Having braved the tech wilderness for many years, Jeff Dray has been able to document the 10 most insidious types of IT managers. Find out if you or your manager fits into one of the species he describes.
In my travels through the wilds of the information technology field, I have come across many menacing species of IT manager. All are from the genus "Procurator" and are very dangerous in captivity. Some are now on the World Wildlife Federation's At Risk Register. However, there will certainly be no captive breeding program to preserve them, as most people would be overjoyed if they disappeared from the Earth.
To help classify these dangerous breeds, I've created the following list of species and character descriptions of some common types of managers. These types are loosely based on some managers I have worked for over the years. As ever, this classification should be taken with a large pinch of salt.
Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.
1: Procurator Martyrus
Also known as The "Anything for the Good of the Company" Manager
This species has a distinctive cry that sounds like this:
"Look at me! I worked Christmas day and even when I had cholera. I walked to the office for six weeks after my car crash, even though both my legs were broken. Why can't you stay another hour each night without pay? I would."
Yes, the office martyr has finally made it to the top, probably because it's the only place where he can't do any harm.
There is a tradition in the British Civil Service of promoting those workers whose incompetence seriously affects the performance of a department. Many such appointees are members of the P. Martyrus group. P. Martyrus is closely related to the next species, Procurator IlligitimusMaximus.
2: Procurator IlligitimusMaximus
Also known as The Mean and Nasty Manager
This manager is of the old school, a right scoundrel. His idea of being a good manager is to be unapproachable or, in his words, "hard but fair." He is neither. He got his present position by hanging onto the coattails of his manager until retirement, or a nasty accident left the position open. Thankfully, this is now a severely endangered species.
After sacking a member of the team, he might be heard to say, "I had to let him go; he wasn't showing the right level of commitment. He preferred to go to his mother's funeral rather than come to work. What do they think we're running here? A holiday camp?"
He will then turn to the shocked and silenced office and shout, "Anyone else here got any doubts about their loyalty?"
The problem with IlligitimusMaximus is that one day he will make a mistake himself. When he looks to the team to help him out of his difficulty, they will remember past actions and develop a selective deafness to his pleas. His is a lonely path, and for him there is no safe haven.
3: Procurator Teflonius
Also known as The Nonstick Manager
Former United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair was frequently referred to as "Teflon Tony" because nothing would stick to him. He represented probably the highest evolution of Teflonius ever observed on the planet. Sadly, because of their excellent stealth characteristics, this species is likely to be around in prolific numbers for the foreseeable future.
This species has sloping shoulders from which any blame will easily slide. She will not give a straight answer to a straight question, just in case you might quote her at the court martial. Whenever something goes wrong, she will produce documentary evidence that she was somewhere else at the time. She is more of a nuisance and a waste of salary than a danger, unless you happen to be the victim of one of her decisions. It is always a good idea to make clandestine recordings of any meetings with a P. Teflonius.
4: Procurator Absentia
Also known as The Missing Link, or "What Manager?"
They seek him here, they seek him there,
Those workers seek him everywhere.
This manager is critically endangered. When a company is looking to make cuts, they save more money by sacking this type of manager than a front line worker. And as a bonus, they don't lose as much from the skill base.
Let me give you a real-world example of my encounter with this species: Many years ago, I worked for a pleasant young manager called Tim, who was in charge of two teams, both in different buildings. He would call in to see us -- a small team of three people -- and tell us that he would be spending the day with the other team, which was having problems. Apparently, we were reliable and could be trusted to get the work done, whereas the others were an incompetent bunch who needed constant supervision.
Imagine our surprise the day we called the other office to speak to him on an urgent matter only to be told that he was with us because we were incompetent and needed to have constant supervision. This was before the days of mobile phones, so the game was up. He was, it seemed, happy to leave both teams and pass his days playing golf. Sorry Tim. If you ever read this, we knew all the time!
5: Procurator Insignia
Also known as The Flashy Brass
This manager has a sign on his desk or office door, a badge or some similar marking of rank. If he thought he could get away with it, he would wear pips on his shoulders or gold bands around his jacket cuffs. He will take outrageous liberties, like instructing a junior member of staff to wash his car or go out to collect his dry cleaning. When you question this, he will point to this mark of office and say the immortal four words: "THIS says I can."
This species is universally ignored by "his staff," as he likes to call them. As with IlligitimusMaximus, he will receive no help if he screws up. The main difference is that Insignia can be an amusing figure to mock.
6: Procurator Headinsandia
Also known as The "I Don't Want to Hear it" Manager
Yes, one type from my original list of 10+ dangerous species of help desk callers has made it to this list.
Perhaps the help desk caller is, in fact, the manager of the same type. Or maybe the help desk caller mutates into this type of manager when he or she reaches the appropriate level.
P. Headinsandia is probably the manager of a department near you. When the team gives an honest answer to an honest question about the timescale of a project, she will throw up her hands in horror and give the cry that clearly identifies the species. In fairness, this manager takes the cares of the world on her shoulders and worries about them. She lies awake at night fretting about delivering the monthly reports on time. She presents herself as a tough go-getter but is often covering an inadequacy. Be gentle with this species -- but most of all, ignore this type of manager. It's easier that way.
7: Procurator Buzzwordia
Also known as The Buzzword Manager
Often found, after a long search, in deep water wearing the latest Ralph Lauren concrete collection, Buzzwordia manages by use of a string of clichés and ideas he heard at management seminars. Meetings with him are not for the weak-stomached, and it is advisable to keep a bucket handy, just in case.
Think about the last person you heard say:
- "There's no 'I' in team."
- "Assume makes an ASS out of U and ME."
- "I can't spell success without U."
- "I want us to be Proactive, not Reactive." (Of course, in this context, "Us" means "You.")
Despite the extreme reaction this species can cause, they are mostly harmless. They are prolific in Northern Europe, returning to breed in sheltered colonies in suburban areas of minor towns. Offspring usually opt not to work in management but may become social workers or violent criminals. When this happens, they are usually deemed to be "misunderstood."
8: Procurator Amicus Potissimus
Also known as The Best Mate
This is a well-padded, red-faced manager, given to back-slapping and calling in favors, even before any are owed. He makes unreasonable demands in the name of friendship and invites you to his children's birthday parties, although you can't stand kids unless they have been barbecued.
Amicus Potissimus tends to overuse first names, even when not appropriate. Still, it is quite hard to be rude to them. This species makes you want to slit your throat as they ramble on about the fantastic time they had during their last sales seminar or golf tournament. Although it is clear to anyone around you that you'd rather be boiling in oil, the Best Mate assumes that you share his interests.
9: Procurator Impatiens
Also known as The Two-Minute Manager
This is the type of manager who asks for an update on what has been done during her absence, then abruptly cuts off the answer after two minutes with a cry of, "I don't have time now. I want a report on my desk first thing Monday morning." Although she always does this at 5 p.m. on a Friday, there is no need to worry. She will seldom remember that she has asked for it.
She is closely related to P. Headinsandia and likes to give the impression that she is too busy and important to bother with details. She's good at delegating tasks, mainly because she doesn't have a clue how to do them herself. P. Impatiens is not a very good person to work for, as your needs will never be recognized or satisfied. The good news is that she's usually the first to go in a round of downsizing.
10: Procurator Condescendia
Also known as The Patronizing Manager
Nobody can do it quite like P. Condescendia. He was there when they landed on the moon. In fact, he designed and built the entire communications system. He also cabled Canary Wharf using only a pair of pliers, a cotton bud, and a cocktail stick. He won the Paris to Dakar rally in a car he built himself from old beer cans. He caught the biggest fish, had the best golf handicap, and is, of course, a close personal friend of the Managing Director.
We underlings are all very well, but we needed his supreme holiness and guidance to see us through even the simplest task. The trouble is that his intervention nearly always leads to problems. It can be really hard to find hard disk jumpers with the head of Condescendia bobbing in front of the light continually.
The simplest way to deflate this species is to ask, in all innocence, why, if they are so talented, are they working for a tuppenny-ha'penny outfit like yours?
Dangerous manager species in the wild
Got a species or two to add to the list? Join the discussion and share your experiences.