Nobody says they want to hire “yes men”. They say they want
employees who are bold, creative, self-directed, take initiative, and
aren’t afraid to speak up. But what managers say they want and what they actually want (and reward) can be very different…

In a post last year on teamwork, I wrote:

“In his book Re-imagine!, Tom Peters
says, “We will win this battle… and the larger war… only when our
organizations are chock-a-block with obstreperous people who are
determined to bend the rules at every turn…”

I reckon that most top-level managers would agree. They’d
say that their company should take the bold whatever-it-takes person
over the ever-compromising, risk-averse Yes Man. “If that person shakes
us up, smacks us around, creates some creative tension, well that’s
just what we need to stay competitive”, the CEO says. Yeah, right.
While I believe most CEOs probably think this way, that attitude
reverses itself dramatically the futher you reach down the org chart.

There’s a canyon-sized gap between what top managers and CEOs say
they want (brave, bold, innovative) and what their own middle
management seems to prefer (yes-men, worker bees, non-boat-rockers). Of
course I’ve never heard a manager say that… but you see it
over and over again in their choices. When the tech downturn hit,
consider who were often the first to go during the layoffs… “

Feeling the same way today, and inspired by Guy Kawasaki’s Top Ten Lies of Engineers, I made a list of the things managers will often say, along with what some of those managers might actually be thinking.

(Yes, I’m aware this is generalizing, reinforcing negative
stereotypes, and is completely biased toward non-managers. It’s just
for fun ; ) Really.)

“My job is to be a buffer between you and upper management.”
“Your job is to make me look good to upper management.”

“We value your criticism and ideas.”
“If you’re so smart, how come I’m a manager and you’re not?”

“We set reasonable deadlines, and we never underbid our projects… so our employees don’t need to work weekends.”
“Since when is Saturday part of the weekend?”

“We provide our employees with the state-of-the-art tools they need to do their job.”
“When I did this job, a Windows 98 box and a 640×480 monitor was plenty. You’re just typing code for crise sake…”

“I know you’re working hard now, but we’ll make it up to you later.”

“Hey, you’re preaching to the choir here. I’m on your side. But upper management just doesn’t get it.”
“You just don’t get it.”

“We empower our employees to do whatever it takes for the customer.”
“You gave that guy a refund?! What the #@&! were you thinking?”

“Nobody is getting a raise this year.”
“Nobody at your level is getting a raise this year.”

“My job is to hire good people and get out of their way.”
“But so far, I’ve never had an employee that didn’t need micromanaging.”

“I won’t tell you how to do your job.”
“…as long as you do it exactly the way I would do it.”

“We provide ongoing, comprehensive training for our employees.”
“Joe will show you around this afternoon, and then you’re on your own. Oh, and your first TPS report is due tomorrow.”

“You’ve got upper management written all over you.”
Finally someone who does exactly what I tell him to without question.”

“Don’t hesitate to speak up during meetings.”
“…as long as it’s to compliment me on the great job I’m doing.”

“I really went to bat for you, but upper management just wouldn’t budge.”
“Oh, yeah, like I would actually risk my job for you…”

“When this project is over, we’ll talk about the promotion. I promise.”
“I’ve already forgotten we had this conversation.”

“We have a great career track for non-managers.”
“Let’s face it, programmers just don’t have leadership potential.”