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The Advantages Of Working For A Mean S.O.B.

May 6, 2016

Hey, Rodney, can I ask you something?


How can you stand to work for Dave?

What do you mean?

The guy is a jerk. The other managers can’t stand him.

It was my first job at Microsoft. David Ladd was my manager. And my coworker (who was not on Dave’s team, BTW) was correct. Other managers couldn’t stand Dave. He was loud. He was occasionally a bully. He was difficult to work with. And those of us on his team were grateful for it. 

Our team supported Microsoft mail and it’s gateways. In the days before the internet (i.e. anything pre-1995) email systems didn’t talk to each other very easily. What we take for granted today ([email protected]) was only one of many naming and addressing standards. Our team helped companies talk to themselves (via an async gateway) and talk to each other (via the MHS, MCI, X.400 or SMTP gateways.) 

While we were full-time salaried employees, we still had a timecard of sorts. Every week, the system would calculate how many hours we had been logged into our phones. Like most timecard systems for salaried employees, the system didn’t care how many hours you worked. In fact, this was Microsoft in the 1990’s; the more the better. We’d get no overtime, of course. But, the system cared A LOT how few hours you worked. If your stats didn’t say you were logged into the phones 36 hours or more, you showed up on a list. And your manager showed up on the list. And someone would talk to him. And then he was expected to talk to you. But, it’s totally cool, you’re not a salaried employee!

Anyway, Dave had just two rules for those working on his team. 

Make sure your phone time shows 40 hours, and if a customer is going to call and yell at me, make sure you let me know first.

If you did those two things, and of course, did your actual job, then Dave pretty much left you alone to accomplish your work. Like all good managers, he was available to help push past any roadblocks, or, what as a new employee, I most appreciated, he was there to answer questions about how to get things done. But, keep his two rules and he was a great manager. 

So, why did other managers hate him? Why did they think he was a jerk? (Or, this being Microsoft, an SOB?)

Because, in addition to being a good manager, Dave was also a good leader. He was fiercely loyal. Microsoft had it’s share of rivalries like any organization. Dave understood that part of his job was to be a really big umbrella to shield his team from others who might malign us, or try to further their own agendas at our expense. 

Rodney, I just got out of a manager staff meeting. One of the other managers said that you failed to deliver on project paper they wanted you to work on and it made them late on their deliverable. 

What did you say?

I told them that you wouldn’t do that. That if you committed to do something, you follow through and they must have gotten bad information, and to stop talking bad about my team.

Wow. Thanks. 

No problem. Can you help me understand what the circumstances were?

Yeah, they came to be on Friday at 3:00pm and told me they had a deliverable for Monday morning. I had a family commitment I couldn’t get out of that weekend. I offered to help them the following week, but they said that was too late. 

Yeah, I thought it was probably something like that. 

Dave was only a jerk to people outside his team. If you were on his team and managed to follow his two simple rules, he was your biggest advocate. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see several problems with Dave’s management style. But, those problems were designed to shield his team and let us do our jobs. It might have hurt his career to be a mean SOB, but it was great for his team. 

Debra was a manager at one of the companies that I had to interact with at one of my jobs. Debra scared people. Just saying her name, “Debra wouldn’t like us doing it this way” was enough to change the course of a project plan. Debra was very demanding. However, she was also brilliant and incredibly fair to work with. Like Dave, if you met your commitments to Debra she was a great person to work with. I talked to someone on Debra’s team one time about his experience. 

The great thing about working for her, is that she gives me the autonomy to do my job. When I brief her on the status of a project, she wants just the high level details. If she needs more, she’ll ask. But, she is great to work for. 

It reminded me of my experience with Dave, all those years ago. The difference is that as one of Debra’s peers, I also enjoyed working with her. So long as I kept her updated and met my organization’s commitments to her, we got along great. 

If you are considering adopting this “I’m going to be an SOB” strategy, keep in mind that in both Dave and Debra’s cases, they treated their own people very, very well. If you’re just mean, no one will want to work for you. However, if your team knows that you will defend them, and you’re fair with them, they will revel in the opportunity to work for a mean SOB.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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