©2000 Johanna Rothman
“I can't make a decision today to save my life.” Susan, VP Engineering
“Everything I touch today turns into garbage.” Joe, VP Engineering
“I just want to hurt everyone when I can't get anything done. Why should they have a good day, when I'm having a lousy day?” Cyril, CEO of a company in a growth spurt
Just as the rest of us have bad-hair or bad-code days, managers also have off days. Since managers leverage the work of other people, when we have bad-manager days, we can make other people's work impossible to perform. Here are some suggestions for inflicting as little damage as possible on the rest of the organization, and handing a bad-manager day:
1. Recognize you're having a bad-manager day. Cyril recognizes when he's having a bad-manager day when he starts making everyone else's life harder. When he became a CEO, he thought it was his divine right to make everyone else miserable if he was having a bad day. Now that he's lived through some of the consequences, such as losing talented senior managers to his outbursts, he wants to be aware when he's having a bad day.
2. Stop what you're doing right now. Susan and Joe realized they were having bad-manager days and took the first step: each stopped doing what they were doing. Each could have called other people, read email (and not responded), straightened up their offices, gone for a walk, or even taken the day off.
3. Give yourself permission to be confused, upset, or angry. Many of us are managers because we are very good at managing ambiguity. Sometimes this ambiguity overwhelms us, and then we're angry at our inability to deal with how we feel about the problem, not just the problem.
· Susan was having a bad-manager day because she was completely confused about the product strategy, and the consequences of changing the product strategy. She wasn't fully aware of everything she was confused about; she just knew she couldn't make decisions.
· Joe was upset about two projects in his groupone couldn't get started, and one couldn't get finished. He had done what he could as the manager of the project managers, but he wasn't directly managing the projects, and had to wait for the project managers to do their work.
· Cyril is dealing with many concerns: how to get enough funding, how to beef up sales, which products to focus on. It can be overwhelming, and when he's overwhelmed, he gets angry.
You may have a different reason for bad-manager days, but allow yourself to be confused for a while.
4. Succeed at something other than work. One friend uses solitaire to re-find his focus. He bought a computer-based solitaire game he could always win. When he's having trouble, he plays solitaire for an hour or so. Some of my friends go for a run or a swim. I read a book in my to-read pile. I recommend succeeding at something, for at least an hour. Some people prefer to do this alone, some prefer to talk with other people. Just make sure you're giving yourself time to succeed at something that youcan take credit for. The hour or so “away” from work gives your mind time to work through the problem without having the rest of you pound on the door: “Are you done thinking yet???”
If you recognize you're having a bad-manager day, you may feel guilty about taking time out to “fix” your problem. If you feel guilty about what you've chosen to succeed at, put a time limit on what you choose to succeed at, and go back to work then. One manager gives himself a “time out” and sets the timer on his watch, so he knows when he's had enough fun. That won't work for everyone, but it may help you give yourself permission to really get away from your work for a while.
5. Give yourself enough time to refind your focus and succeed. If you go back to the problems, and you're still confused, angry, or upset, give yourself more time to think about something else. You're capable of doing the job; you need to give yourself a time and place to succeed.
If most of your days are bad-manager days, maybe you're not in the right organization or managing the right people for you.
Sometimes, you know you're having trouble just because you're human. You can take a quick break from work and come back refreshed. Sometimes you need a little more help. Manage yourself as well as you would manage your staff, and help yourself when you're having a bad-manager day.