No vision - no accountability

Dear Joan:
I am a newly hired manager with no prior experience.  I have worked for this company/department for almost five years, and have worked my way up the ladder from systems analyst to manager, in that time.  I have been trying my best to gather as much as I can regarding good management practice   What I am finding is the information usually refers to what I need to do for my staff.  But I have another issue. My co-manager and my director are like the parents who let their child run wild.  They seem to be afraid of setting some boundaries, because then they would have to actually hold someone accountable for their actions.  They propose talking with the team about issues, discussing action plans, and that is where it ends.  So, of course, the staff know that management will not do anything as far as disciplinary action, write ups, or anything, and they run the place.
My co-manager and director even have trouble telling me what it is they are looking for help with.  I am low man on the totem pole, and I completely expect that I will have to do some of the dirty work and work strange hours during “go lives.” 
They never give me any idea of what they want, or what their vision is, so I take the reins, and tell them what I am going to do.  I truly believe that they don't have a vision.  I also feel that if I asked them what their vision is, they would ask me to create one.  Are there any suggestions you have for me?  I don't want to overstep my bounds, but if I don't get any clear direction soon, I feel like I am going to be running the place myself.  I don't know if this is too much to expect or if I am being unreasonable.  I am really at a loss.

Perhaps one day you will be running the place!
Information technology departments are often in a difficult organizational position. Every internal customer thinks their projects are the most important and should come first. And often they haven’t thought through how their projects will impact other parts of the organization. The IT department can easily end up in reactionary mode—which is where your department leaders may be stuck.
Many things could be the cause. Here are just a few: 
  • The leader of the department isn’t a strategic thinker, or able to sort through the needs and priorities of customers, so simply reacts to whatever the departments say they need. As a result, managers have no sense of direction.
  • The organization has a cumbersome disciplinary process, so managers give up and don’t try to hold employees accountable. Or, perhaps they are willing to look past poor behavior because they lack the skills or managerial courage to confront them. 
  • Perhaps the leaders in the department lack hands-on technical background, so are having difficulty providing technical direction.
  • “Co-managers” are rarely a good idea. If employees have two managers—instead of one, who has clear authority, they can often play one against the other. Co-managers tend to fall over one another when trying to make a decision or hold people accountable.
The only good news here is that you are grabbing the reins and figuring out a direction as well as you can. So far, it doesn’t sound as if you’ve heard any complaints from your managers.
To be certain that you aren’t crossing the line, when you do chart out your course of action, ask, “Are you ok with what I’m proposing to do? I don’t want to overstep my role. Are there any other people I need to get input from before I begin?”
Over time several things are likely to happen. You will be promoted, or you will get frustrated and leave. In either case, taking charge will help you advance your career. And it appears your natural talents will lead you to a leadership position in your future.

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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