My column, Workplace Referee, is designed to help employees and managers gain better insight into each other's point of view (POV). Have a situation you'd like me to address? Please submit it by firstname.lastname@example.org here. Don't worry, I'll keep your identity private.
My Boss Thinks I'm His Partner In Crime
Employee POV: I joined my department a month after my boss first got appointed. He's a 'rising star' in the company. But, this is his first management job, and it's the worst thing that could have happened to this department. He constantly sells himself as the best manager ever and says I'm going to be the best consultant ever under his "leadership". Him and me against everybody. His vocalization of his 'greatness' only fed his ego more. It went from bad to worse when he started to viciously gossip about my coworkers and believing me to be his partner in crime. I've seen coworkers thrown under the bus one too many times, so I am leaving this department. The sad part is that I loved my job, I'm actually just leaving him. I'm telling him today, I'm ready for the worst. I'm thinking I should be honest with him if he asks why I'm leaving. Maybe it will help him see what a mess he's made.
Manager POV: After paying my dues and building up my credibility in my company, I was given the opportunity to turn around a failing department. The majority of the staff has been coddled and weren't doing their jobs. I've had to administer a lot of tough love, and it's resulted in people quitting - which is fine by me. I have one employee who is my rising star. She joined right after I got promoted and has no bad habits. She's really proven valuable this past year and I think once we get some new blood in here, she'll have the chance to shine. I've confided in her a lot, knowing she will someday get promoted in the department. I just hope she understands that building the right team in a situation like this takes time. She's also likely heard a lot of whining and complaining about my leadership from the under-performers. But, I think she understands that change isn't easy, but definitely necessary.
Who's at fault? The real person to blame in this situation is the executive that thought it was wise to put a first-time manager in charge of turning around a failing department. Situations like that require proven experience and someone with exceptional people and leadership skills. That being said, it is very disturbing that the manager has confided so quickly and deeply with this new employee. The fact that he has knowingly tried to create the "us against them" mentality shows his inexperience and lack of confidence. In spite of his bragging, I guarantee he knows things aren't going well and is just hoping to convince this one new employee otherwise.
What can both sides learn from this?
In this situation, I would advise each side as follows:
Employee Takeaway: When you realize you don't trust or respect your boss anymore, the best thing you can do is find another position. It's not your job to teach him how to manage. It's better to leave and let him figure it out on his own. That way, you can leave on positive terms. The working world is small and you just never know when you might need a recommendation from this boss. If you tell him what you think of his management style, I guarantee you'll never be able to use him as a reference.
Manager Takeaway: There is powerful phrase about leadership, "teams without trust have politics." You have created a lack of trust that has resulted in a division of labor. You can't succeed with an "us against them" management mentality. It's time to step back and get some help rebuilding your professional reputation. Learning to lead in a way that earns respect should be your top priority. Especially, since leadership mistakes can be career killer.