Abbey Kos is one of the eight remaining finalists in The Washington Post Magazine’s @Work Advice Contest. For Round 2, we asked: What is the biggest problem in today’s workplace, and how can it be solved?
Think of every crappy manager you’ve ever known -- all the clueless stuffed shirts, the passive-aggressive schmucks, the nitpickers ad nauseam. Regardless of industry or age, we’ve all known someone struggling beneath the polished wingtip of a bad supervisor.
Terrible bosses are endemic to the workplace, and I’ve never heard of a single office that doesn’t have at least one. Reporting to one is first irritating, then exasperating, and finally depressing -- and it drives away talent. We can’t afford to watch junior staff leave just because the guy who signs their timesheet is a doofus.
We tend to think of crappy managers as a fact of life, like bad office coffee. But let’s look at this logically. What seems more likely: (a) HR loves to hire substandard employees; (b) when smart people become managers, their brains suddenly liquefy; or (c) our workplace culture doesn’t always do a good job of training people how to manage others?
When I was 23, an intern showed up at my door unannounced — just materialized out of the ether in an Ann Taylor dress. I had absolutely no idea what the hell to do with her. Did she have, you know, a desk? A phone? Should I give her assignments? I barely knew how to do my job, much less how to help someone else do theirs.
Without training, I was a crappy boss. And as a result my intern was wasted — bad for her, bad for me, bad for the company. She may have been a genius for all I know, but she left without learning much more than how to make a pivot table. (Which is, to be fair, a pretty neat skill.) But with training, I could’ve been better for her and made her better for our company. And I can’t help but think that’s the case for a lot of other crappy bosses, too.
So education it is. I believe in training — analyzed, sincere, perhaps bound in attractive booklets -- to help teach people how to manage staff. A program developed by HR and an office’s best senior staff can do wonders. (”Oh, so when my assistant starts sobbing, I shouldn’t turn on the radio to cover the sounds of her pain? Good to know.”) And a corporate culture that values leadership training makes it harder for truly bad bosses to survive.
Nobody wants to suck at their job; there are no eight-year-olds out there saying, “When I grow up, I want to be an incompetent middle manager.” Every terrible supervisor is a person, someone with (we can only hope) a rich life, good friends and a genuine desire to do well. So let’s capitalize on that desire — and teach people what they need to know about leadership. How else are they going to learn?
I’m not saying training’s a panacea. But education can go a long way and, as G.I. Joe said, “knowing is half the battle.”
Whose advice did you like best? Vote for your favorite contestant
Read each contestant’s Round 2 answers
Read each contestant’s Round 1 answers
Meet the @Work Advice Contest’s 10 finalists