By Deborah Rothberg  |  Posted 2006-08-11 Email Print this article Print

One of the most commonly heard complaints from IT departments is about bosses that lack the technical expertise or systems know-how to manage their departments. Haight refers to this type as "The Pretender Boss." "I can talk a good game is their motto. IT people often report to people that dont understand what they do, but think they do. The bad ones will direct them, not admit the limitations of their technical knowledge and throw around a lot of buzzwords, pretend that they know IT. The good ones will say, You are the specialist. You know what you need to do." said Haight.
These inexperienced bosses are not the ones that have climbed the ladder from within; they could have been transferred from another department or be at the receiving end of special treatment, leaving subordinates hazy about how to handle their grievances.
"In the book, there is an example of parents owning a television station in town and the kid is put in charge of the news. Hes got terrible ideas, but nobody wants to correct him," said Scott. Another version of the boss whose experience doesnt line up with the departments needs, Haight said, is "The Wannabe Boss," who is just out for the power and influence. "The Wannabe wants the perks that go with the job, but not the responsibility, like they were available for a promotion and someone said How about running the IT department? They know theyre not qualified for the job, but they want the benefits," said Haight.
These types of bosses are at times the hardest to work for and offer the fewest possibilities for improved relations, as "you cant manage a wannabe manager," said Haight. However, you might be able to help them out in a way that doesnt step on their toes. "If the boss is receptive to this, clue him in. Try explaining how something works in the office, or writing the boss a little memo. Some bosses will be very grateful for doing it as it will help them acclimate. But, you dont want to do it in a way that suggests you are losing faith," said Scott. Its important to remember that it can go both ways; sometimes IT professionals are put in supervisory roles they are unqualified for. "IT people sometimes take over training at a company, even if theyre not qualified trainers," said Haight. The Reluctant Boss Believe it or not, there are bosses that never wished to be bosses in the first place—they were simply promoted. "Sometimes people get promoted because they do things well, like someone in the computer world thats a good computer person but lacks the management skills, background or ability to delegate in the organization. It used to be called The Peter Principle, a popular book from a couple decades ago about how people can get promoted beyond their ability and level of competence. It seems like a promotion, but theyre thrown down an avenue of work they dont know how to handle," said Scott. Turnover at tech companies was down in the second quarter. Click here to read more. Scott notes that these reluctant types often emerge in creative settings, where workers are very advanced in their field but lack interpersonal finesse. "In my book, we had an example of a scientist who was suddenly managing a team but was very abrasive to his team and lacked the people skills to manage," said Scott. Reluctant bosses dont have the power issues of mean or inexperienced bosses, but they still dont know how to be managers. However, by approaching the situation cautiously, their subordinates sometimes can make headway. "They can be bad communicators, not giving good instructions, or realizing that theyre not making things clear … The obvious response is to find ways to clarify the communications, such as a memo that explains your understanding of their directives, or you can seek clarification from other employees. You might try to discuss the communication problems with the boss, if they are receptive. Try to emphasize the bottom line: you want to do this so that you can be more productive; no blaming, complaining or whining," said Scott. Next Page: Other breeds of lousy management.


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