Bumping Into Manager Rules

You might have met a manager on a bad manager day. Equally as frustrating is when you work for a manager who has rules about problem solving.

I once worked for a manager who proudly said to me, “Don't bring me a problem without bringing me a solution.” I blinked once and said, “Why would I bring you a problem I could solve?”

He stopped, and said, “Ooh.” Some of you will recognize that as the programmer's refrain. “Oooh,” is what you say when you realize the computer has done something you told it to do, but is not what you meant it to do.

“Don't bring me a problem without bringing me a solution” is an example of management incongruence. Not because a manager means to be. But because a manager might not know better. My manager wanted to challenge me. Believe me, I was challenged! I wasn't being lazy. I wasn't being stupid. I was stuck. I needed help. I didn't know where to go for help.

Even in agile teams, the manager might be the right person to go to. The manager might not be. The manager might not have the answer. But the manager might be the right person to free the impediment, to know who has the answer, or to help with problem-solving.

This is why when managers have rules about problem solving, they make life difficult for everyone else. Managers don't have to be perfect. They have to work work hard at staying congruent, which is different than being perfect. Much different than being perfect.

congruenceThis is a picture of what I mean by congruence. When the manager takes him or herself, the other person, and the context into account, the manager is congruent. When the manager stops taking the other person into account, the manager blames the other person. When you bump into manager rules such as “Don't bring me a problem without a solution,” your manager is blaming you for not having a solution.

When the manager stops taking him/herself into account, the manager placates. Managers who say, “Yes,” to all work and never say No and don't manage the project portfolio placate the rest of the organization.

Managers who ignore both themselves and the other person are super-reasonable. Remember Ever Have a Bad Manager Day? I was being super-reasonable, ignoring me and the other person and the fact that we were human. Hah! That didn't last long. There are are other incongruent stances, but those are the big three.

Does this mean managers can't be human? Oh, no, they sure can be, and are! And, they need to watch out for these rules that make them less effective. Incongruent stances do not help managers manage. Incongruent stances and rules make it more difficult for managers to do a great job.

If you would like to read more about bumping into manager rules, take a look at my next myth, Management Myth 14: I Must Always Have a Solution to the Problem. Let me know if you like my suggestions.

7 thoughts on “Bumping Into Manager Rules”

  1. Hi Johanna,

    Thank you. yes I have seen managers like this.
    I know the rationale behind it: I (manager) want you at least to think about the problem before comming to me.

    I heard of a professor who had the rule: you can come into my office to ask me any (even a very stupid question) . The only rule he had: yet before you come in, you have to ask the same question to the teddybear that is sitting outside his door.

    From what I have heard, half of the people leave after asking the question to the teddybear, as they now, know the answer. For the other half, he now has more time.


    1. Kristof, back when I was programming, this was called, “grab someone, and explain what you were doing to them. They only had to sit there. When you said, “ooooh”, they could walk away.” Of course, if they asked questions, you could say ooooh more times. Thanks, I had not heard of Rubber Duck Debgugging!

  2. I particularly like the teddy bear idea, I have kind of used that on many occasions when people come to me with questions, I’ll often rephrase the same question and ask them it back, sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t.

    However; I don’t very often give the answer (assuming I even know the answer) I prefer to get in to a discussion and hopefully lead them in the right direction towards answering the question. This often illuminates other aspects of what I’ve been asked that I wouldn’t immediately have thought of if I’d have just answerer the question.

    However; we all have bad days.

    1. Stephen, paraphrasing the question is part of active listening, and that’s a useful tool for anyone in problem-solving. Making sure you heard the question is a good thing! It sounds as if you are coaching someone towards generating a useful answer instead of providing an answer off the top of your head, too. That can be very helpful. I know that when I answer, sometimes my answers are not as useful as I might think they are :-(. That’s because I don’t know the full context and the other person does.

      And, yes, we all have bad days. I don’t know about you, but when I have bad days, I try to clean my office. I’m good for throwing out paper. I’m not good for much else!

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