Are you an absentee manager?

Dear Joan:
Something happened to me that I thought other readers could benefit from, especially managers. I took a new job about a year ago as an accountant for a small insurance company. There was a long-term employee who seemed to have it in for me and never let up. Because I was new I didn't push it by telling our boss. Instead, I tried to do my own work and get along with everyone, including her.

I soon found out that others have left because of her. In the meantime, I began looking for another job because I could see that I wasn't going to get anywhere. She withheld information from me as I was training and seemed to be threatened by me. However, lately we had simply stayed out of each other’s way. I'm not a very threatening person and recently made this career change after earning my MBA at night.  

I was offered a new job two weeks ago for more money and responsibility. They didn't call for a reference at my job so my boss didn't know I got an offer. When I went in to tell him I was leaving, he was shocked and upset. He tried to offer me more money and told me how great I was doing. He went on and on about how much I had contributed to the company. I would have stayed with this company if I had known this!  

I have volunteered to work overtime so that I can train a replacement. In fact, I've heard from someone else that two people might replace me. My leaving disappoints people in other departments because I was working with many of them on projects. Why didn't he take the time to tell me all of that when I was on the job...Why wait until good people leave?  

If you print this, maybe other managers will learn from my situation. I would say to them, "Don't hide under a bushel and hope your problems will go away because they won't. The only thing that may go away are your good employees."  

Managers like yours are like absentee gardeners. They sow a few seeds, hope for rain and wander off. They don't come back until harvest time and blame their poor crop on the weather and the weeds. Even the most self-motivated seedling will wither from neglect under those conditions.

Because you were new to the job, and the field, your boss should have taken special care to supervise your growth. He should have showered you with performance feedback and asked you if you had any questions.  

Your strategy was perfect: you didn't lock horns with the long- term employee and developed a reputation as a team player.  

Your boss and others noticed that your reputation was thriving in spite of the trouble your co-worker was giving you.  

Now is the time to think through what you will do if something like this should happen on your new job. For example, will you go to your new boss, say, after three months, and ask him or her "how am I doing?" Many companies have a six-month probationary period so don't make the mistake of believing no news is good news. If you are having trouble in your new job, it is especially important to take this initiative.  

If someone on your new job begins to make life miserable for you, what will you do? Although your strategy worked last time, it caused you to leave your job. If you have regular meetings with your new boss, you would have opportunities to subtly make your point before it escalates to that level. For example, if a co-worker withholds information, you could approach it by asking your boss a question, "Am I supposed to be getting the Thomson figures?" You may be able to add, "I thought I should ask because so-and-so seemed to be confused about whether I needed them." A few "naive" questions from a new employee will soon tip off a manager that there is a problem. By asking questions to make your point, you avoid the risk of sounding like a complainer or of misjudging someone's motives.  

If you get the opportunity, you may want to have a talk with your former boss before you leave. Perhaps your comments will help him deal with the long-term employee before she affects more co-workers. Weigh this carefully, however, since you don't want to burn the only bridge you have in your new field. If you doubt he'll handle the information well, don't jeopardize yourself.  

In the meantime, you're wise to be gracious about training a replacement. Don't discuss the situation while you're at the old job or the new one. If you sow negative seeds they could choke out your victory garden.  

I hope your career comes up roses!

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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