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MANAGING YOUR MANAGER
How to Get Ahead with Any Type of Boss
By Gonzague Dufour
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2011The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
All rights reserved.
THE BULLY Limit the Pain, Target the Gain
My Bully looked like his moniker, in that he was a big guy. The Bully, however, doesn't have to be physically large to be intimidating. I've known Bullies who are small in stature yet have a swagger and sneer about them that inspire fear. There are women Bullies as well as men. And the Bully may be a first-time manager or the CEO.
In short, this type comes in all shapes and sizes.
The word bully connotes a number of negative traits, but like all boss archetypes that I'll discuss, this one is a mixture of positives and negatives. In fact, the positives are often the flip side of the negatives—you don't get one without the other.
Let's look at my particular Bully, and then we'll examine the best way of managing this heavy-handed heavy hitter.
THE BULLY IN ACTION
As some researchers demonstrate, the three critical factors for the making of a CEO are self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-control. My Bully lacked this last one, a common failing among Bully bosses. These managers have unexpected bursts of anger, and their volatility contributes to their intimidating presence. It's one thing when a boss becomes angry over a costly mistake, but it's something else entirely when his rage seems to come out of nowhere.
My Bully hated surprises. He was most likely to fly off the handle and castigate people when he was unprepared for what he saw or heard. For instance, Joshua, the Bully's direct report, once made a presentation to the Bully's boss at which our entire group was present. Joshua did an excellent job, but during the presentation he revealed that we had made a second trip to a key customer to correct a complaint. It was a relatively innocuous admission, but the Bully didn't think so. After the meeting, behind closed doors, the Bully's screams echoed down the hallway, and Joshua slunk out of his office like a whipped dog. In fact, Joshua was so shaken by the encounter that he tried to avoid the Bully whenever possible, and his effectiveness diminished considerably; he left the company within the year.
The Bully was intensely competitive, so when another group within the company delivered better results than our group, or an outside competitor did well, he erupted. Sometimes his eruptions had a touch of paranoia to them. He was convinced that there were leaks—that someone in our group had revealed something to another group that gave them an edge. Or he believed that we had been careless with our electronic correspondence, allowing competitors to observe what projects we were working on and take advantage of this knowledge. Rather than accepting that there were other good teams and companies out there, the Bully would browbeat us as a group as well as individually for our failings. Like most Bullies, he was skilled at knowing where an employee's most vulnerable spot was and hitting it with a barbed comment. Judy, who had been fired early on in her career for taking a risk that resulted in her company losing a significant amount of money, tended to play it safe with her decisions. The Bully, fully aware of her past problems, would needle her unmercifully: "Judy, is this really what you want to do, or what your fear of failure is telling you to do?"
At times, the Bully micromanaged when he should have supervised and delegated. Even worse, he let you know that he was taking over your task because you weren't smart enough, fast enough, or savvy enough to complete it effectively. He thought nothing of taking back an assignment he had given you and doing it himself. While he often was very good at executing these tasks, his micromanaging not only was demeaning, but it prevented learning and growth; it also made people wary of taking on stretch assignments where there was a good chance of making mistakes.
The Bully, though, possessed the strengths of his type as well as the weaknesses. He was highly aggressive, competitive, and driven, and this often resulted in our group meeting or exceeding our objectives. He was not intimidated by anyone, and he was willing to stand in front of the company's top executives and defend our group with convincing ardor. New or unfamiliar situations were not a problem for him as they are for some executives. At one point, our group faced a crisis about which the Bully knew very little, yet he took it on with great confidence and handled it with great effectiveness. Confidence to the point of arrogance has its benefits.
Despite his temper and intimidating demeanor, many good people wanted to work for the Bully. This was due, in large part, to the Bully's reputation for securing top bonuses and rewarding his favorites—if you were on his good side, he made organizational life easy for you. He also created excitement and energy around his teams, much as motivational sports coaches do. He pushed hard, posed challenges, created pragmatic strategies, and rewarded performance.
The people who got along best with the Bully tended to be either jaded or highly ambitious. Members of the latter group felt that he could help advance their careers—if the Bully could get them the compensation and promotions they wanted, he could yell as much as he wanted. The jaded group felt that the Bully was savvy about office politics and would use the force of his personality to protect those he liked; they figured he offered them more protection in tough times than managers who were nice but ineffectual.
The people who had problems with him harbored more idealistic notions of what business could and should be. Up until the time I began working for the Bully, I had subscribed to certain beliefs about being a manager in an organization. Perhaps naively, I had always assumed managers joined and stayed with an organization because they believed in what the company stood for. They possessed a purpose that transcended their personal mission. They were loyal to the company, their bosses, and their teams. Though they certainly had individual goals—in terms of salary, bonuses, titles, and so on—they were also motivated by factors larger than these personal objectives. While my previous bosses had flaws, most were driven by a group vision—they wanted their teams, their departments, their divisions, and their organizations to do well.
The Bully wanted himself to do well, and if others also did well, that was fine but of secondary concern. Such selfish behavior was difficult to deal with. At best, it was disillusioning. At worst, it bred cynicism and similarly selfish behaviors. The Bully demonstrated his me-first attitude in many ways, but the most egregious usually had to do with his compensation. On at least one occasion, he manipulated the numbers to ensure that he would receive the highest bonus allowed, justifying his behaviors by saying that he "deserved it." Similarly, he made it clear to his team that they were receiving their bonuses because of his heroic efforts and not because they deserved them. He tried to bully them into believing that but for the grace of him, there would be no good bonuses.
To call him Machiavellian would be an oversimplification, but he certainly was manipulative. On his best days, he manipulated in ways that helped our group achieve highly ambitious objectives and contributed to the company's overall success. On his worst days, he manipulated out of spite, anger, or just because it was in his nature.
Many managers can lose their tempers and be intimidating at times, but they are not necessarily Bullies. What distinguishes the Bully from other types is that he is consistently intimidating, pushing other people around, losing control, driving toward res
Excerpted from MANAGING YOUR MANAGER by Gonzague Dufour. Copyright © 2011 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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