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Through the Looking Glass or the Fear Factor of Management (Rhythm of Testing)

On November 30, 2010, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing
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I finally have a bit of time to try and catch up on some reading.  I don’t know how strange this is, but I tend to read the same book two or three times, particularly if I can only read small segments at a time.  As I’m not the widely travelled road-warrior spending long hours waiting in airport terminals, and when I am sitting in airport terminals I tend to have a stack of day-job stuff to read/respond to, I find myself falling farther and farther behind in my reading.  The result is, I sometimes get to read a paragraph or two of a book, then get called away to deal with something. 

I’ve been working my way through two books over the Thanksgiving weekend, both on software.  Which ones do not really matter.  I resolved to start the smaller one over completely and see if reading entire pages at a time made it better.  (It did.) 

I have also been trying to catch up on my long-list of blog posts that I intended to read and see what the great ones of our craft can teach me.  The answer was: “Quite a bit.”  One stuck out though and prompted this post. 

Selena Delesie wrote some time about Yes Men and the managers who like them.  I had read enough of that post to say “I need to look that up when I get a moment.”  That moment finally came.  Toward the end of her entry, Selena wrote “Have you worked with or for someone who is a dictator-type who thrives on working with ‘Yes’ Men?”  This is my response: 

Yes.  To make matters worse, I did not even report to that manager, either directly or indirectly.  I was in a completely different reporting line than he was.  My Manager was a peer with him.  However, as he managed a large development group I needed to work with (as QA and BA and PM) it presented all sorts of challenges.  Forget that.  It was not a “challenge.”  It was a “pain.”

Management By Intimidation was the best way I can think of to describe his approach.  Really, it was un-good.  People who disagreed with him or had an opinion that did not exactly match his own were belittled, often publicly, or (as I learned later in private conversation then first-hand) had their position/employment threatened.  Fear was a great motivational tool. 

People who did not work for him but were in meetings with him could count on having any statement challenged, any assertion questioned.  “You can’t prove that, you have no evidence!”  Never mind that the previous 15 minutes had been laying out evidence to support the statement he was challenging (gratuitously.)   And even when assertions were presented as “possibilities” you could be certain that anything that could be in conflict with what he wanted done would be publicly thrashed. 

Other managers were afraid of what he would say to the VP in private.  He created a mystique of “getting things done” at all costs.

In a matter of months, from the time when he first joined the company to when I needed to interact with him or his people on a daily basis, this job went from the best job that I had ever had to the absolute worst one.  In truth, I learned a lot during that time.

Managers in the business units were frustrated.  When speaking with them, you know, doing my job, about needs and business function, several actually hung their heads and said “It doesn’t really matter, Pete.  No matter what I say, he’s going to do what he wants to do and tell me this is the way it has to be.”  When I asked why they did not go to their leadership and look for support, to a man (they really all were males) the response was “If I don’t put up with this, he won’t have his people do what I really need to have done.”
 
One interesting thing was if you did not have to interact with him to get your job done, and he needed you, you were the best buddy he had.  Pals for life!  Until there was a change or he did not get something he wanted.
 
This guy was also a huge believer in bell-curves.  Particularly when they were applied to people.  He also loved metrics.  There was never a metric he did not proclaim the great value of, then manipulate to his own ends.  Flagrantly.  He also knew that no one would call him on it.  
 
Finally, I did.  Publicly.  In a manager meeting.  With the VP present.  Hell hath no fury like a bully and a liar who is called on behavior.  I knew it would cost me.  I did not care.  In the end, I could not work in an environment like that where people were truly afraid of the consequences of speaking out.  I would no longer be complacent in an environment where the cost of taking a stand on the moral high-ground was more fearsome than what the toxic environment did to the person as a person. 
 
I landed a new position.  I did not realize how the toxicity of the last one lingered on me and I made some mistakes there.  Nothing huge, but enough where my outlook had been changed to be more confrontational that it needed to be.  I learned from that to.  That’s another blog post though. 
 
I said I learned a lot there.  I did.  Here’s part of what I learned: 

  • Managers may not be leaders, but they need to manage well;
  • Human Mistakes are learning opportunities, not something whose outcomes should be dreaded;
  • Intimidation only works if one is willing to be intimidated;
  • Sometimes in the office, just like in the schoolyard, bullies will collapse when confronted by a united opposition;
  • Make sure you are not the bully.
 

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