Frustrating and Dangerous
One of the most frustrating aspects of working with, or for, a public company is dealing with the entrenched small minded middle managers. These are the people who enjoy playing politics in the workplace. They live for it. They have always wanted power but have never been a real leader, so the second they got a small taste of power they started doing everything they could to protect their position. That means they won’t make any decisions, because that would open them up to having to take responsibility for something. Their fear of failure or even minor embarrassment becomes a debilitating handicap that keeps them stuck in middle management forever. They grow more and more resentful over time that they haven’t been promoted any further. They are blind to the fact that they are actually holding the company back. So they stay eternally miserable, constantly trying to defend their small fiefdom in middle management.
How to Deal with Them
Dealing with these small minded middle managers can be dangerous. Their obsession with defending their position often results in actions that are not to the company’s benefit. That makes it impossible to use logic in an attempt to reason with them if they perceive your idea as undermining their authority in any way. They won’t hesitate to throw anyone under the bus if it absolves them of potential liability or responsibility. But they are always going to be the first person to announce they are taking credit for any achievement. It becomes easy for them to cover their tracks because they normally choose to operate with phonecalls or in person conversations so that they don’t leave a paper trail with an email or a text message. Beware any agreements or instructions that are not in writing, because they have a tendency of changing if that middle manager feels like some heat might be coming their way.
Cut from the Same Cloth
For some reason all of these small minded middle managers seem to share a couple of personality traits. They are normally short (Napoleonic complex/Short Man Syndrome), unattractive, and lacking in normal social skills. Most of the time they are very insecure, which means they are very thin skinned. ANY perceived criticism (whether real, or not) will trigger a violent response. Most times that will be a spectacle reserved for the lucky individuals that work under that middle manager, because it’s always someone else’s fault. A simple email saying “Hey, what is this about?” might turn into “they are grilling me about this and everyone is watching you now, so it has to get done TODAY” when it gets relayed to their underlings. Creating a false sense of urgency to get faster results is a small minded middle manager’s M.O.
Keep Your Head Down
If you ever present yourself as a threat, be ready for a never ending stream of shit because they will never let it go. Remember, a small minded middle manager is ONLY concerned about protecting themselves. Don’t be surprised if they go out of their way to keep you down, because anyone they think is trying to move up in the company is a threat that has to be eliminated. Since upward mobility is no longer an option for them, they feel like it’s only right to deny it to everyone else. Unless you are “on their side.” That caveat often leads to extremely awkward conversations about “everybody was mad about how you handled this, but I smoothed things over. I told them that you did a good job given the circumstances. Don’t worry, I had your back.” Remember the fabricated crisis over that innocent email? This is the reverse, and it means they want you to feel like you owe them something.
Shit Rolls Downhill
What’s the best approach to dealing with a small minded middle manager? Well, it’s probably going to work out best for you if you just walk your ass out the door and find a better job somewhere else. Walking out of a job isn’t an easy feat, and finding a better position is even harder these days. What should you do if you can’t or don’t want to start job searching? Keep your head down and get your shit done. To quote Steve Martin, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” Don’t give that small minded middle manager any reason to put a target on your back. While you are busy trying to stay off their radar, take any opportunity you have to work or interact with people in other positions/departments in the company. Showing them that you get your shit done and take yourself seriously (but not too seriously to be a small minded middle manager) is the best internal networking you can do.
Don’t Fight Unless You’ll Win
Whatever you do, just know that no matter how badly you want to, standing up and challenging a small minded middle manager is a one way ticket. Unless you are able to completely obliterate them with your first shot, it’s better to wait. Self preservation is the most powerful human motivation, and that small minded middle manager is going to scorch the Earth to make sure they burn you to the ground. Try to make yourself indispensable, but don’t get entrenched where you are. Those middle managers expend so much effort trying to constantly defend, attack, or spread gossip they don’t even get their work done. That will lead them to relying more on the people below them, while constantly overpromising to the people above them. I can’t tell you how many times everyone on the conference call would cringe when our middle manager would, for apparently no reason, feel obligated to fill the silence by announcing “me and my team love it when the pressure is on, so don’t worry, let us have it, we’ll prove our worth.” Who the fuck talks like that?
Focus on Making Your Situation better
Just a few things to keep in mind should you find yourself in a shit situation with a small minded middle manager. First, I think that internal power struggles are bullshit and a waste of time so your best bet is to stay far away from them, but not everyone can afford to walk away from a job without something else lined up. Second, no matter how hard you try to stay out of those internal power struggles, at some point you will get dragged in. Staying neutral can also end up having both sides coming after you, while playing both sides just to get along could end up biting you in the ass just as easily. These are no win situations because at best, you stay where you are. That’s why small minded middle managers rarely move up.
They get entrenched. Before you make any decisions that might affect your current situation, what you can gain from it? Try to elevate yourself past the petty small mindset of “he hit me so I have to hit him back” and think about where you want to be in 5 years. If you don’t want to be at that same company, that’s your answer, the drama is not worth it. Take that time and energy and direct it towards improving your situation instead of constantly trying to defend yourself. Don’t turn your back on a small minded middle manager unless you are 100% ready to keep walking once they stab you in the back.