Why I Rejected My Manager

“Jane has difficulty reading you. She does not feel a strong connection with you. But performance wise, you’ve been doing very well on your projects.”

Jane was my direct supervisor. The above remarks came from her boss. We had regular 1 on 1’s to review performance, raise concerns, and set goals. It was all very textbook, but this comment stood out.

I knew exactly what she was referring to. Jane was an all-around rock star when it came to her craft. And while I greatly admired her aptitude in that area, she had much less experience in the field of people management.

For months, I tried my best to calibrate to Jane’s management approach and work style. This was out of character for me. I pride myself on being a strong communicator and typically make it a point to be transparent about the resources and support I need in order to deliver the best results. I knew that finding an effective way to work together was crucial to having a functional manager-employee dynamic.

After multiple attempts without success, I decided the best way to maintain a working relationship was simply conforming to Jane’s work style. I was agreeable and diplomatic, making sure to be receptive to all suggestions. I implemented feedback quickly and adapted. So despite Jane doing her part in ‘managing’ me, I could certainly understand why she sensed a disconnect.

Deliberate complacency provoked a sense of stagnation that made me quietly unhappy. I understand now why the saying is: people leave managers, not companies. It wasn’t personal, but it wasn’t a good fit. This lack of alignment would eventually play a factor in my departure from the company.

Having led multiple teams and worked for a number of individuals, this is what I reject in management and what I try to avoid in my own management efforts:

  1. Their way or the highway. This may be less obvious than it sounds. Yes, there is always the manager who is overbearing and rejects suggestions outside his/her own. It’s much harder to detect when the manager is nice and genuinely well-meaning, but inherently an extreme micromanager.
  2. They are too busy being busy. Autonomy and creative freedom can certainly have its benefits, but it is a problem when you cannot reliably reach your manager (especially in times of escalation). Say for example, they are always in super important meetings because of their super important role and have no time for unimportant interruptions. It isn’t always intentional; it could be a vibe that is unknowingly projected.
  3. They don’t know what you are working on. For first time managers, it may take some time to balance personal workload and leadership expectations. I find it questionable when a manager does not know the role I play or the work I do. This is more of a cultural thing, and perhaps more prevalent in tech startups where wearing multiple hats is the norm, but it shows disorganization. It also gives me the sense that the manager doesn’t care, making it difficult to build rapport.
  4. They are never at fault. Another point that may be less obvious than it seems. Even when an individual makes a major mistake, my first reaction is always self reflection. What could I have possibly done differently to prevent this? Did I not communicate clearly? Did I not train the person properly? What role did I play in their error? I find it incredibly difficult to stand behind a manager who does not believe they are responsible for their team’s successes and failures.
  5. They do not know why. I like to understand the logic behind decisions or processes. When I hear the words: ‘I don’t know, this is just the way it is’ or ‘this is just what I was told,’ I can’t help but feel rebellious. It fuels my sense of independence and inspires me to figure things out on my own. Over time, I stop looking to my manager as a resource, and instead view them as someone that assigns work.
  6. They hire people exactly like them. It’s discouraging when I find myself on a team, in an echo chamber, where I don’t quite fit in. I’ve observed this a number of times, where individuals who are similar to a manager in terms of personality, working style, problem solving approach, seem to thrive. It takes experience and emotional intelligence to effectively manage people who are very different from you.
  7. They do not know how to compromise. In the scenario I described with Jane, part of the issue was the rejection of all my suggestions on how to improve communication. The conversations seem to always revert back to things I could do differently to work best with her, and not a “meet-in-the-middle” mentality.

The most difficult part of being an effective manager is carefully straddling the role of the safety net and the coach. What I strive to achieve is a sense of reassurance in my team. I want to foster this belief that I’ve got them. That when it comes down to it, I am here to help.

This means finding the delicate balance where I am able to push the team to new limits while maintaining morale. Having had an unconventional journey to my current executive role, I realize that where I am today is the result of the opportunities I had to succeed and to fail.

When I think about the type of leader I want to be, I reflect on the management styles of my former bosses and mentors and commit to being the manager I always wish I had.

“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thank you for reading. Still trying to find my narrative voice, but hope to give you something to think about!

If you’d like to connect, I can be reached at ong.mianya@gmail.com or via LinkedIn and Twitter. Alternatively, if you can relate to this, I’d love to hear your own stories and experiences below.