My boss is an ultra-wimp
Tuesday, Jun. 26, 2007 at 10:17am
Shooting me questions this time was a guy who works for what he calls an "ultra-wimp," who not surprisingly is to be found in academia. My dad worked in that dry and flinty bureaucratic soil, and I can tell you that brand of limp manipulator can be particularly thorny and vicious. Another question comes from a fellow who wants to leave one bulls**t job for another, more prestigious one. Again, a reasonable request, and achievable if one deploys the right strategy. A third inquiry finds a young woman who is dealing with that most ubiquitous of crazy bosses, a mean little bully who exploits her work and denies her the respect she deserves. They just don't seem to go away, these guys, do they? Until, you know, they do. That's the good news.
There are some other cries for help, including one person who is wrestling with that most hairy of issues for any working person: how to get a raise. We could spend a long time on that one, and maybe I will one day. There are many schools of thought on the subject, most of which go at it rationally. Since like many core business issues it is not, in my opinion, a totally rational one, I tend to veer to another approach, some of which is touched on in today's Q&A.
A note to all of you who take the time and trouble to write in to this portion of the Bing website: I read every one of your letters and always marvel at how essentially the same major torments and uncertainties play themselves out in an infinite variety of ways. Each job has its very specific cultural milieu, its own cast of leading and supporting characters, its own pains and gains. Each boss is both the same as every boss and completely different than any others. Thank God. As long as the world stays the way it is, I will never go out of business.
So keep writing. I'll keep thinking about the things that bother you. It's certainly better than obsessing about my own situation all the time.
Q: I certainly relate to the description of the "wimp" boss (in Crazy Bosses). I work as a professor at a Japanese university, and your characterization of Japan as a country run by wimp bosses, while being a bit of an over-generalization, does ring true. There are also a sizable number of bullying, abusive bosses as well, but generally speaking, the "wimp" that hides behind the bureaucracy is quite common.
My question is this: what to do if you have an "ultrawimp" boss? My boss did not even want the job he now has, and he never ceases to remind people of this fact. When the prior boss left, they couldn't find a suitable replacement, so they asked this guy to take the position. He announced his official appointment with a bold and confidence-inspiring "I didn't want the job." He even tells new hires how he feels about this new gig.
He works on the principle of doing the least amount of work and encountering the least amount of resistance. He doesn't go by what's right, but what's easiest. I've worked for wimps like this before, but never one quite this bad. Any suggestions?
P.S. By the way, not all crazy bosses are male - you generally refer to crazy bosses as men (he, him, his, etc.) - but there are plenty of crazy female bosses as well!
A: Thanks, Steve. Of course I know very well that not all crazy bosses are male. In fact, just last night I was thinking about one of my craziest, a woman - I'll call her Diana, because that's not her name - who ruled over my department for a brief time in the early 90s. Diana delegated all work in the department to me. She was in the middle of a horrible divorce, and cried behind her closed door every single day. She pulled herself together to attend the occasional meeting with the chairman, but beyond that, she was a basket case.
This went on for about two years. Every quarter, she would be asked for the goals and strategies of the department. I would do them for her. After a while, I got sick of it, and just refused to do it. "It's your department, Diana," I said. "You're supposed to be the one who is setting the goals and strategies. That's what they pay you for." "Fine!" she said defiantly.
After about two hours of silence, she rang me on the intercom. "I've worked out my top strategy," she said. "I think our files are in deplorable shape. I think getting those in order will be Job One."
"Good deal," I said.
Eventually, she went away and is, I think, much happier out of the corporate workforce someplace in the middle west. As readers of Crazy Bosses know, it is my contention that these people (and all of us in the end, really) simply blow themselves up.
So it will be with Steve's "ultra-wimp." I am a big fan of staff enabling the madness of their superior. It's how I've lived as a boss for many years, and I don't know any pathological poohbah who doesn't rely on his people to keep him afloat in spite of his dementia.
But there's a limit, right? It will not be necessary for you and your peers to implement a total work stoppage. But right now I'm sure you are covering in a million ways for this loser. Begin the process of withdrawing that coverage. In a brief amount of time, things will begin to pile up for him, he will become increasingly ineffective and dysfunctional, and will in due time be found out by his bosses.
And when they come to YOU to ask you if you want the position that is now so unalterably screwed up? Tell them you want it, huh?
Q: As a former broker and loan officer with a college degree, all FORTUNE 500 companies want to pigeonhole me and put me on the phone making a 100 calls a day!!!! How do I get an analyst position without analysis experience? Please save me from the life of mad dialing and a future of bulls**t sales jobs!
A: I'm sorry, my friend. Each of us has a fate. Your may be to honk on the telephone all day. You may be somewhat assuaged to know that the job of security analyst is just as full of it as the sales jobs you are being assigned to. Analysts, it turns out, are sales people, too. In some cases, they are selling their own brand, carving out turf for themselves as they call High and Low on various securities they look at. The ones that take a contrarian positions can win big media play as Quote Monkeys in all the best publications.
But that's not really helping you, is it. All I can offer you is this: in general, the way to get ahead in organizations is to do the thing that you are assigned to very, very well. You will rise to a level of then being the Best in Class at what you do. You will have greater interface with senior officers who recognize that you're good at something - which is far more unusual than you may know and almost always appreciated by bosses with even a shred of sanity. From that vantage point - an acknowledged performer in one discipline, you may discuss with your superiors the possibility of graduating to something you really want to do. The best places for such discussions are a) bars, b) golf courses and c) adjoining urinals (if you are both male).
The strategy takes time. But its goals are likely to be more achievable than the tactic of sending a Sales resume out and expecting people to see you're a budding Analyst.
Q: I worked for a rather large logistics carrier, and after about 2 years my boss left. Things turned sour and another opportunity came up in a Fortune 500 outfit. So I took it. Better money, higher position. However when I interviewed my direct report boss was very nice. When I started working I am seeing a complete 180. No matter what I try to do or say it is wrong. And my view is not even heard. Its only been 3 months in the new job. But the stress is piling up. Should I look for a new job? Or should I try to stick it out? If I look for a new job do I even mention that I have been at this company for only 3 months.
A: You know what I'm going to tell you. Stick it out for a while. Keep your head down. This could be the hazing period that bullies inflict on their subordinates just to let them know who's got the big stick. And three months, in corporate time, is the wink of an eye.
What's the matter with you, anyhow? Stand up! Wipe your nose! I've labored under all kinds of nerdlingers for years at a time. I've had to wait for entire regimes to change to get a new pack of senior managers who knew what they were doing. The capacity for success in any organization is directly proportional to your ability to suck it up and stick it out.
That said, after another three months if things don't change you may discreetly begin looking around a little. And in the meantime, don't take too much crap from Mr. Weiner. Bullies like a little muscle in their people. If you allow yourself to be victimized consistently, he will continue to avail himself of that right. And what are you afraid of, anyhow? You don't even like the damn job!
Q: Where do I start... I work for a small software company. My title is "Jack of all trades." I work very hard all day answer phones, handling tech issues, fixing and formatting computers, printing reports, writing install manuals, tracking schedules, printing and mailing manuals for new customers, tracking client status tickets, installing software on new customers systems, and many other random things that pop in to my boss's head all day.
Issue: I think I deserve much more than $10 and hour but I know that my boss says I am expendable. Before I came here everything was falling apart, no customers were getting called back and the other two techs were falling apart trying to catch up. I have asked once for a raise and he said I had to bring in money before he would do so. We have three techs - another guy and I handle most non-accounting issues with the software and the third handles all advanced tech issues and accounting issues. All techs but I also train customers half the time. (We don't really have the time to spare for this, but it's what the owner wants).
Obstacles: The Owner has to control everything, if he didn't do it, it was done wrong. He is a programmer and an accountant. (Very bad combination). The Owner has an issue with females, there are only two of us and we are paid the least and treated the worst in the company. Also, he often tells customers that I have no clue what I am talking about when I know more about computers than 80% of this company, including him.
I presented ideas to him that could have taken his company to another level but he told me that I didn't know what I was talking about. We have meetings that I call the "30 minutes of hate" because it is him bashing everyone and we are not allowed to speak because that would not be productive. He yells at me for everything that goes wrong even though 90% of our customers are angry with him for his mistakes, and those same customers are telling me that they would have left if I was not here. Last but not least every third pay check bounces.
My question is this: I need to know how to deal with this and get a raise because I can't pay a mortgage on this kind of pay, and I have a trip in a month so finding another job that will allow me to be off for a week will be near impossible, I have been here over 6 months.
A: Remember what I just told the other guy? I'm going to tell you the exact opposite. What do you need this kind of aggravation for? You're underpaid. Every third paycheck bounces? You've only been there six months, so there are no emotional ties that bind you. The guy is the Owner, which means there's no way he's going anywhere. He's needy and abusive - what are you waiting for? You're a competent, intelligent, trained tech! You're needed elsewhere! Get out of there, for God's sake!
On the other hand, if you want to give it one real shot, here's what I would do: I would go to the boss. I would sit down and look him in the eye. I would tell him that you are not happy. If he asks you if you are quitting, you tell him No, you are not quitting, you are just not happy. If he asks you what you want, tell him you want more money, you want your paychecks to clear, and you want some respect and appreciation from him.
He will yell and pound his teeny-weeny fist on the table like a baby. He may even fire you. But my guess is that he won't. He will listen. He will be mystified by the approach that your happiness means something. He may even think a little, if you are as necessary to the operation as you believe you are. And I bet you are.
Bosses are flummoxed by the idea that their employee is "not happy." It brings them up short, makes them see you as a person for a moment, and not just a function. Try it. But whatever you do - DO NOT CRY. Do I need to say it again? DO NOT CRY. I say this because in some cases, to deal with their anger, women do tend to mist up and start boo-hooing. This brings out the cruel chauvinist in more than one bully. Don't do it.
Keep your wits about you, be calm and sure, and put it to The Man. Good luck.