipulate entire organization into a particular position. In a lot of the cases when I was asked to be in a meeting without an explanation it was one of two reasons:
- The manager needed an engineer to be present who was known to be competent in order to scare the other managers into less bullsh*tting. In these cases I would often be called upon to confirm a specific technical detail in a misleading concept to force another manager to agree to take on work or admit responsibility for something. Over time this would lead to transferal of ownership of entire services.
- The manager was parading me in front of the senior management or engineers to advertise my broad level of influence. This was part of my boss’ plan to make his organization look really technically strong and to buy as many promotions from other teams as possible. He looks good when he promotes engineers to senior positions and in exchange he’ll play the same game with other managers.
Did that actually work? I mean, he looks really capable to his superiors when he takes on projects saying that the other team was incompetent and promises greatness with his growing army of senior and principal engineers. On the other hand, he was known as a bully among other managers and a cancer to any project he took on by other engineering groups. He refused to allow you to defend yourself or your team in meetings and he overloaded his engineering teams with so much inherited work that nothing ever got done… unless it would get you promoted and contribute to his army of highly skilled workers. Oh, and by the way, his promotions were a lot of behind closed door deals with other managers so they weren’t always qualified.
Why did people work for him? If you were one of his chosen few that were to be promoted, he would fiercely prevent anyone from distracting you from your promotion projects and only put you on things that would gain you notoriety and promotion points. If you were a career climber, this was the manager for you. I actually like doing a good job and helping others when help is needed so he and I did not get along very well.
I’m sure there are many things you can take from this. I’ll give you this one: there can be methods to the madness of the most inconsiderate dictatorial managers if you’re willing to sit and listen to what others are saying.