Your manager might be holding back your career. Here are the warning signs.

May 08, 2022

A good boss can be a luxury.

Not everyone has that luxury.

But if you have a manager or boss who isn’t good at what they do, you’ll pay the price, too.

When I was a junior software developer, I worked for some managers who weren’t very good at their jobs. I didn’t know because I lacked experience. And I didn’t realize how much poor management can hold you back.

Let me be clear: there could be other contributing factors. And I’m not here to fault any managers or bosses for failures. In many cases, people are doing their best. But for the sake of continuous self-improvement, it’s important to recognize when we’re straying from good practice, so we can learn and grow.

So, here are five warning signs of poor management you should know about:

1. Do they micromanage?

Implementation details should be left to the software developers because it involves technical decision-making. Like all skills, technical decision-making can only improve with practice. So, a manager who makes too many technical decisions deprives the team of learning opportunities – which are also growth opportunities.

Some suggest that some developers (like junior developers) might need more help. That’s true, but providing technical help is what a technical team leader is for. Managers may also serve as technical leads in some (e.g., smaller) teams, but helping junior developers with finer technical details is not part of the managerial role. A manager’s job is mainly about getting resources the team needs to do its job – time, money, materials, etc. So, on teams with a tech lead, the manager really shouldn’t be too involved with technical details.

An unspoken benefit of letting people do their jobs is it improves their sense of ownership. I can’t tell you how many times I hear managers saying, “I want you to take ownership of {something}.” The easiest way to do that? Stop micromanaging! When we put careful thought into the work we do, we feel ownership. We feel responsibility for the things we create. Together, this produces passion. So, micromanagement takes away passion.

2. Do they fight for resources?

Your team’s projects need time, money, and other resources. But your boss has a boss, too. And your boss’s boss has to deal with other teams asking for time, money, and other resources. So, your boss must fight for resources.

But bosses are human. And some bosses fear confronting their bosses. They may be afraid to upset their bosses, or maybe they’re just brown-nosing.

But, if your boss can’t fight for enough money, your project could be cancelled.

And if your boss can’t fight for enough time or people, then you and your teammates will need to work more overtime to finish everything. That contributes to burnout.

3. Do they push back?

Similarly, your boss’s boss wants lots of work done while trying to minimize costs as much as possible.

So, you’ll probably be asked to do way more than your team can do in the time they give.

If your boss fears pushing back on unreasonable demands, you and your team will suffer.

The suffering isn’t just about overwhelming work loads. Knowing your manager can’t or won’t stand up for the team destroys trust because team members know it won’t be the last time they’ll be thrown under the bus. It also destroys morale because the team knows they can’t make the deadline with a quality product. They know they’re doomed to failure.

4. Do they support your growth?

You’re helping your boss, but your boss should also help you. Specifically, they should help you grow in your career. Gone are the days when you blindly obey your manager’s orders without question…or, at least, those days should be gone. Today, good organizations recognize that helping an employee thrive benefits everyone. What company wouldn’t want an employee who does better to help them succeed?

But not all bosses will take initiative to find out what you want to do with your career.

Not all bosses will work with you to ensure you grow in the direction you want.

Not all companies require it.

But if your boss doesn’t help you grow, or if they actively hinder your growth, you’ll be stuck in your career. And because you’re not improving, you’ll also have a harder time finding a better job elsewhere. Other companies will wonder why you’re not further along in your career.

5. Do they prepare you for what’s coming?

Your organization has a vision. The higher-ups have long-term plans for where the company goes. The vision and plans affect your projects and the tasks you work on every day. So, your boss should keep you informed about what those long-term plans are so you can prepare for them. You don’t want requirements to drop on you out of nowhere without context because it’s confusing. And confusion causes rework, which robs you and your team of precious time.

No manager’s perfect. I wouldn’t leave just because my manager isn’t meeting one of these expectations.

Remember: this is a two-way business relationship. So, part of MY job is to make it work with my boss as best I can.

BONUS 6. Are they willing to improve?

If your boss isn’t willing to improve, then your team’s situation won’t either – and neither will yours. Of course, no boss will tell you they aren’t willing to improve, it’s implied by a lack of action. They might say they want to improve, but do they do anything that demonstrates that desire?

And if they are willing to improve, don’t be afraid to suggest improvements that help you, your manager, and your team. Then, work with your manager to make it happen.

These are just some of the warning signs you may be working for bosses who aren’t very good at what they do. The sooner you recognize them, the sooner you can address them. Because the longer you wait, the more you’re held back from a successful career.

© 2023, Alvin Tsui