I have been in the same management position for 2+ years after being promoted. My manager has a tendency to communicate by looking for the negative in everything. Reports come out showing future trends in sales and we (mgrs) will get emails saying things like "we need to do better at this." Never has any meat or guidance behind any results that need work (if that makes any sense).

We get along just fine overall but I feel like I am turning to the same negative ways with my team that he has with his. Always looking to poke holes in anything. On two occasions, I have told him that he can be negative sometimes and that it would be more beneficial to the overall performance of the team if he would work on this. He has agreed but the same behavior continues. I am now concerned for my job as my performance dropped off toward the end of last year. I take full responsibility for the numbers that have been produced but one of the things that I will always remember from a previous director is "if you fail, it is my fault." I guess I partially hold him responsible because all I get is "you need to do this" or "why didn't you do this?"

I love my job, the company that I work for and the people that I work with but I really want to work with him to make the performance of our teams much better than they have been in the past. Any help would be wonderful. Thanks.


arc1's picture

Interesting situation you're in.

Partly, you seem to already know the answer, which is that you should try not to let his poor management detract from your own management style.

Not sure you can change how your boss is. I think the answer I often see from Mark H. on this area is "Stop trying to change your boss", and I've found in my career, that's pretty true.

Probably the main thing you can do is keep communicating positively - eg. when you experience a negative comment with no specifics or solutions, I'd suggest the approach of (1) agree there is a problem, (2) propose solutions, and (3) state which one you're going to go with, unless boss thinks otherwise. Meanwhile communicate similar down to your team - guys, here's what the boss has said, here's what I make of it, and here's what I propose our team is going to do about it.

(Come to think of it, that last bit is borrowed directly from one of the MT casts if I recall rightly...)

That approach means that first, your boss sees you as a problem-solver (remember most of us see ourselves as the hero of the story, even if objectively we're a dud. He probably wishes people would just automatically "get" what he means and get on with sorting things out), and second, it's crystal clear to your own team where the crud is coming from - without you needing to be critical of your boss.

Overall, because you seem to really like the rest of your job, I'd stick at it and just try not to get too down - I know bad managers are depressing, but it's great to work somewhere where you like the people and the place. I've had a great manager in a poor company before, and that's no fun either.

Cheers, Chris

WillDuke's picture
Training Badge

[quote]my performance dropped off toward the end of last year. I take full responsibility for the numbers that have been produced[/quote]
Besides being the right thing to say, what does this mean? What are you doing to change it? Have you let your boss know how you're going to fix it?

Do you have a clear understanding of what's wrong with the sales numbers? I ask because you say there's no meat. So I'm wondering if there's just an overall projection being handed down without explanation, or if something concrete is wrong, like sales are down 13%. It's definitely easier to go after the latter than the former.

If you don't know what's wrong, you have to find out. If or when you do know what's wrong, make a plan to fix it. Share the plan with your boss. Then implement the plan. :)

Also, have you spent any time identifying the communication habits of your boss? Is he a high D? Are you responding in high D fashion? Is your boss not a high D, but are you still communicating in a D fashion? make sure you're keeping the lines of communication open by appealing to his preferred communication method.

Focusing on his managing style isn't going to get you any traction or resolution or happiness. Focus on the business. Focus on results.

US41's picture

Two things:
[*]Focus on your boss's strengths
[*]Own your decisions and behavior - and the results you get.
I can only comment based on what you wrote, so forgive me if more is going on there than what you are writing about, but when you write about your boss's most prominent bad habit, my first thought is, "Don't go there." OK, so your boss manages by exception (who doesn't?) and gives vague, high-level advice.

Instead of focusing on this weakness, focus on what your boss is strong at. What are his strengths? Can you name three huge strengths he has? Is he good at relationships? Is he good at remembering to reward his top performers? Does he measure performance at all? Does he do a good job hiring the right people? Does this guy have a strength?

If so, focus on those strengths. Write them down.

And you know of a big weakness he has: He manages by exception. You will have to manage in such a way that you shore up that weakness. Most people have a boss that does that, but they fail to follow Drucker's advice in The Effective Executive and manage to that weakness to cover for it.

What can you do to contribute to your boss's success that will help where he is weak? Hint: Giving him feedback does not contribute to his success because he is immune to feedback from his reports.

Here are some suggestions:
[*] Make reports and publications in email or on print, posters about your department's achievements, accomplishments, and any good news. It is shocking to see a boss who manages by exception receive a weekly email that lists achievements or measurements that show that 99% of everything is GREEN, good to go, and OK. Their frowns turn upside down, and they will probably ask that you publish it to a wider audience.

[*]Have measurements on you and your team's performance. It's amazing how much our folks are off the boss's radar despite what we think. Then they do one thing wrong and the boss is convinced this person is the devil and needs firing. It's our job to keep measurements and pull these out (I think printed in color is most effective) and show them just how the person's numbers are in fact pretty good.

[*]Take your boss's vague hints and turn them into concrete direction. Your boss says, "Dude, your numbers blow. Make them gooder." Your job is to get everyone together and ask them to come up with ideas as to how to reach "gooder", measure going from A to B, and then make a chart that shows an upward line as you guys pull together and do it.

Remember, your team is a distributed computing environment - you have more brains that just yours. Take your problems to your directs and their directs and get ideas from them. Pull together like a family and come up with ideas.

Try something - anything - and you are in a better place than you are when you are merely complaining that your boss is a jerk and your numbers stink.

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

Your boss sounds pretty normal to me. If you're thinking of leaving because of this guy, you have a good shot of getting another just like him.

Improve your results. Decide what kind of boss you want to be, what behaviors that takes, and make sure those behaviors deliver the results you want.

And yes, stop trying to change your boss.