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Top Management Lies


Nobody says they want to hire "yes men". They say they want employees who are bold, creative, self-directed, take initiative, and aren't afraid to speak up. But what managers say they want and what they actually want (and reward) can be very different...

In a post last year on teamwork, I wrote:

"In his book Re-imagine!, Tom Peters says, "We will win this battle... and the larger war... only when our organizations are chock-a-block with obstreperous people who are determined to bend the rules at every turn..."

I reckon that most top-level managers would agree. They'd say that their company should take the bold whatever-it-takes person over the ever-compromising, risk-averse Yes Man. "If that person shakes us up, smacks us around, creates some creative tension, well that's just what we need to stay competitive", the CEO says. Yeah, right. While I believe most CEOs probably think this way, that attitude reverses itself dramatically the futher you reach down the org chart.

There's a canyon-sized gap between what top managers and CEOs say they want (brave, bold, innovative) and what their own middle management seems to prefer (yes-men, worker bees, non-boat-rockers). Of course I've never heard a manager say that... but you see it over and over again in their choices. When the tech downturn hit, consider who were often the first to go during the layoffs... "

Feeling the same way today, and inspired by Guy Kawasaki's Top Ten Lies of Engineers, I made a list of the things managers will often say, along with what some of those managers might actually be thinking.

(Yes, I'm aware this is generalizing, reinforcing negative stereotypes, and is completely biased toward non-managers. It's just for fun ; ) Really.)

"My job is to be a buffer between you and upper management."
"Your job is to make me look good to upper management."

"We value your criticism and ideas."
"If you're so smart, how come I'm a manager and you're not?"

"We set reasonable deadlines, and we never underbid our projects... so our employees don't need to work weekends."
"Since when is Saturday part of the weekend?"

"We provide our employees with the state-of-the-art tools they need to do their job."
"When I did this job, a Windows 98 box and a 640x480 monitor was plenty. You're just typing code for crise sake..."

"I know you're working hard now, but we'll make it up to you later."

"Hey, you're preaching to the choir here. I'm on your side. But upper management just doesn't get it."
"You just don't get it."

"We empower our employees to do whatever it takes for the customer."
"You gave that guy a refund?! What the #@&! were you thinking?"

"Nobody is getting a raise this year."
"Nobody at your level is getting a raise this year."

"My job is to hire good people and get out of their way."
"But so far, I've never had an employee that didn't need micromanaging."

"I won't tell you how to do your job."
"...as long as you do it exactly the way I would do it."

"We provide ongoing, comprehensive training for our employees."
"Joe will show you around this afternoon, and then you're on your own. Oh, and your first TPS report is due tomorrow."

"You've got upper management written all over you."
"Finally someone who does exactly what I tell him to without question."

"Don't hesitate to speak up during meetings."
"...as long as it's to compliment me on the great job I'm doing."

"I really went to bat for you, but upper management just wouldn't budge."
"Oh, yeah, like I would actually risk my job for you..."

"When this project is over, we'll talk about the promotion. I promise."
"I've already forgotten we had this conversation."

"We have a great career track for non-managers."
"Let's face it, programmers just don't have leadership potential."

[Note from Kathy: "I promise I'll balance this out soon with a post on the Top 15 Employee Lies. No, seriously. I mean it. Just as soon as my current project is over..."]

Got anything to add to the list? ; )

Posted by Kathy on May 7, 2006 | Permalink


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I don't have a management lie to add to the list but I do get tired of job descriptions that start off with "We're looking for a creative, dynamic leader...blah, blah, blah..with vision..." and then when you get to the interview and express some creative and/or dynamic ideas or any type of unique vision, you can pretty much kiss the job good bye because some administrator or staff member is already deciding you may change something and that could either cost some money or require some added work or thinking differently.I guess a job ad that said "We're looking for someone who won't rock the boat or try to change anything, and will just maintain the status quo" might be offputting to some folks, but it would be more honest for a good number of organizations.

Posted by: stevenb | May 7, 2006 6:38:42 PM

The job description that I can't stand is the one that ends "...and other duties as specified by manager." In other words, they'll have you doing everything *but* the job they originally hired you for, and turn down pay raises and promotions by saying "Well, you're just fulfilling your job description. What are you doing that's 'above and beyond'?"

Posted by: carikate | May 7, 2006 7:02:42 PM

This one is my favorite:
"My job is to hire good people and get out of their way."

Hey, even I can't follow that rule, and I'm self-employed! With no additional employees :-) How sad is that?

Posted by: Cyndi L | May 7, 2006 7:15:00 PM

My bosses tried to corner me into working this weekend by saying "we all have to work some weekends" after I had worked three weekends last month, including eleven days straight, plus coming to work early on Fridays. I had family and church functions to attend, two picnics, birthdays to celebrate, etc. They forced my hand. I was put on schedule to work two hours Saturday, since I did owe them two hours, although I worked three total. This postponed my adopted nephew's planned rocket launching. But after I left work, I did not check my voicemail until Sunday evening. Five voicemails awaited me, all from work.

Posted by: Michael | May 7, 2006 7:23:52 PM

"We have a great career track for non-managers."

If that's really not a lie, then I don't want this job. Career tracks suck. If I have to follow a specified career track, I need to wait for

1) someone above me to get promoted
2) someone above me to quit
3) someone above me to get fired
4) someone above me to die
5) revenue to expand enough to allow for extra positions.

Who wants to wait around for that? I'd rather make my own career track that doesn't exist yet.

Great list, by the way.

Posted by: Mike MacLeod | May 7, 2006 7:24:09 PM

Ok...so I could probably add to the list, but it is too easy to go there. The question I have is...so what do we do? Is the answer make our own companies and kick the trend? Are there places where this isn't the case? Are start ups and rare inovative companies the places where you can find a different kind of manager?

Posted by: Golda-Rochel Rosencrantz | May 7, 2006 10:31:06 PM

Oh how these things make me appreciate my boss! He genuinely asks for my insight into things and acknowledges my input. He delegates unpossessively, too. When I attended my first client meeting with some of the company bigwigs, I expressed worry during a break that I might have had more to say than appropriate. He looked at me in shock and said, "I don't pay you to keep your perspectives to yourself!".

I could do worse. In fact, in my last job, I did... I think you might have used my manager from that job to draw up your top ten!

Posted by: Karyn Romeis | May 8, 2006 2:08:29 AM

"Sure, working on weekends and not having any backup is not a permanent solution."

-- Shut up, when i was doing your job 50 hours a week was considered normal. Oh, and i need to leave early today to make it to my golf training. Show my the final version on Monday.

"Sure, I talked to upper management and they agreed on increasing the headcount. Just a question of paperwork."

-- You are only working 60 hours a week!? When i was doing your job i was able to do that little project in 30 hours!

"Sure, you will get the headcount i promised. It is just stuck in the HR department."

-- Man, you are only working 70 hours a week and are always complaining about it. You will burn out in a month anyway and than you will get replaced with a younger guys fresh from university.

Posted by: mike | May 8, 2006 4:03:59 AM

Scott Berkun was on a similar theme recently, with 10 Things VPs Never Say. Sometimes lying is as bad as saying nothing...


Posted by: Marc Bernard | May 8, 2006 6:46:32 AM

cost + profit = price

now, how do we cut/control costs? ah, yeah, those pesky little assets :(

Posted by: alfred | May 8, 2006 7:06:03 AM

"Don't hesitate to speak up during meetings."
"...as long as it's to compliment me on the great job I'm doing."

At my job, when I'm told this, I want to say, "Why should I speak up? You don't care and more than likely, you are going to shoot down what I say and/or use my suggestion for your own gain." Gotta love the managers who are intimidated by their staff who have more potential and knowledge than them!

Posted by: Stephanie | May 8, 2006 8:19:02 AM

I particularly favor the old "I value your experience" line. Every time I hear that out of a manager's mouth, I know that I'm being told that "your experience is completely worthless to me, because I already know all the answers."

It's really sad how much potential is wasted because of idiots being promoted past their level of competency. It also makes me value my current manager that much more - being managed by someone who honestly values your experience is fantastic.

Posted by: Jeni | May 8, 2006 8:43:17 AM

I have rarely "been employed"... that is, of my working career (call it 20 years), I have done held only a few "jobs". Other places I was a full-time or part-time contractor, or I worked spot contracts/one-offs.

One of the reasons is that I (oddly! ;) am able to spot business-slamming inconsistances. Call it "emotional intelligence" if you will, but I seem to be blessed with it while my managers or owners have not been. The interesting part is that I follow a self-imposed rule: "Don't point out a problem unless I have a solution"...

...the issue being that most managers/employers don't like to hear solutions from a 'subordinate' -- no matter how wise the solution might be! It's funny how managers keep a 'subordinate' quiet so they always stay subordinate.

That being said, many states are "right to work": that means that an employee can be terminated for any reason, at any time, with no advance notice. Interestingly enough, companies now have "non-compete" clauses in their hiring policies: these clauses stipulate [oftentimes] that the past employee cannot work in the industry, in a specific geographic area, for a specific period of time after leaving employ.

Knowing that - it's funny, ha ha -- IF an employee has HELPED a company improve, he/she can actually be FIRED for no reason at all ("at will" of the employer) and then be prevented from working in the entire industry that he/she helped improve.

I know this as a fact because I went through the interview process at a company which stipulated this. In addition, the company's "at will" dis-employment stipulated "the employee cannot work in any of the 50 states in this industry for a period of 2 years". Obviously, I withdrew my application.

... I'm an innovative, hard-working, fast-learning, forward-thinking, highly "emotionally intelligent", education-interested professional with multi-dimensional offerings and outstanding skills. Yet I'm obviously 'unhire-able' until I want to (cover your eyes) bend over and take it.

It makes me wish I was stupid and unskilled. I think life is actually easier that way ;)

PS: I'm a consultant/coach... looking for opportunities, even for contracts or consultancies. My rising personal and business costs are commanding I write this postscript!

Posted by: Lauren Muney | May 8, 2006 8:46:35 AM

"My job is to be a buffer between you and upper management" and "Your job is to make me look good to upper management" are complementary, not opposites.

My last boss and I understood each other perfectly on both of those. He knew that to look good he had to let my department do great things, which meant dealing with crap that I didn't need my staff to deal with. "Make Seth look good in upper-level management meetings" was a great, tangible goal to reach for, because only stuff that's good for the company makes him look good.

Sometimes it helps to have Big Overarching Goals narrowed to smaller, more easily visible goals. "Give the boss cool stuff to show off to sales guys so they can sell it to customers" works for me.

Posted by: Andy Lester | May 8, 2006 10:18:14 AM

Oh God, this is all so true. Managers are as bad as customers.

Posted by: Ezekiel Bruni | May 8, 2006 11:32:49 AM


In a world of Political Correctness gone amuk, you are a great breath of fresh air. And FUNNY! in the old fashioned way! Thanks for your great website and your enthusiastic motivation and education!



Posted by: Robert | May 8, 2006 1:51:51 PM

"Strident and confrontational."

I actually had a boss put that on my performance review. I'm sorry - I wasn't aware that a woman thinking for herself and speaking her mind was so damned threatening. (Thinking for oneself, Trans. Reading the requirements and pointing out the gaping holes in them. Speaking one's mind, Trans: Pointing out all the flaws in your logic and calling you on the bullshit lies you're telling the customer about their project's viability.)

Needless to say, I don't work there anymore. ::whee!::

Posted by: cavalaxis | May 8, 2006 3:11:40 PM

Great article!

Inspired me to think of a way to overcome this phenomenon.
See my article:


Posted by: Lidor Wyssocky | May 8, 2006 4:18:11 PM

Great post. "Resistance is futile" in this scenario.

1. Some employees survive on "pleasing" his manager
2. Some employees survive on "solving problems" of the customers

Posted by: unknown | May 8, 2006 10:57:59 PM

One I miss, and that I get a lot is:

"The operational work is as important as the management work"

Posted by: Mª João Nogueira | May 9, 2006 6:27:35 AM

"You can always come directly to me if you have a problem, or an idea --- my job is to be here for you."
Translation: I am keeping track of every time you cause trouble for me, and I sure don't want you going to anyone else.

Posted by: tawanda | May 9, 2006 12:44:59 PM

This reminds me an awful lot of the comments posted to a story over on Rands' blog a couple of months ago, wherein he asked for the worst management experiences ever.
You can read about it over..
Grr. stupid search..

here we go.

Posted by: Aurynn Shaw | May 9, 2006 3:13:35 PM

CEOs can afford to say they want boat-rockers. They know how to deal with them and - let's be honest - if a Sr. VP reporting to them doesn't agree with the CEO's approach to X, Y, or Z said VP is not going to get pissy about it. They're going to keep at it until the CEO relents or tells them to stuff it. Decent execs can be brutally honest w/one another.

If you're a worker bee and do that to a middle manager, you won't get a direct response like "stuff it". No, you'll get lots of smiles and thoughtful nods while the middle guy thinks through just how he's going to park you with somebody else so he doesn't have to deal with you anymore. Middle guy didn't get where he is by taking risk - he got there by doing a good job at what the company told him was his job. He doesn't know what to do with/is frightened by folks who think/talk revolution and risk. Being brutally honest is not a concept most middle managers even recognize as a possibility.

Posted by: JackW | May 9, 2006 3:28:41 PM

After reading Jack's comment about middle management, I'm trying to capture a vagrant thought in my head regarding the Mythical Man Month and how adding people to a late project makes it later; specifically, applying this to management, or perhaps the 80/20 rule of development, that 20% of the power structure is comprised by 80% of the managers; the layers upon layers of nasty bloat.

I feel like I'm not making any sense.

Posted by: Aurynn Shaw | May 9, 2006 4:30:53 PM

Excellent and funny post. I really liked it. I would link to you again if I hadn[t done it already!

Posted by: Javier Marti | May 10, 2006 5:59:26 AM

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