Horrible Bosses: The Uber Micro Manager

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I finished up a management training recently, and that got me thinking about my past bosses. I’ve worked for quite a few managers, some good, some bad, and two distinctively horrible. One was your classic horrible boss. He was incompetent, always looking for opportunities to steal other people’s credit, and a general scumbag. The other one was a more rare and interesting case. He was extremely logical to the point of being robotic and his issue was definitely not incompetence. He was the ultimate micro manager and had to control 100% of your effort, down to your thought process. I have to say working for him was the turning point of my career.

I was 25 years old and had 3 years of experience as an IT consultant at the company. I had moved back to Japan for this job and was getting comfortable with the culture and gaining confidence at work. When I was assigned to the project, my colleagues had warned me about the project manager. In the five years that he had worked there, he had sent numerous young consultants to therapy and a lot of them would never come back. He had a reputation of being too tough but he would get challenging projects done and the company valued that.

The first three months of the six months project was tough but bearable. It was a three person team and I would get yelled at sometimes but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t tough it out. After three month, the other member of the team had rolled off the project and from there, it was a living hell. There was not a day that went by without getting yelled at. Every powerpoint slide, every excel sheet, every word I mouthed, every output I created was absolute shit. Everything I did was illogical and wrong and everything I had ever done in my life was worthless. If this was just an asshole boss, I could have shrugged it off and bad mouthed him behind his back over beer to feel better. What really sucked about working for him was that he was always logical and every feedback he had was backed with facts. He had notes of my actions and words that he would pull out as evidence and he created an environment that forced me to face the fact that I was wrong, illogical, stubborn, immature, incompetent, and useless.

A lot of times when he asked me a simple question, something like “what happened to that meeting material?” and it would take me a split second to answer because some thoughts crossed my mind unconsciously. Before I could answer, I was getting yelled at again for the thoughts that he somehow knew was crossing my mind.He would be able to verbalize my thoughts better than I could. “When I asked you this, your initial thought was X and then you thought Y. Those thoughts are inefficient and worthless.”

After getting tired of giving me the same feedback over and over, he made a list of things he wanted me to be always aware of. Every morning I come into the work, I would spend the first 10 minutes reciting the list to him. It went something like: “I will listen to what you say. I will make sure I write down every instructions given to me. Before I ask for your review I will confirm that the output achieves the objective.” and so on. When I did something wrong during the day, which inevitably happened multiple times every day, I would have to go back to the list and recite again.

The most intense part of the project was only for three months, but it was the longest and toughest three months ever. I became the first person to go through a two person project with him and not end up in therapy, although I have to say I was pretty damn close. I definitely came out of the project stronger and a lot more humble (that’s what happens when every single non fact based confidence is shattered). Could I ever work with him again? Hell no! However, I do have a weird appreciation for what he had done, I guess it’s similar to Stockholm syndrome or maybe just the result of the brainwashing. After the project I did grow as a consultant and became a lot more disciplined. I also learned how not to manage a team and the importance of treating your team with dignity.

In my defense, I am a smart and logical professional (I swear!) and even back then I was a competent consultant. I consider this period as boot camp and I needed a little ass kicking because let’s face it, I was a spoiled brat. However, I believe extreme stress is not always the fastest way to grow or succeed. I don’t need to beat him as an individual (and I don’t think I can) but I hope to be a better manager and a more effective leader than him. I look up to him in many ways but at the same time, he is my anti role model as a manager.

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