To Stay or Leave – Your Manager

By Scot Herrick | Job Search

May 29

This week I’m focusing attention on to stay or leave your employer. These articles present examination areas to help your decision. Yesterday, in To Stay or Leave – Your Company, I covered how your company and personal industry can affect your decision. Before that, I looked at your industry affecting your decision.

There are two more areas:

  • Your Manager
  • Your Personal Criteria

I’m doing an article a day on each of these subjects.

Today I’ll take a look at your manager and how it influences your decision to stay or go.

Your manager

Your direct manager impacts your job satisfaction. Typically, your manager is the person showing you the value of your work to the company and customers. Your manager is the one that sets and measures goals. Your manager is the person that takes the anonymity of you away in a corporation. These traits are critical in your job satisfaction.

Yet, there are few good managers. Corporations now rarely have a manager of a team. Instead, they have the manager working a full-time job and managing a team as well. Too often managers will not provide feedback – even annual reviews – even though HR policy says they should. Each time a manager is named for you, you must prove yourself again. In one manager’s world, you are gold. In the next, you are nothing. The reverse is also true.

Management is also subject to frequent changes, what I call the “5% unemployment, 75% corporate churn.” Companies think they can solve their problems by constantly reorganizing themselves; moving people and departments around on an organizational chart like it was a game of checkers or chess. In my first 20-years in my career, I never had the same manager for two consecutive annual reviews.

In addition, your manager is subject to the manager next up the hierarchy. A great manager is hamstrung by the next manager up if that manager doesn’t have a clue. That happens more often than I’m willing to admit.

Thus, a decision on staying with your job or leaving to a different one in or out of the company based on your current manager is fraught with risk.

Let’s see if we can put a useful framework in place to help guide us in our decision.

Your self-evaluation

The most critical decision about your manager comes first from knowing if you are successful or not in your position, regardless of your manager. This cannot be overemphasized – too many people blame their manager for poor work when, in fact, it is your poor work.

This is why having measurements about your work is important – you can decide on your own if you are successful. If you know that you are successful or where you are not, you are now in a position to evaluate your manager. Too many people who work in cubes overestimate the work they do; measure what you do and know if the work you do contributes to the organization.

The good manager

If you are working for what you consider a good manager, staying with that manager is a good thing. When upper management changes, note the new senior manager almost always “brings in their own people.” This is why – previous good working relationships under fire. If you are going into an environment of change, you want to already know the strengths and weaknesses of the people reporting to you. Same principle here with you and your manager.

Good managers will also want to improve your job skills and career opportunities. They will look for those opportunities for you. They will applaud your accomplishments and give you credit improving your personal brand in the company.

The bad manager

Bad managers have a whole range of behaviors that don’t help you. Having a bad manager will destroy your personal brand. Harsh, but true.

Bad managers will not give credit to your work – and will criticize it in front of other managers. A bad manager’s poor results will become your poor results, regardless of your performance. Bad managers will downplay your role and performance if you apply for another position in the company. Every potential manager will talk to the existing manager about your performance. You will lose in this conversation and not be able to move. A bad manager will affect your attitude – and you will implode your results if not careful. All of these destroy your personal brand.

Good people need good managers. The only question about working for a bad manager is if there is enough corporate churn that you will outlast the manager in the position. If not, time to leave the company.

The neutral manager

If “doing no harm” is good, a neutral manager should be OK to stay. What an average manager means to you is that your career work, job skill additions, and networking require a greater effort by you. Your manager won’t be doing those unless asked. This is “self-service survival” in your company; you won’t get the added benefits of the good manager and the toxic destruction of your personal brand from a bad manager. Like searching for answers in a self-service environment, you won’t be harmed, but you’ll need to do a lot more work.

The interview risks

Here’s the rule: never criticize your manager or management team in an interview. Never. Even if it is the reason you are leaving. Two stories:

First, as a manager, I interviewed a person I knew for a position. In the hour interview, the person mostly talked about how bad the manager was for the department. And, because I knew this person and manager, this person thought it was acceptable to talk about poor management. Yet, I was hiring for specific skills and work, needing to see how this person would help. I didn’t get anything that related to the position and this person didn’t get hired. Talking about bad management easily takes you out of the running because you don’t concentrate on the skills needed for this person in front of you.

The second story was an interview I did with another manager where I was interviewing for a new position in a new company. There were four hour-long marathon interviews with four different sets of people. In one, I mentioned – no more than 30-seconds – that one of the difficulties in the merger my company just had was my manager was 1000 miles away and didn’t want me talking to his manager. The next manager in the hierarchy whose office was 20-feet from mine. The manager who I regularly spoke with for the last five years. The statement was: “With the merger, I now cannot talk to my manager’s manager even though this office is twenty feet from mine. I must clear it with my manager.”

I had an inside person at the company. I was told by my person that the person I interviewed with where I did that 30-second statement labeled me as having a “negative attitude” and didn’t want to bring someone like me to the company. Stunning; I didn’t even make it sound negative. It was a practical matter of being in a position where I couldn’t win. My gain, by the way. I would have ended working for a poor manager and hurting my career.

But both of these stories illustrate the dangers of getting a new position based solely on leaving because of your manager. Leaving because of your manager is acceptable, I think – if you don’t mention it in your interviews. So much for transparency…

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About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.