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Managerial Choices

Mark Mzyk | May 20, 2008

Eric Sink has an interesting blog post about an experience he went through in his career where his manager showed incredible trust in him and everything turned out well.  It’s a story I wish more managers would read, but those who are likely to discover it have already learned the lesson and those who could use the lesson won’t discover it.

Eric finishes the piece by summing it all up in one point: choose who you work for very carefully (specifically your manager, since they have so much power over you).

My question to Eric: How do you propose I do this?

The post is light on the details of how to pull this off.  When it comes to deciding on a new job, I doubt any one flippantly accepts an offer (unless it’s just for the money).  We all do our diligent research on the company, we use the interview process to interview those interview us, we scrutinize everyone at the company we meet, etc.

Yet even at the end of all of this, I’m going to walk away knowing approximately 1% about my future manager.  It’s likely the best 1% too, since he is trying to impress me as much as I’m trying to impress him.

The only way I know of to really get to know a manager is to work for them.  By the time you accept the offer to work for a company and finally start to know your manager, you’re pretty much stuck, at least for a while.  You could jump jobs every few months or so until you found the perfect manager, but then a stigma will be attached to you that you aren’t worth the trouble to hire, because you’ll just leave again.  Few people can afford to be labeled in that way.

One way you could find out more about a potential future manager is to talk to others who know him, but that isn’t always easy to do, especially if you don’t know anyone who is currently or has previously worked at a company with that manager.  Besides, everyone is different.  Someone might think he is an awesome manager, but once I work for him, I might hate him, or someone might think he’s terrible, but I love him.

It’s difficult to pick your manager.  Your future manager has already started exerting his power over you before you’ve even started the job.  He gets to pick you, but you don’t really get the option to pick him.

The dynamic is a little different when you work for large companies, because then you might have the opportunity to transfer between teams and try out different managers.  However, if you prefer the small company or start up, that option isn’t available.

A better choice might be to learn how to influence your manager, so things work as you want.  I don’t know how to tell you to do that.  I’m still figuring it out myself, and I suspect it’s different for every manager you could have.

It’s hard to pick your manager and it’s hard to influence them. It all ends in a Catch-22.