Written by Brian de Haaff
I will remember at least two people from my career until the day I die. The best boss I ever had and the worst. No matter how good or bad your memory is, I promise that you will too. A great boss makes every day terrific. And few things are more demoralizing for someone with ambition than a manager who stifles their potential.
Over the last two years as the CEO of Aha! (product roadmap software), I’ve thought a great deal about what makes some managers so rotten. And I have thought about the people I worked for, including George (name changed).
For most bosses like George, management is often just the next rung on the ladder. But the skills required to get a career going are very different than the ones that are needed to be a great leader. The transition is not easy and can create self doubt. And if your manager begins to doubt his abilities, fear will take over and strangle good judgement.
Fear is one of the most powerful of all human emotions. Even the most well intentioned manager will completely change his behavior in an attempt to compensate for fear.
Fear often leads to panic over being “found out” as someone who is in too deep. Once that happens, your manager will spend lots of energy ensuring that he does not look weak to his boss or peers. I am sorry, but that makes you a threat. Instead of enabling you to reach your highest potential, a manager who is gripped with fear will be nervous that you may expose him.
We all have theories about where fear starts and ridiculous stories to tell about the fearful manager. But if you have lived through this before, you know that the one sign your boss fears you is more obvious than most people might think. It’s easy to spot when you think about it.
The one sign your boss fears you is that he asks you to send everything to him first.
When your manager wants to stand in the way of you getting work done and building work relationships, it’s a frustrating challenge. But rather than become demotivated, you should remember these three things when dealing with managers like George:
The most successful professionals have taught themselves to master their emotions during times of stress. And since your own boss is unable to do so, it’s up to you to show him how it’s done. Cooler heads prevail when it comes to dealing with a fearful manager.
Don’t take micromanagement personally. Chances are that if your boss acts this way, he fears more than just you. Don’t gossip, but seek a trusted mentor internally who can help you keep your own head up and continue to be your best. Ask for advice, and be willing to see where you can improve your own actions. Make sure that you are not actually the one handicapped with fright.
Trust me, there will come a day when you are not subject to a fearful leader. Take a moment and remind yourself that you are in your current role for a reason. Think about it deeply and learn from it. This will help you anticipate your manager’s reactions, alleviate his worries, and not make others feel the same misery when you are a leader.
Even the best employees have endured fearful bosses. The good news is that they can be some of your best teachers if you study what motivates them.
After 20 years on the job, I’ve had my share of lackluster leaders. George and others like him teach you what you won’t tolerate. But I’ve also managed to glean a few lessons from them along the way. They influenced the leader I have become, and I am thankful for that.