Genghis Khan to pointy hair boss… the vast array of managers

There are many types of managers in the often unusual landscape of information technology, most of which are really good at what they do, but we often happen upon that small percentage of folks with their fair share of defects. Let me preface this by saying, out of the 10 or so managers I have had in 13 years, 4 have been outstanding, 3 have been mediocre, and 4 have been bad to absolutely horrible. I’ve already have sung the praises of the outstanding ones before, but I haven’t really got down to the nitty gritty about what gave the others the placements on my list, so lets look at the worst of the worst.

The Sociopath (With Delusions of grandeur)

You probably haven’t seen this one too much. It is a rarity, even amount the most incompetent of professionals, but I have worked with two of these in the past. I was working at a small company doing GPS mapping software, when owner of the company walked in and his first words were, “We have Google scared boys!”. This coming from the same guy who switched from calm to violent in the blink of an eye and who also had managed to play his investors against each other for funding. I label him sociopath because he could sell ice to an eskimo when he didn’t even have the ice to sell. He often made statements like he did about Google about other things, including landing government contracts. Google being scared of out 4 man operation, was just the pinnacle of his lunacy. To Google, we were merely the flatus from a small hummingbird. I could go on for hours about this guy.

The Empire Builder (Genghis Khan syndrome)

Chances are that everyone has seen one of these. They make up 60% of management professionals. They covet a high number of direct reports to solidify their positions, climb the ladder and have job security. These types can be good and be bad. a good empire builder will make your job easy because they are always augmenting staff and dividing the workload. The good ones treat you like the member of a team and see you as a name. The bad ones, see you as a number or a “resource”. The worst kind of empire builder is the one who over delegates everything to the point, they have no involvement with the team. Delegation is an important management trait, but delegating with the goal of not having to work at all, is a recipe for disaster, unemployment and a team that will turn against you because they see you are a detached leader who won’t get into the trenches.

The Folder or Pushover (Cheap Suit Disease)

This one is fairly common too. A deadly one to work for if you are out for job security. This guy will allow all the stuff above him to just roll past him and hit everyone below him. I’ve worked for one of these recently and not only do you fear for your job every day, but you often get left out there hanging in a meeting with people far above your pay grade and no power behind your title to protect yourself. This manager in particular was just marking the days until retirement or getting laid off and he wanted no stress, no work and no worries. Anytime trouble came rolling his way, he’d pony somebody up as a sacrificial lamb to “throw under the bus”. He was a minister no less, but obviously had no idea what the golden rule meant.


The Fast Food Guy (Micromanagementitis)

This one is becoming a dinosaur. These are mostly older folks who still think work is a strict 8-5 job or someone who has a plant or fast food mentality about work. They hover, micromanage, watch your hours, check your online activity and demoralize you at every turn, even when you productivity is up.

In today’s work society, it is ever increasingly common for folks to be more flexible in their work habits. Jobs like IT are all day and even at night and can be done remotely just as easily as they are done in the office. This type of manager will make you miserable and they often find some little hold in the wall at a place where their employees are indentured servants and don’t have much choice but to submit to their oppression. It has always been my belief that work is a meritocracy. If you are productive and the job is getting done, I would care if you were ever in the office.

The Weasel

Related to the Fast Food guy, this guy is that and worse. He doesn’t have a bit of good in him and he’ll make sure you suffer every day you come into work. He’ll play coworkers against one another. He’ll have other managers hating you, he’ll prevent you from being promoted and even won’t give you a job reference. This is the most identifiable of all managers. These are often noticed in the first phone call of in person interview. You will often see kids fresh out of college or H1B workers surrounding this person because he can’t fool the experienced.

The Idiot (Pointy Hair Boss)

Idiot is a harsh word to use when referring to a person, but it is really the only word that fits this type of individual. You will definitely recognize these. They are straight out of college MBAs or professionals in other fields like accounting or advertising that move into IT. Usually this happens as the result of a favor or buddy hire or nepotism or they are begat by another Idiot above them. This type knows nothing about IT or technology, using Word or Excel is often the limit of their technical skills. They don’t have any experience with the software development lifecycle or even care to learn anything about it. A good IT manager needs to have some background in technology and no, writing Cobol 15 years ago doesn’t count or VB script 10 years ago also doesn’t count and most certainly knowing how to install Windows doesn’t count. Qualifications are important here. For example, a Software Architect that migrates into management or a project manager with a background in C++ development. A passion for technology is almost always a must as well. You can weed these people out just by asking them what programs they use most and what types of things they do on their home computer. If they say, I do Web pages in Front Page or I use Yahoo Page Builder to develop Web sites, they are either noobs or idiots. This guy will ring familiar anytime you read a Dilbert comic.

The Human Shield

Here is another one who can be good or bad. The good is that they shield you from all the politics and stuff thrown their way from above them, but with the bad ones, this is a double edged sword. I had one before that took all the credit for developing my product. I was a contractor and didn’t care because I didn’t have to deal with the politics very much, but when it came time to cut contractors, I was unnoticed by the SVP for the department, so I went on the list. My manager at the time had claimed victory for the entire project lock stock and barrel. Of course, it backfired a bit when I was gone and he didn’t have a clue about the project. If you find a good one of these, even if you do something that incredibly stupid, they will protect you at all costs to the people above them and chastise you later in private. Another part of being a good manager is that you are accountable for your people’s actions. They reflect on you.

The Tyrant (My way or the highway)

These aren’t common in IT, but there are some. These are the types of people with no management skills and  rule by fear and intimidation. Their entire existence is to dictate what yours will be. You are merely a robot that is programmed to follow their every whim. These folks are related to both Fast Food guy and Weasel. They are generally a bad combination all every bad type. A tyrant can be passive aggressive to extremely aggressive, but the results are the same, a demoralized, oppressed and miserable group of peasant underlings. I have worked for 3 or 4 tyrants in my life, but mostly not in IT. I did interview with one a while back though at Franklin American Mortgage in Nashville TN. The manager and the VP were both tyrants, but one was aggressive and the other was passive aggressive. The people working there appeared beaten down to the point of just about to jump out a window…I am dead serious.

The bottom line here is that you should treat your employees as they deserve to be treated…with respect. You will no doubt get it returned to you. Sun Tzu said it best, “Men who fear you will fight for you….men who respect you will die for you.” Pardon my paraphrasing, but the essence of the quote is intact.