Lesson 034: Managing your manager
TV Series: Star Trek - The Next Generation
Season/Episode: 7/6 ('Phantasms')


Capt. Picard, being frustrated by repairs to the Enterprise warp engines delaying his attendance at a conference, keeps unintentionally hindering LaForge and Data from fixing the problem by continually suggesting rather elementary solutions to the problem.

Noticing Capt. Picard's desire to help is only interfering with the work in progress, a low level engineer steps forward and asks Capt. Picard if he might assist her with an engine diagnostic that she is performing with regard to the problem. Capt. Picard is elated with the opportunity to be of help, and goes off with the low level engineer, leaving LaForge and Data to complete their work without any further interruptions.


The situation becomes quite precarious for staff when managers micro-manage and get involved in low level work issues with the staff. The micro-manager's help often causes more interference with work progress than their intended assistance.

As respectful employees, staff members will always appear to welcome the offer of help from their managers with perhaps even a pleasant 'Thank you', when in reality they are thinking 'Go back to your office and let me do my work!'

So how does the staff member politely tell the manager to 'butt out' without offending the manager or even getting fired? Truth is - you really can't. The approach here is to understand the thought process of the manager first - then the solution becomes obvious.

The manager's goal is to get the work done. The manager steps in when they believe there is a risk of failure. The manager may see the risk of failure as due to lack of time, lack of information, lack of resources, or worst case scenario, lack of talent or skills in the staff to complete the task.

If the manager's interference is resulting out of the worst case scenario of the manager lacking trust and faith in the staff's abilities, then there needs to be a serious discussion first, privately, between the staff and the manager, before moving ahead with anything else.

If the issue is related to time, information, resources or something else identifiable and tangible, then the staff should put the manager to work in resolving those issues with clients, vendors and other management, away from the work at hand.

If the issue is resolvable by the staff without any assistance, the staff should still put the manager to work in some menial task, such as testing something or reviewing written material, anything which is not going to interfere with the work at hand.

The key is to not reject the manager's offer of help, but to 'manage' the manager's resource availability towards anything which will help the task at hand and not hinder it.

In effect, this is the same scenario as a child wanting to help a parent in the kitchen with cooking or perhaps with the maintenance work carried out on a car.

Even though both of these work areas can prove dangerous to a child and hinder work progress, we never want to discourage the child by dismissing their offer of help.

By asking the child to mix the batter instead of cutting vegetables, or to put the tools back in the tool box instead of actually using the tools, we end up encouraging the child with their involvement towards accomplishing the tasks.

Note: Any resemblance between managers and children inferred by this discussion is purely coincidental intentionally.

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