#188 from R&D Innovator Volume 4, Number 11          November 1995

FORUM—from our readers

Have Some Backbone!                                                                            

I work for a software company, and initially I had a department manager who was one of the nicest people I've ever met. He did whatever he could to make my work, and the work of my colleagues, easier. Everyone in the department thought he was a great manager.                                

If there were a problem he couldn't deal with by himself, he went to his boss, who was a vice president, to get it solved. This vice president was very involved in our department and his influence was constantly seen. It seemed to be an ideal working situation, and the department was very productive. The vice president left the company a year ago, and then the troubles began.       

The new vice president concentrated on the more global issues in the company and wasn't interested in the details of my department. This left my manager with the responsibility of handling essentially all of the department's problems. And that's when we began to realize that our manager wasn't very effective.  Anything the least bit "touchy" had previously been shunted off to the former vice president, who didn't mind getting involved.  Now, with the new vice president, my manager finally was stuck with the more difficult problems. It turned out that he was totally unable to deal with them. He refused (or was afraid) to discuss them with the new vice president.

Our department also lost out on opportunities for especially interesting challenges since the manager wasn't very competitive or political or aggressive within the hierarchy. Previously, his boss "took care of us."   The end result of having a new vice president was that the department began to fall into disarray.  Internal bickering increased, productivity fell, and we were spending much of our time discussing our changed environment.

Some people blamed the situation on the vice president, for it was his entry that caused the problem.  They thought that he should be constantly looking over us.  That's what we were used to, and that's what the manager had been comfortable with. I, however, blamed the manager. Because of his inability to confront and take responsibility, he had now become ineffective. Much of what the previous vice president did--being involved in the department's details--was what the manager should have been doing in the first place.

Well, it turned out that the cloud had a silver lining. The new vice president finally understood the problem, and he proceeded to have my manager transferred.  And then he made me the new manager. You can bet that I'll be working hard to achieve as much as I can without relying on the vice president. He has enough to do.

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