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Throwing in the Towel

Shortly after the Lay/Skilling convictions, a magazine reporter called me for a quote. Specifically, she wondered if I had any advice for middle-level leaders suffering under the rule of unethical managers. Blow the whistle, I advised. If senior management declines to listen, or if they hear but refuse to address the wrongdoing, ask yourself, "Is this really the place I want to work."

"But how do you determine when it's time to leave a bad manager?" she asked. "That's the million dollar question," I said, wishing I had a better answer for her. Her question nagged at me for days, until I found clarification in the archives of my personal experience.

I worked for nearly twenty years for the same company, during which time I reported to some awful managers: some who micromanaged me; some who claimed my good ideas as their own; some who were painstakingly slow in making routine decisions. Through it all, I persevered, able to generate enough self-motivation to outweigh their demotivating leadership styles. Looking back, these weren't bad people. They were just bad managers.

Then one day, I began reporting to an unethical leader. He gave less consideration to crossing moral lines than he thought about crossing his legs. And he expected unquestioning support for his actions from those who reported to him. I found myself, after two decades, finally reporting to a manager for whom I could not work. So I left.

What was the final straw? What distinguished the countless poor managers for whom I had worked and my last boss? Unlike the earlier leaders who were simply bad managers, this one was a bad person. Although there's always hope that a bad manager can develop strong leadership skills, there's little chance of redeeming a bad person.

So, dear reporter, here's my better-late-than-never response to your question, "When should you leave a bad manager?" Hang with your bad managers--maybe you can help them get better. But when your leader is a bad person, leave immediately!
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