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 close the conversation with his Stepford-boss smile, and say, "Well, I'm confident you'll make it happen." I guess he became know 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 read an article from The Wall Street Journal Online 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, then it's going to be an uphill battle.
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.