Fix It Or Forget It?October 5th, 2011
Lynn’s* micromanager boss had her ready to start interviewing, when she realized something: He wasn’t malicious. He had OCD.
After only being in her new position a few months, Lynn was so fed up with being overly-supervised that she had already approached me about starting her job search once again. Her director seemed unable to let her accomplish any task on her own, without reviewing it, advising her on it, or having her explain something about it to him.
Lynn had hoped it would get better once she had been there long enough to show that she understood her job and wasn’t “new” anymore, and so forth, but now that she was entering her second quarter and his treatment hadn’t subsided in the least, she wanted out.
“I honestly feel that I am less condescending to my ten year old when providing instructions,” she explained.
Then, something happened to give her a different insight into her manager. She attended a company potluck picnic and assisted with the setup, along with her manager and several others.
“We were opening several bags of rolls, to be placed on platters, when he insisted that I not touch any of them with my bare hands, but use napkins as a kind of ‘glove.’ Although my hands were clean, I can understand taking precautions when serving food to many people, and I complied.”
“This wasn’t enough, however, and he stood over me, demonstrating, and watching my placement of the rolls on my platter, while also placing rolls on another platter . . . and trying to supervise another person’s ‘food role’ at the same time. By the time he returned, 90% of the rolls were on my platter, and the rest could have easily fit, but he had to have some of the rolls be placed on his platter as well.”
“This type of OCD behavior went on with several other types of food, as well as the placement of the napkins, silverware, and so on. It became very apparent that the task at hand was irrelevant, or the worker. Some of the staff volunteers weren’t even in his department, but this didn’t stop him from telling each of them the right way to do their assigned task!”
Once Lynn saw her manager in this perspective, she changed her mind about leaving, and we worked on a strategy for her to stay instead. Clearly, he makes a second full time job out of solving things, so we made sure that Lynn always had more than too much for her manager to solve.
In the past, Lynn had provided her managers with a summary of her work, and was a cut-to-the-chase type of worker; however, I pointed out that if she was working for someone who showed an interest in the arrangement of bread, napkins and silverware, then she ought to write out absolutely everything that she is not only working on, but planning to do and even contemplating – in the greatest detail possible!
Lynn was able to Fix It! by doing just this. She not only provided lengthy progress reports, but made certain to order them specifically so that less attention was paid (and less criticism, questions and nitpicking) to the items that she felt she could handle herself.
Eventually, Lynn’s manager asked her for less and less detail, which had its good and bad points. On the one hand, she is micromanaged far less than his other staff members, so mission accomplished. On the other hand, he ends up essentially avoiding her on many occasions and only engaging her when absolutely necessary, since she branded herself this way in his eyes. Their preferred method of communication has become email.
“I suppose I wish we were on more amenable terms,” Lynn said, “But I honestly don’t see how I could have struck a medium with someone like him. I’m just happy to be freed of how I started out, and not looking for another job so soon. It’s better than it was.”
Murray* had been working in his position as a marketing assistant for some time, and by all accounts was very skilled at his position. He had been asking his department head several times for the past year for an opportunity to take the lead on a project, and was told that he would get the opportunity “soon,” but “not this time – the account is too large,” and various other reasons why not.
Murray was beginning to get frustrated, but tried to be understanding. He knew he didn’t have the experience to lead a team on a large account, but made it clear to the department head that he wanted more responsibility, and the answer was always favorable, yet “not now.” At least he took comfort in knowing that his manager considered him to be talented.
Finally, Murray felt that he had an opportunity when two assistant marketing directors left the company at nearly the same time! He went to the department head to seek counsel on which one would be more appropriate to apply for, since they each worked on different types of accounts.
Murray was shocked at the department head’s response. She told him, “Oh, you don’t want to apply for those! We need you here, in this job – you’re so good at it! We’d never make it without you doing this!”
Murray was incensed and decided right then and there to Forget It!
“I couldn’t believe it!” Murray ranted, “Not only did she lead me on for more than a year, letting me believe that I had a shot at being promoted from within, but she can’t even be honest when an opportunity – no, TWO opportunities – comes up and tell me the truth. She has to put on this plastic smile and pretend to compliment me with this ‘We can’t live without you’ routine. It’s beyond insulting!”
Murray had another surprise once he and I composed his resume: He had accomplished a great deal during his nearly two years while working at the company. His resume boasted much more than a typical “marketing assistant” would do.
After searching for several months, Murray was hired at a smaller company as Marketing Director! He would have been content to take either Assistant Marketing Director position at his previous company, which still had one of the positions vacant.
“When I gave my notice,” Murray said, “I didn’t get any of this ridiculous ‘What’ll we do without you?’ comment, although I did see a look of surprise on her face at my new title.”
Murray explained, “Of course, I’m pleased with the better pay and position, but mostly, I’m happy to be doing the type of work I’ve been asking for all along . . . and getting respected for my ability to do so.”
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
— Rita Mae Brown
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