12

I work for a tech company and my manager has become more and more insecure around his abilities and constantly vocalizes how he doesn't feel like he's carrying his weight nor that he understands much about what we do. He constantly apologizes for taking my time when he asks a question and checks in a lot to ask me if what he's about to do that day will be useful.

This feels problematic to me for two reasons. The first being that this creates a toxic team culture and the second that his insecurities will lead to poorly managed delivery of projects on the team.

In reality, I'm sure he's competent, but seems to be beating himself up to a point where he is down all the time and his ability to manage our somewhat large team is decreasing in quality every day.

Given that I'm one of his direct reports underneath him, what are some things I can do to improve this situation? The reason I feel somewhat responsible is that he constantly seeks to me for affirmation/validation, which is becoming strenuous on my day to day.

edit: Thanks everyone for the responses. I don't have enough reputation to comment or reply, but I feel the responses were very thought worthy and opened new perspective for me.

2
  • 13
    People bandy about the phrase "toxic culture" a little too freely. How exactly does his behavior make the culture toxic?
    – joeqwerty
    Feb 19 at 20:34
  • Can you describe what his past demeanor was like, and possibly any adverse events in his personal life such as sickness, death, divorce etc? Have you noted how he interacts with others and whether his demeanor is similar? Any changes in outward appearance? Any hints into where he worked in the past particularly its culture? Lastly, where is he from?
    – Anthony
    Feb 19 at 20:42
9

A few things.

You say "He constantly apologizes for taking my time" - this may be because he's picked up on your own feelings and irritation about the matter, and can see that you view these interactions as an undue burden (at least overall, if not in any one case assessed individually).

You say "[he] checks in a lot to ask me if what he's about to do that day will be useful." - on the face of it, and without more detail about exactly what he is asking for or doing, this may simply be an attempt to facilitate your role. If your role is technical and specialised in nature, he may see himself primarily as a facilitator rather than a dictator, and is looking to you to provide some indication of what facilitation is required.

You say he doesn't feel that he carries his weight nor understands your role. Does that actually ring true, or does he seem adequately competent? Is there a radical age difference between yourselves?

One possible overall explanation is that he is becoming ill with depression - perhaps because he can see that he is a fifth wheel in the activity at work, and isn't content to fill a sinecure position, but also perhaps because of circumstances in his personal life.

Another possible explanation is that you are in fact the natural leader and most competent operator in the room, and your manager is deferring to that. This is perfectly possible if you are an outstanding performer, or alternatively if he is approaching the end of a career where, for whatever reason, he has not maintained the currency of his technical skills (or has arrived in management via different roles than the ones he is now expected to manage).

I'd be inclined to closely examine claims like "it creates a toxic team culture", or that his behaviour "will lead to poor delivery". Is there actually a toxic culture emerging involving others in some way (the details of which you don't articulate), and is delivery actually becoming poor? Or is the main problem so far merely that you alone find his behaviour toxic?

Is the strain on you real, in terms of placing a significant burden on your working time, or of creating informal responsibilities with a large cognitive burden, that can't coexist with carrying out your formal role?

Or is the strain merely in terms of finding his behaviour unholy and un-manager-like in some way? Some people prefer to participate in strongly hierarchical relations, rather than more collegiate relations.

I'd think about whether you can find something useful for him to do, some way to involve him more in the work, or whether you can otherwise set the terms of the relationship in a way that you determine but which is mutually satisfactory. Effectively, adopt part of the managerial role which you think he is leaving somewhat vacant, and cooperate in the management. If you intend to go further in the firm, you may then have a strong and trusted advocate for your progression.

If you suspect he is becoming ill, then maybe solicit some more information about whether everything is alright? And perhaps approach another benevolent manager in confidence for advice about the situation.

In the final instance, you could ask for a transfer to another team on a pretense, or seek another job externally. But I wouldn't stick the knife in and make a complaint about his behaviour and competence, or talk in terms of "toxic culture", unless he is causing chaos in the team of a kind that is pre-eminent and can be seen externally.

3

One possibility is that your manager is going through some things in his personal life that are affecting his confidence in his professional life.

I guess maybe you could have a talk with HR saying that you're worried about your manager. Note that this talk wouldn't be you filing a complaint - it'd just be you expressing some concern for a fellow colleague. Maybe HR could then have a gentle come to Jesus talk with your manager or get his manager to have that talk with him, getting to the bottom of his issues and offering him whatever kind of support he needs.

One possibility is that management / HR already knows what's shaken his confidence and that they're already trying to help your manager get through it. If they did it's doubtful they'd make an announcement to the company at large

1
  • 2
    Going to HR is probably the last thing I would do in what sounds like a good size organization. If there is a secondary leader, go to him, or to his manager would be more appropriate. But, I wouldn't do that until you've had the talk directly with him. Something like, "I'm feeling uncomfortable with the relationship we have. I personally don't feel like it's appropriate that you come to me with these." However, and don't take this the wrong way, but a lot of people in the "technical field" can misunderstand leadership techniques. This could be self discovery tactics used incorrectly
    – Austin759
    Feb 20 at 0:58
1

The reason I feel somewhat responsible is that he constantly seeks to me for affirmation/validation, which is becoming strenuous on my day to day.

View that as a positive - he turns to you because he thinks you are the most professional and competent in your team. And it looks like he thinks of you as his second-in-command.

So look at it as an opportunity to grow. Your job is always to make your boss' job easier. Instead of viewing his attention as negative, look at it professionally - review what he seeks affirmations / validations on. And start to address it even before he approaches you about it.

For example, if he delegates some responsibility to someone on the team, and you know he will later ask you if it was a good decision, pre-empt him - tell him (personally or by email) that it was a good decision to allot that guy the work before he even asks you. Perhaps follow up with some other related suggestions too.

In other words, acknowledge his insecurities (if any) by being the trusted second-in-command he is seeking in you. Perhaps even step-up and ask to be officially designated as the second in the team, and take up some of his responsibilities (without making him feel as if you are gunning for his jobs).

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .