IT Employment

The negative consequences of a "Yes Man"

It's annoying to have a Yes Man co-worker, but it can be hazardous to have one as your boss. Here's why a boss who will agree to anything can be poison to a team.

It's annoying to have a Yes Man co-worker, but it can be hazardous to have one as your boss. Here's why a boss who will agree to anything can be poison to a team.

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Editor's note: Toni is out on a long-overdue vacation this week. In her absence, we are posting repeats of some of her more popular blogs.

We've all known one, those flunkies who are so ambitious (or afraid) that they will do anything that's asked of them from their bosses. You don't hear many complaints from the bosses of Yes Men (or Women). There aren't many people out there who are secure enough not to secretly enjoy the fawning affirmations and supposedly can-do attitude of a Yes Man. Who wouldn't want an extra-accommodating co-dependent catering to his/her every request? But if your boss is the Yes Man, it can spell big trouble for you and your team.

I had one boss who would never turn down a request from upper management, ever. If the big boss requested that (after we finish our real duties) we put a new roof on the building using only our feet while fighting off ferocious wild animals, he'd ask, "Should those be alligators or rabid grizzly bears?"

Our boss would casually deliver the news to us about some extra tasks that he signed us up for (many of which were not even in our particular area, though not as far-fetched as to involve roofing). When we balked, he would act like he was listening, but then he would close the conversation with his Stepford boss smile and say, "Well, I'm confident you'll make it happen." I guess he became known as a "makes it happen" kind of guy because he got promoted to the executive ranks in no time.

What got me on this subject is that I just read a really good article from The Wall Street Journal online edition about Yes Men, and I have to say, it clarified a lot of things for me. I had an epiphany when the author, Jared Sandberg, cited feedback from Robert Sutton, a professor of management science at Stanford University: "Since a Yes Man can't filter out extraneous tasks the way good leaders can, his staffers are cognitively overloaded and condemned to do many things, almost all of them badly." Amen, baby!

The frustration is that staffers can't make inroads with the Yes Man(ager). You can try to express your frustration, as the article suggests, but I really don't think that works very often. If a person is so ambitious that he would throw you under the bus for a lousy thumbs up from his manager, or so weak willed that he would sacrifice you just to draw attention away from himself, it's going to be an uphill battle.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

19 comments
drewcollier
drewcollier

Since you based the discussion off of a WSJ article, you really should cite the article.

vcamview050812
vcamview050812

As the old saying goes "Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely". Lack of trust of subordinates contributes to the dictatorial attitude.

AhJune
AhJune

Whose be "YES MAN" will always bully by boss.

pwoodctfl
pwoodctfl

The "yes" man/woman often suffers from a technical deficit. They don't know enough to raise questions about the feasibility of a project or its implications. That what they have employees for. Unfortunately, none of those employees are in the room when the decision is made. Some "upwards management" is needed in that situation. Encourage Mr/Miss "Can Do" to say. "Let me see what is involved and I will get back to you" instead of "Yes" because you will be able to better support his/her decision and give them better cost and delivery dates. They don't have to say "no" and they talk to you before they commit to something. The key here is that you have to at least act like as much as a "yes" person as they are. If you always say "no" you are easily ignored by this type of person.

eaydinceren
eaydinceren

Toni, Incapablity to say "NO" is a handicap. Time management and prioritization, moreover good communication are valuable skills, but nevertheless a subordinate can hardly critize her boss from her limited prespective. You never what know he said to "NO" in closed meetings, you only got to know what he said to "YES".

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

worth having around is the one with magical powers to grant any and all wishes. ;)

e_hood
e_hood

I had a Systems Manager counter-part that was a "yes man" and only wanted "yes men/women working for him. He called it "being negative" if you offered anything other than afirmative response. When he wanted to implement a whatever, he didn't want to here about any concerns or possible problems that may need to be looked at in advance he just wanted to here that the idea was a good one and "Full speed ahead and Damn the torpedo's" and we're on schedule. I myself like to analize a little before hand. Hell, to at least see if the whatever will run on the 1X server he purchased because he told the VP's that it should. Well we had a little restructuring and instead of my promotion to a Director position he got it. They stated that he was a "make it happen" kinda guy. I was assigned under him and my Hell started. Well he left a year or so later when we were bought. We are still 4years later fixing bad code and replacing all those 1X servers because of his "make it happen" attitude. Whew that felt good!

Ablack7
Ablack7

Point taken but i see it as the lowest level of yes man, I've been in that position before to me its not fear i do mines mainly out of boredom , i hate doing structured redundant work, i have add moments then and just lose complete interest so i have to find ways to stay interested in my job, I just don't like when that issue gets token advantage of. I try to see the big picture some times and pull my weight. Some times it makes a big difference but then some times get in the way then people emotions want to get involved. Any other opinion or tips how to be less over-ambtions but still not be lazy and conforming

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Yes-man, fresh from a meeting with the CxO: "The boss wants xyz and we need to do it." Subordinate: "We can't do xyz." Y-M: "Sure you can. You guys are the best in the company." S: "Thanks for the compliment, but nobody here is going to do xyz. We don't want to go to jail." Y-M: "What does xyz have to do with jail?" S: "What you are telling us to do is illegal and none of us here will do it without written instructions to do it. Even then, none of us will do it, but the [3-letter Federal enforcement agency] would be very interested in seeing any written instructions." Turns out it was a test. The CxO knew it was illegal and also knew Y-M should have known it was illegal. Y-M was gone the following week... :)

tkelly
tkelly

I thought to avoid such 'Yes' bosses by leaving the private sector, but you cant get away from them. And the more intimate the office setting the worse the it is.

drewcollier
drewcollier

Your boss should be giving you some insight on the battles going on up the chain, albeit quietly and professionally. If your manager comes to you on a regular basis asking the ramifications of this or the risk of that, asks about the workload of the team or what the attitude of the team is, then that person is giving insight to upper management and providing feedback that explains the risks and impact. When nothing becomes of a request for information, then you know your Boss went in and said "NO". We all do what our managers ask of us, that is the way chain of command works and the mark of professionalism; but, when your manager asks for input or help gathering justification, then he is fighting the good fight and giving you a glimpse of it without being disrespectful to his boss. It's when they come down from the mountain and bestow their will upon you or throw you under the bus for their appearance as the "goto" guy, while ignoring the cries of dispair, that is a "Yes" man.

sgriffithsnz
sgriffithsnz

In my last job I worked for one of these. We were an already too small IT staff under pressure, being "mangled" by a yes man who didn't understand IT but would never say no to anyone even if it meant he backtracked on the policy directives he gave us, which of course made us look like the bad guys. Talk about frustrating. And he only wanted to surround himself with yes-people too, so he put presure on anyone that would stand up to him and try to explain why something wasn't a good idea, or try to push back because of his policy. We lost our senior staff in very short order, and I was next on his hit list, but decided to look for alternatives first, and luckily landed an awesome job elsewhere before it became an issue. Sadly the two guys I left behind have really struggled, and are not too sure how long they'll be around...

jszivos
jszivos

I really hate that stuff. You should buy the Y-M a copy of "See You at the Top" by Zig Ziglar. It's all about succeeding in a business environment and it focuses on teamwork and management. You want to diversify your team and such. I guess you lucked out that it was a test, but never fall into the "Yes" attitude!

prosenjit11
prosenjit11

Some people take advantage out of it, simple as that.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

since I'm full of coffee on a Saturday morning... ;) Is "agreance" anything like "complyment?" Or did you mean "agreement?"

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

When he was FINALLY bounced out on his ass, there were actually cheers in the office when the email announcing it was read.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

It was the Y-M. He failed miserably.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

to everything but the idea of being fired. ;)

Absolutely
Absolutely

To be a truly hardcore 'yesman', one must fail just as [u]agreeably[/u] as one complies with all other silly directives, or he is a failure as a yes-man!! :^0