Turns Out, I’m a Crappy Manager

I’m crap at management.  I never meant to be a manager.  I never aspired to it.  I have no qualification in it (and frankly, the thought of getting one makes me want to cry).  It just kind of happened.  One day, you’re sitting there writing copy for a living and the next your inbox is Tokyo station at peak time and you need help.  It just kind of accidentally happened and now I’m manager to about 25 people.  Shite.  WTF am I even doing?

My wonderful sales rep Miriam brought a key issue to my attention: I’m too nice.  Oh the irony.  Miriam is possibly the nicest person who ever walked the earth.  What she is trying to tell me though, was that my ‘management style” is so soft, it is making her job harder.  And that’s crappy management.

How I became a soft manager

I'm a crappy manager

I worked in retail.  All through high school and university I had crappy retail jobs.  I sold sheets.  I sold petrol.  I sold felafel.  I sold books.  I sold poor quality homewares.  I had SO MANY retail jobs because they all had one thing in common.  Shitty managers.  There is no human being more repugnant than a power tripping retail manager.  Their sphere of influence is so small and yet they take it so seriously.  I also worked for a few great retail managers – but they were in the minority… and on reflection were actually owner operators – not retail managers.

Then I went into the corporate world and had to relearn what managers were all about.  Turns out they’re not all power trippers obsessed with the flatness of their flats displays. I don’t mind corporate middle managers. In my experience, they’re good folk who rose to management by being good at their jobs and good with people.  What I learned though, was that being a female middle manager in a tradition “old school” business tended to bring out the worst in women.

S. Vs K. – a tale of two women negotiating middle management

The workplace for me, makes all the difference.  S was my ‘middle manager” at a brand known worldwide for its progressive thinking and commitment to excellence.  S was competent and well-liked.  Her work-life balance needs were met and she was confident enough in her role to be assertive and respected.  K was in an almost identical situation.  Same family commitments, same middle-management job, same industry.

This company however was an “old boys club” where women were rarely promoted above middle management. It was a company that resisted change (it didn’t have a proper website – in 2009 – like WTF) and held the firm belief that digital was just a thing that would pass.  In short, it was one of THOSE workplaces.   It bred THOSE managers. K liked to come out fighting.  K was “tough”.  K was uncompromising.  K was an old school feminist where if you didn’t act like a man, you weren’t really a woman in charge.  I fecking hated K.

It’s true she’s just one example but her predecessor was a “nice” female manager in that workplace. They ate her alive.  Everyday.  They wore her down.  She left.  When I tried the role to see if it fit, the workplace was so aggressive, it brought me to tears, literally.  So, I went out on my own and here I am, just being a crap manager.

 What makes me a crap manager?

I created a business that focused on flexible and enjoyable working conditions for my team.  It’s a business that fosters work-life balance to the max.  It’s all about getting the most talented and reputable team on board, by offering them a workplace unlike any other – one that lets them control their own time.  This apparently is a mistake.  The old-school male mentors I saw told me so.  They were horrified at the very idea.

So I’m too nice huh?  I can name a few people who would disagree (shout out to the haters that stalk my blogs – you know who you are, stay classy bitches).  So I did what any person full of doubt and self-loathing would do – I Googled it (what could go wrong?).  After wading through a big  pile of articles about men and a disturbing glimpse into masculinity in the workplace, I found a useful one.

Kate Nasser raised some good points that nailed the “too nice” issue raised by Miriam.

I must be liked

It’s an “only child” thing.  I go to great lengths to make sure our Christmas party and team events are AWESOME.  All my team are my friends on Facebook.  I read their blogs.  I chat with them every day.  I want them to like me.  Ms Nasser raises the point that I may be sacrificing results for a virtual hug.  This is the issue that Miriam was raising.  Her job is made harder when she has to deliver work that is late (thankfully it doesn’t happen often but when it does, it’s usually because of an avoidable situation).

I have, in the past, sat up to the wee hours doing the work myself – making the deadline because a team member couldn’t or even didn’t.  I have hired in team members JUST to make sure that deadlines are being met, sacrificing my own profit and making my business less efficient.  My “niceness” has lead to these “work flow administrators” also dropping balls.  Layer upon layer of fail….

I have excused writers from jobs because of all kinds of lame excuses.   “I don’t even like tattoos so I can’t write this copy”,  “I already spent hours on this job, so I am not willing to read over it for grammar problems”, “I can’t meet a deadline because I’m pressed for time (she was too drunk to remember that I’d just bumped into her).  A more assertive manager would have answered “Do your fecking job” – I shied away and had someone else to do it at a cost to my own business’s profitability.   My team NAILS quality. That’s why they’re on the team. They’re truly gifted writers, designers and digital marketers – but on occasion it has lead to team members “taking the piss”.

Maybe I am also guilty of avoiding confrontation?  I don’t tend to shy away from a fight with peers but I am always careful to be a people pleaser with my team.  Maybe this whole blog is a passive aggressive expression of frustration?  Now I’m worried about that – see how the cycle goes?

I own their behaviour

It’s not exactly making excuses for poor performance – it’s more me recognising that I’ve tasked them with something difficult and possibly not given them enough guidance.  So, when things go bad, I take responsibility.  The big thing here is leaving a team member to spend three years making excuses without taking action.  The team member was great.  She knew her stuff and did great things for the business but when she screwed up, there was nothing on this planet that would make her admit it.  So I took responsibility.  It became a pattern.  Eventually her screw ups got serious and I STILL found myself owning her mistakes.  Even after it became awkwardly obvious that she’d screwed up in a spectacular way (like NYE in Time Square epic event screw up) she never once owned a mistake.  My failure to address it sooner let it go that far.  My bad (see what I did there).

And one just for Miriam… I require emotional support

I have my fingers in a lot of pies these days.  In addition to my core business, I have two others that I co-run with my partner in crime, Kristy.  We’re great.  When these issues come up, we discuss and sort it out.  But for my main business, I have nobody to act as a sounding board – and so I have relied heavily on Miriam for emotional and managerial support.  This is also a “crappy manager” thing to do.

The crap stops here!

So it’s 4.48am and I’ve woken up thinking of Miriam’s comment.  Like all writers, I sat down and “wrote it out”.  The plan stan…

  1. Re-enforce with all team members their responsibilities.  Take some time to recognise patterns with repeat offenders and start handing down warnings.
  2. Remind myself that my expectations are 100% reasonable – and that everyone from my assistant to my top writers are here because they’re competent. If they don’t do their jobs well, it’s not actually my fault.
  3. Continue my seemingly endless search for a business coach that isn’t shit. SO. MANY. CRAP. ONES.
  4. Harden TF up when it comes to giving feedback.
  5. Ensure Miriam’s plight is known to the rest of the team and that they are committed to supporting her too
  6. Book a crappy Christmas party this year (lolz, jk – it’s going to be awesome)

The idea of the modern workplace – telecommuting, no bullshit dress codes or strict hierarchy, no alpha dog behaviour… it really appeals to me.  I am sure there’s some degree unit that focuses on how to best manage this frontier style business – if I find it, I’ll bite the bullet and do it.  I think there’s a whole new generation of women in my situation – where we are navigating a  brand new business culture, blindly (it’s like being on the road with nothing but bloody Apple Maps to guide me).  I am in awe of women who manage it like a boss.  For now, I am a crappy manager – but like all things in small business, I am learning it as I go.

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