No competition allowed

It must be difficult for some managers.  They want to be seen as a great people leaders who help their staff grow and develop.  But at the same time they want to make sure that none of their staff ever look as good as them or even, heaven forbid, better than them.  Because if they did then that would be competition and as we all know, there can only be one boss.

This can prove a tricky balancing act.  What happens if, by some stroke of luck, the people management side actually works and a protege starts to grow and develop?  All of a sudden this has to be stopped.  But you can’t just say to someone “you are getting too good, please stop.” (or maybe you can?) so some other ways need to be tried.

Here are some common ways I’ve spotted:

  1. Don’t give credit where credit is due.  Either steal it and take the applause yourself, or supress it and act as if it never happened.
  2. Try to undermine the person’s confidence, perhaps by using a little white lie – “I’ve had some reports that you are showing off.”
  3. Give them an impossible job to do, one that is bound to fail.  There is always the risk that they might pull it off so best to give them one that they don’t know is doomed.  You could even talk it up a bit so they are excited at the prospect.  Suckers.
  4. Starve them of oxygen.  Don’t tell them the important facts they need to know and don’t pass on the things they think you are going to pass on.
  5. Finally there are the real dirty tricks – reorganise them out, move them sideways, take away their team and so.

Of course these managers could always continue to encourage their protege and delegate more things to do, freeing up some of their time to do better things.  But for some people that’s just too much like good teamwork for comfort.

2 thoughts on “No competition allowed”

  1. I just was fired from a job with a control freak boss like this and needed to understand the mechanics of what happened. I have been working for 32 years and never had anyone scrutinize my work as this manager did. I knew it was unhealthy.

    Thank you for explaining it so thoroughly!

    Millie Shultz

  2. Just discovered this blog. Wish I’d discovered it earlier. In soooo many ways, it perfectly describes the person I’ve been direct-reporting to for the past 10-plus years. It would take me hours to describe all the manipulation, bullying, drill-drill-drill-dig-dig-dig petty hourly/daily micromanagement, gate-keeping, endless pointless meeting-making, idea-crushing, creativity-destroying, initiative-squelching…well, you get the idea.

    The boss right above my boss (the dep’t head) is also a control freak, but on a more macro level, which actually seems more bearable, if that makes any sense. At least he’s not calling and e-mailing every other second or setting up stupid adults-reading-to-adults meetings at the drop of a hat (thereby blitzing subordinates’ momentum and productivity).

    But he does prevent subordinates from getting trained and developed (and my direct supervisor colludes in this).

    When I first joined the company, I quickly realized that I was dealing with a micromanaging control freak boss (immediate superior) who would sap all the creative life out of me. I’m a copywriter with an ad-agency background, and I work in the (cough) “creative department” at this company…but, even though I was putatively hired because my portfolio contained strong creative concepts, I was immediately reduced to a production hack with no opportunity whatsoever to come up with ideas or concepts. (Whenever I did, they were squelched. Always with a different excuse.)

    Anyway, I became so unhappy and frustrated that I decided to give myself a creative challenge–by learning about something new. I was doing e-commerce copywriting, and SEO was all the buzz, so I started learning about it. On my own time and on my own nickel, natch. I did ask my bosses if they would spring for a $100 SEO copywriting course (on CD). They refused, so I said, “The heck with this,” and bought it myself.

    That’s how it’s been ever since. Under pressure from upper management, my bosses did spring, at one point, for some books for the department. But after the upper manager who had exerted this pressure left the company, the book-buying ceased. But that hasn’t stopped me. During lunch hours, I “attend” webinars, read blogs and fora, and download e-books on the topics that interest me, like SEO and conversion optimization. I figure that–even if I’m effectively prevented from putting *anything* I’m learning into practice–I can always use it elsewhere.

    And that’s pretty much what keeps me going, to tell the truth.

    You are so right: Knowledge is power. Which is why micromanaging control freaks have a strong vested interest in preventing subordinates from obtaining knowledge!

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