A tale of one manager: Good for projects, bad for personnel

A project-manager-turned-IT-director's need for control and insistence on details stifle employees who want to do their job

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One of the goals of our office was to reduce the amount of paper being used, and in pursuit of this objective, Jack assigned me to a project that would cut down on the volume of paper used for inbound faxes. I designed a low-cost network fax solution to address this issue; the solution wasn't quite off-the-shelf, but it was very cheap.

I tested out the solution's usability with some of our employees. They thought the solution was great, so I proposed it to Jack. I don't know if he tried it -- or even read my documentation on how to use it -- but he told me it was too complicated and we were going to continue to use what we had. No, I didn't bother asking him why.

No freedom allowed

We learned to never make a move without first going through Jack. For example, I sometimes started projects at the request of other managers, but Jack made things difficult to implement or simply opposed projects not within his tunnel vision. Another time, he approved one major IT project, then cancelled when it was near completion because it "wasn't working out right." In fact, he made me undo everything! None of us dared to take any initiative and braced ourselves for the rug to be pulled out from underneath our feet.

Those attributes that might make a good project manager probably do not make a good director who manages multiple people. The majority of the people who reported to Jack quit in under a year, including people who had been at the company for years and years.

I felt like that bird in the zoo when my annual performance review came up. Summarizing our review, Jack told me that everything was running well, but he thought that I was too passive. Imagine my surprise when he said he wanted me to be free to come up with my own ideas for helping the company!  I thought he must be nuts, but sadly it seemed that he genuinely didn't know how others viewed him or the extent of his control issues.

I was planning to leave the company soon anyway, but he surprised me by leaving before I did. I ended up working for a more reasonable manager, one who did allow us the freedom to take initiative.

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This story, "A tale of one manager: Good for projects, bad for personnel," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more crazy-but-true stories in the anonymous Off the Record blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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