Posted on July 15, 2009 by Colin

How to Cope with Being Managed

As someone who has worked as a designer for many different companies under many different bosses, I know firsthand that there are pros and cons to every manager, and unfortunately in many cases the cons will outweigh the pros.

I’ve had managers that were effective and pleasant to work with, giving me goals and guidelines and letting me go crazy, using my natural talents and highly-trained skills to get the most out of a project.

In other cases (many, I’m afraid), managers have been the bane of the project, insisting on sticking their nose into every aspect of a job, including more or less guiding my hand as I design (I can’t tell you how many times I almost stood up and told them to just take the mouse and do it themselves…why did they need me as a middle-man when they clearly knew EXACTLY how to design something, what with their color-blindness, 2 years of business classes at a technical college and penchant for ‘beautiful fonts like Comic Sans’…of course they know my business better than I do!).

But I digress.

Being managed is a fact of life for most (in any field), and if you don’t find a way to survive the frustrating periods of your career, it’s unlikely you’ll ever slip-slide your way up to the top where you will be able to end the cycle of bad management creating more bad management.

One thing that I have found useful in the effort to peacefully coexist with my managers is to make clear from the beginning that you are not intending to step on any toes or steal any glory, but rather aiming to do the best work that you can (implying, without saying, that you doing so will make THEM look good).

Flaunt your expertise without going out and saying “I am the Mac-Daddy of hand-woven placemats.” Instead, if your manager asks you to do something that would negatively impact the product or company, simply tell them “Sir/Madam, I was doing it this way because the integrity of the placemat’s structure is based on the number of overlaps, and this weaving method is the new hotness in the placemat industry as it is creates particularly effective overlaps.” Aces.

Allow them to absorb. Don’t defend yourself unless asked to. Let them come to their own conclusions which, if you have your facts straight, should be the conclusions you just gave them.

If all goes well, this should lead to more autonomy for you because they can be sure that there is little chance of you screwing up if they aren’t constantly coming over to your desk/cubicle/station and interrupting your flow.

A nice overarching rule to keep in mind when you come into conflict with your manager: they have goals and if you help them meet those goals, you will be in a great position, whereas if you seem to be standing in the way of their coveted promotion and company car, you’d better watch your back, fella.

For example, if your immediate superior asks you to use a different script on sales calls, even when you know the method they are asking you to use is bunk, they are still trying to help you meet your monthly sales goal (which in turn will help them meet THEIR goals). Figure out a way to help them help you and there will be a lot less conflict, yelling and stress in your workplace.

Something that I’ve come to realize (after spending a lot of time managing others) is that managing is not difficult, but many people who do it treat it like it is. They may feel that they aren’t up to the task; if they don’t over-compensate for their perceived shortcomings, they will fail. Or they might feel that they aren’t getting their due, which they then take out on those they manage.

Whatever the reason — powertrip, inferiority complex, or a simple lack of skill — there are some really terrible managers out there, and in some cases the only solution will be to file a formal complaint with THEIR superior, or quit.

Depending on your field it may or may not be an easy thing to transition into freelancing or to find a comparable (or better!) job with another company, but one thing is certain: if you are miserable going to work every day, that is a large percentage of your life that is being flushed down the toilet that you will never get back.

We are not living during the Industrial Revolution; these are the days when individuals, not faceless cogs in the machine, are the ones raking in the big bucks. More and more you will find that the really successful people of today are able to maintain their individuality because they love what they do and refuse to compromise.

If you are not fulfilled because of your manager or your job, it’s time to seriously rethink your priorities. Don’t worry, I won’t come harass you every 15 minutes until you make a decision…though you should let me know what you decide in proper TPS Report format.