how much should I keep trying to coach my boss, who is drowning in his job?

A reader writes:

My boss is like, so broken. This poor man. His own boss strong-armed him into taking a position he isn’t qualified for and can’t handle. He was comfortable and settled before a change in circumstances forced him to evolve and step up. He’s facing pressures the leadership chain above him doesn’t feel and doesn’t recognize. (To put some context on this: it’s a great big technology company, but I’ve been there for seven years and I’m considered a “newbie.” Make your inferences from there.)

I got some bad advice. My boss told me that he wanted me to help him grow into his new position, and that he was a great listener and always open to feedback (in retrospect: a red flag). A “trusted” third party told me that I ought to try and coach him on how to navigate his new world order. Things like how to manage a remote team. How to manage a diverse team, in terms of both skills and demographics. How to stay afloat in a rapidly changing industry. I’m in a good position to provide that kind of coaching. I’m in a semi-senior position, a technical lead for multiple projects. I’ve also worked on remote and diverse teams for my entire career, and I’m pretty good at staying abreast of trends and gauging what deserves our attention and what doesn’t.

A quick addendum; my boss and his boss have both told me that I don’t have any chance at moving into management, but I do have a chance at moving up the technical path at the company. Maybe this is because of my “newbie” status (again: seven years), maybe it’s because of my own demographics (not a man, not white, not straight, but on the other hand I do have an excellent education, multiple degrees, and a couple patents).

So: my poor boss is drowning. And I, the fool, tried to help him. I tried to coach him around how to communicate during a Zoom call. How to communicate in a Slack channel. How to communicate during unsure times, threading the needle between false promises and no information at all. How to bring a diverse team together. How to build a common mission and vision. How to create a common identity, and bring the team together to tackle a common goal.

It is — gosh, I hope you’re sitting down — not going well.

For what its worth: I am looking. I’ve been casually looking for a couple years, and now I’m frantically looking. But I’ve had advice, from a trusted third party, but also elsewhere, that I need to manifest my own destiny and take charge of my own reality, which I believe means “if you’re unhappy or you don’t like something, then it’s your responsibility to change it.” That’s true, of course. But I feel like in this case the message is actually “if you don’t think your boss is doing a good job it’s your responsibility to change him” which I feel is … Less true? And possibly dangerous?

Where is the line between how much I should expect to control my own experience, and how much I should just accept as the cost of having a job in the current, horrible, unending global situation we find ourselves in? Should I even try to coach my boss on finding his way with his current unhappy situation? Should I just accept that having a job comes with a certain level of misery and frustration, and a lack of control? The line is probably different for everyone, but do you have any advice on finding where my particular line is?

Who is this trusted third party telling you that you should, or even can, take charge of your boss like this?

Because I think you have to demote them from “trusted” status.

I mean, yes, if you don’t like a situation you should work to change it — but that means within the realm of what’s actually available and realistic for you to do. When the situation you don’t like is your boss, that means you have the following options:

  • talk to your boss and see if changes can be made
  • if the problems are very serious ones, consider going over your boss’s head to someone with more power
  • search for a new job
  • decide you’re willing to live with the situation, at least for now

What’s not on that list:

  • changing your boss into someone else

That’s not to say you can never give your boss a little coaching from below. Many managers are quite open to getting advice or receiving a lesson on using Slack effectively. But when you find yourself trying to My Fair Lady your manager — when you’re casting him as Eliza Doolittle and yourself as the Henry Higgins who will remake him into someone else — that’s unworkable. It’s unworkable to the point that it’s not even an option you should contemplate trying.

You’re taking on way too much responsibility and doing what sounds like an enormous amount of work without compensation. It’s not your responsibility to save your boss from his current professional predicament. (And really, if the job isn’t right for him, at some point he’ll need to face that fact and decide what to do.) And at some point the amount of assistance you’ve been providing may hurt more than it helps, if it keeps him just afloat enough to stay in a job he can’t really do while never actually transforming him into what’s needed to thrive.

Frankly, this goes double in a company that has already told you that you have “no chance” of moving into management! Certainly there are many people who aren’t suited for management, but if you’re one of them you should have been given feedback about why and what you’d need to work on to change that. Just being told it’ll never happen, with no context, is a terrible sign. That element makes the situation especially galling: You’re working incredibly hard to do the job of a manager through your boss, while being told you’ll never get the formal recognition — and money and authority — that comes with that work.

You asked how much you should expect to control your own experience versus how much you should accept as the cost of having a job. The answer is that you can only control your own actions, and you should believe what you’re seeing about other people (and about your company). Your options are the ones in the bulleted list above. There aren’t a lot of others.

And while it’s not true that having a job inherently comes with a certain level of misery, it absolutely does come with a lack of control. That’s true even if you’re at the very top, to some extent. You can’t make other people into something they’re not.

The good news is, you can just stop all this effort and worry. Stop seeing it as your responsibility to save your boss. You can still offer advice if asked, if you can do it without significant emotional investment, but your boss isn’t your project to fix. (And I strongly suspect he doesn’t want you to see him that way either.) Take all the energy you’ve been spending there and put it into your job search — or put it into things outside of work that make you happy.

And be really skeptical of that person who’s made you feel like you’ve somehow failed if you can’t change your boss. I don’t know what that person’s agenda is — maybe they just give terrible advice — but someone who makes you feel responsible for something so fully outside of your control is not someone who’s serving your best interests.

{ 259 comments… read them below }

    1. TardyTardis*

      Sounds like sabotage of a rival for me–though the LW has been told she can never be manager, is this actually true, or is she just being told this?

      1. Springella*

        So, she can’t be a manager but she can train a manager? Doesn’t make any sense.

        I’d think of leaving a company if the main reasons why I can’t be promoted (but I’m considered competent to train others) is because I’m not male, white and straight.

  1. Dust Bunny*

    This entire workplace sounds bass-ackwards. I hope something better comes along for you soon, LW.

    1. Lilyp*

      I know! I also wonder, do you see the “still a newbie after seven (!!) years” thing happening to straight white men around you level too? Or is it possible they’ve calcified into permanently thinking of you as a “junior” due to your demographics?

      1. Artemesia*

        I’ll bet a white man just like her in every other way would be viewed as ‘up and coming’ and not perpetually in an individual contributor or admin role. Hope the LW can find something new; in the meantime she should be thinking about ways to fatten her resume and protect herself — not doing her lame boss’s job. And lose the ‘trusted friend’ who is clearly clueless.

        1. Nic*

          Oh yeah, for sure! I’m morbidly curious about how long her incompetent white male boss has been with the company…

        1. Perfectly Particular*

          I don’t know if this is OP’s situation, but for me and several other engineers that I know, staying long term at our first company out of college was detrimental to our careers. 10 years in, I was still thought of as a new college hire, and experienced little growth, and all of the insecurity that comes with that. When looking to move into a new role, I found that my 10 years experience was really valued, and I was expected to bring expertise to the new team rather than continuing to learn from those around me. This was a huge turning point and has allowed me to develop more confidence and set myself up for promotions at my new company. OP, getting out may be the best thing to keep you moving forward. Even a change in departments might do the trick.

          1. Nic*

            True. That happened recently to a friend of mine, who was furloughed due to COVID, and was recently told that her job wasn’t coming back. She’s the most senior person in the office, knows how everything works in ways that others never bothered to learn (because why do the thing while Friend is on holiday, when you can just wait for her to come back and do it a week late!), and is generally incredibly competent to the point of tidying up after everyone else when she’s run out of her own work and running maintenance chores which would usually fall to an office manager (which they don’t have anyone titled as). But. She’s also one of the youngest in the office, because she got the job right after university (unlike the rest, who are by and large either middle-aged or nearing retirement) and has no dependents, and has talked multiple times about how everyone treats her as the office baby. And she’s the one they chose not to keep.

            I’m hoping that she can leverage her experience into a shiny and better job, but it’s going to be a helluva difficult transition for her.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I wondered the same thing. Too many women are still considered ‘the gals in the office’ no matter how old they are, or how long they’ve been with the company – or how much industry or functional experiencec they have.

        Boy, I wish I used ‘gals’ for effect, but earlier this year a man at work called me the ‘HR gal.’ I’m almost 60 years old, and I led recruiting, not HR. Details, details…

        1. Sparkles McFadden*

          Of all of the many weird things I’ve had to hear over the years, my favorite was this: “I don’t know. I’d just be more comfortable with a man in the job.” Twice. I’ve heard this twice. Each time the hiring manager was overruled by upper management. On one of those occasions I wondered if the job offer was just to mitigate that remark, but I knew I could do the job, so I took it. That manager spent months telling me to “have the guys check your work.” *sigh*

      3. Anonariffic*

        If OP’s boss is any indication, it sounds like the straight white men get promoted to management even if they don’t want the job and aren’t remotely qualified to perform it.

      4. Dust Bunny*

        Honestly, I still feel a bit like a new kid at my job after 15 years simply because we have a lot of people who have been here a lot longer than I have (it’s a nice place to work). But my workplace trains people and advances them whenever possible, and I don’t have to train my own boss, and we do actually fire people who can’t get it together, and we have women and minorities in plenty of higher-level positions.

  2. Keymaster of Gozer*

    So, you’re giving expert advice (it sounds like excellent stuff!) on how to be a manager, but the company says you’ll never be one?

    If it were a different year I’d say to run out of that toxic environment. Sexism, homophobia, racism etc. existing in the upper echelons is not ever a good feeling.

    However, we are in 2020 and a virus has kicked the globe in the butt so I’d say just scale back the coaching to a stop (or if suddenly stopping would work better at your place do that) and find something to fill the time at work and home that you might be using to stress out over this.

    1. Anon for this*

      +1 My boss is the same: promoted into a position he is not equipped for. Unfortunately he thinks he is doing awesome. He is not.

      I completely agree with Keymaster. Since the virus has made running difficult / impossible, try to bide your time. Find hobbies. Read up on how to detach from work. Practice it. Remind yourself this is not your responsibility and you’ve done your best but your boss’s failings are not your fault.

      I’m sorry for your situation. Jedi hugs and good luck with the job search.

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        I had a boss like this as well. I knew I was leaving because my husband was interviewing elsewhere, so I just enjoyed the fact that I had all of the power of being boss, while none of the responsibility/accountability that comes with the job. So I just did the parts of his job I wanted to. My rule of thumb was that I would step in if his not doing his job was going to a) create a ton of work for me down the line when someone dumped the disaster in my lap to fix at the last minute because no one else could or b) create a bad situation for someone I liked or generally thought was a good employee who deserved to not have a disaster dumped in their lap at the last minute.

        The rest? I let him fail on his own. And ultimately he was fired. Unfortunately, his boss also punished some innocent bystanders “because you should have stopped him,” and they ended up leaving, but that was well outside the scope of my ability to prevent.

        1. Alice*

          Yikes! Agreed. Let them fail on their own. Find hobbies to keep you thinking about anything but work. And good luck with the job search.

        2. irene adler*

          Wait. The bystanders should have stopped him (your boss)?

          Isn’t that the role of the boss to whom your boss reports to?

          Or is that what we call “delegation”?

          I guess the sh!t truly does roll down hill.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Right, lol. Expecting subordinates or peers to be the ones checking the manager’s poor performance is laughable. That is well and truly above their pay grade.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I developed a rather good reputation for doing geek humour cross stitch to fill in the time I used to spend smoking (5 years I’ve quit!), and I used to do it at work when filling in downtime, sometimes designing funny company themed ones in Excel. Well, the industry we worked in themed ones anyway.
        Actually improved my excel skills…

        1. Zephy*

          Congrats on quitting! 5 years is awesome, even moreso considering which specific years those were.

      3. Lilyp*

        I don’t think the virus has made job-searching a lost cause here at all! The virus may be tanking “the economy” but it’s not impacting all industries equally and many tech companies are still in the black and even expanding and hiring for new roles.

      4. Artemesia*

        Or even take that on -line course in accounting or whatever that might beef up your resume. Use the time to advance yourself not do your boss’s work.

        1. Tidewater 4-1009*

          OP doesn’t say what her tech specialty is, but I’ve discovered there are lots of coding and tech courses online. I’m taking the SQL Bootcamp 2020 on Udemy. :) Watch for their sales.

      5. Sparkles McFadden*

        Twenty years ago or so, there was an article on the a study done by a psych professor at Cornell finding that the skills required to achieve competence are the same ones required to recognize competence. I’ll post a link if I find it.

          1. Pomona Sprout*

            Ah yes, the Dunning Kreuger effect! I’m sure we’ve all seen examples of that in action.

            Thanks for this link. I was familiar with the concept but not with all the information in this article.

        1. Tidewater 4-1009*

          A few years back I read an article that said incompetent people don’t know they’re incompetent.
          I mentioned it to my boss and he said he can see in their eyes, they realize they’re incompetent and suppress it right away.

    2. Mazzy*

      Why is not everyone being a manager a sign of a toxic environment? Being a manager is a job, it’s not a badge of honor. It may not even be the best-paying. You’re also insinuating that the “management advice” is solicited or wanted, in that it is unfair that they “have” to give advice but can’t fill the role. No one’s said the advice is solicited.

      The OP clearly took a technical role and there is nothing wrong with that. Going into management is far from the only way to be successful, financially or otherwise, in a company.

      Most of the things the OP points out are soft skills. They may only be problems during covid, since many fall into the “how to manage remotely” bucket.

      I also wanted to say, not everyone is into the intense communication and vision building the OP seems to want. I don’t particularly believe in generational theory, but I have definitely noticed a trend where GenX employees lean towards “leave me the F alone, I’ll come to you if I need help” and I’ve seen that noted in some of the generational things I’ve read or watched. So I definitely think it depends on what the other employees want and what their work style is.

      I’m also wondering why they think the manager is unqualified and why he is “broken.” I’m not really seeing specific examples besides him not meeting the OP’s work style.

      Lastly, I think that as a technical lead, the OP should be meeting with the boss about technical issues and not waiting for the manager to come to them to discuss issues he may know about. It doesn’t matter if you view your boss as “broken.” My boss is not broken and I still initiate most meetings with him because I see the problems he does not see. That’s the way it is supposed to be. Otherwise, you’d be complaining about a micro-managing boss.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I didn’t say that was the reason it was toxic. I think that from the feeling the OP has that they’ll never get ahead because they’re not white, male or straight is enough of an indicator that a place is toxic.

        I’ve had that feeling at places before (sometimes with ableism thrown in) and that gut feel has always been right and something that won’t change. So I left rather than bang my head against prejudice from higher ups.

        1. Mazzy*

          But the OP doesn’t say they can’t get ahead. They said there are promotions available in the technical realm, which can be high paying and senior level at most companies.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            I don’t think that OP should just have to accept that they’ll never get into management, because they’re part of groups that are discriminated against, just because there’s a different career path available.

            Additionally they should definitely stop coaching this boss. Let management see how well she was actually managing things when the boss can’t stand on his own. Maybe they might change their mind!

            (I went from a senior tech to manager because it did pay better. Several at the firm said that I shouldn’t try for it because my disabilities would hold me back. I proved them so wrong. People’s advice isn’t accurate sometimes)

            1. Mazzy*

              But management isn’t something you “get into.” It’s not Harvard, it’s a job. The OP should be concerned about “getting into” a high salary, a bonus program, more technical training, good projects, and the meetings they need to be into to wield influence. That doesn’t require being a manager.

              Being a manager also means having all of these awkward conversations people mention here – an employee’s body odor or habitual lateness, or having employees make mistakes and having to be responsible for it, and not being extremely close with people that you have to manage – none of these are good things to go through.

                1. Mazzy*

                  “accept things as they are.” You’re making them sound horrible. Making good money and working on senior level projects and having a boss you don’t feel is particularly effective but it’s not impacting your work (at least that’s not mentioned in the letter) is not exactly a horrible job. Not everyone has perfect bosses.

                  My advice is for the OP to stop “coaching,” only offer advice pertinent to their job, and if they do want to be in management (which more commenters seem to want than the OP) then to look for ways to make that happen, including finding ways to do it at this company. Maybe they don’t meet some basic qualification for being a manager there. Maybe their “coaching” has rubbed others the wrong way and everyone is afraid to admit it. Maybe there are other things they can change that we can’t glean from the letter.

                2. Keymaster of Gozer*

                  No discussion on how she feels that being a member of several marginalised groups is what is stopping her? That’s the bit I personally find the most important, but granted, different people have different views.

              1. Keymaster of Gozer*

                Also, I’ve been a manager (currently unemployed). I know all that stuff about the difficult bits. Managing techies is like herding cats! But yeah, I did go into it.

              2. Stormfeather*

                This is all true in theory – but in this particular case, the OP is being told they’ll “never get into” management – all while being expected (from their boss’s boss no less, as well as “trusted” advisors) to pretty much be able to manage well enough to turn the “real” manager into a good one. They’re also being told flat out they’ll never be able to get into management, full stop, without any “because you don’t have skills X, Y or Z” or without any “it would be possible if you…” Also while being treated as a newbie after being in the company for seven (!) years.

                I mean maybe the OP doesn’t even want to go into management, or maybe they’re so freaking valuable at what they do technically that the bosses don’t want to let them off that track if at all possible. But just being told that they “can’t” do management, when they’re already kind of expected to be doing that under the “real” manager plus without any feedback about if there’s something stopping that, all that is a huge red flag about toxicity, racism, sexism, homophobia, all the other crap like that that would have a right-thinking person trying to GTFO.

                1. Jackalope*

                  Yes, exactly. While there’s not a 100% certainty that it’s her lack of whiteness, maleness, and straightness that makes her “not management material”, the fact that she’s expected to get the white male boss up to speed and help with his job functions while not being given the corresponding pay is… suspicious, to say the least. Doing management work while watching less competent white men get the pay, title, and recognition is a common experience for many of us. Even if she doesn’t want the management job this is still a red flag.

                2. Keymaster of Gozer*

                  I’m willing to bet the ‘you’ll never be a manager” line was followed by them saying in their heads “because you’re not white and male like all the rest” but they kept that bit quiet.

                3. Lucette Kensack*

                  There’s not any indication that anyone at her company “expects” (or even wants) her to coach her boss. That’s coming from a “trusted third party” and the LW herself.

              3. hbc*

                Mazzy, who are you to decide that OP shouldn’t want to be in management and should only care about restrictions once there are no high-impact, high-salary paths left? I personally made the choice to move from engineering SME to engineering management to management, and am much more happy and successful than I would have been on the tech path.

                Oh, and I’ve never seen anywhere that the tech path paid higher than the management path, unless you’re counting CTO positions or start-up owners or whatnot, but they also do a lot of management.

                1. Mazzy*

                  The OP didn’t say they want to be a manager, so I am assuming that’s the case. Other people are saying they want to be a manager, even though OP did not say they want to be one.

                2. Brett*

                  “I’ve never seen anywhere that the tech path paid higher than the management path”

                  Talk to your data scientists. It is extremely common in data science for the data scientists (especially the purple unicorn SME data scientists) to be paid dramatically higher than their managers. Same with software development.
                  Management ultimately has a higher ceiling because there are more rungs on the career ladder, but tech pays more at the same rungs and has higher certainty of reaching higher rungs.

                3. EM*

                  I’m a senior manager and 4 of my 6 direct reports are paid more than me. (I paid them more than me). They have technical skills that I value and need.

                  Incidentally there isn’t a management path for them – partly because that’s how pyramids work but also because the technical skills I really value are not soft skills/management skills, which at my company is an entirely different career path.

              4. somanyquestions*

                Your justification of the LW being marginalized is disturbing. Stop acting like she doesn’t know her own situation.

                1. Mazzy*

                  The OP didn’t say they were marginalized. I read the letter 3X and people are saying things that are not in the letter.

                2. Diahann Carroll*

                  Mazzy, the OP said she’s in three different demographic groups that are historically marginalized. That’s what somanyquestions is referring to.

          2. Artemesia*

            to be told you cannot advance to management when you are managing your manager’s management reeks of ‘demographics’ rather than competence being the issue. In virtually all organizations the big bucks and influence are in the management track; individual contributors may get big bucks but not as big as those in management usually.

          3. Forrest*

            The thing about “you’ll never get into management here” is that it needs to Ben accompanied by a reason. If it’s because they don’t promote technical people into management, they don’t expect any management positions to come up, they don’t like OP’s management approach — all of these are legitimate things to say out loud as reasons why OP will not be able to go into management, and useful information she can take away, and she can decide whether getting into management is important enough to her to go and look for another job.

            Telling someone, “you’ll never get into management here” WITHOUT giving them a reason, even if that reason is legit, is bad management. It’s especially bad management if you say it to a queer woman of colour, because it is rational for her to wonder whether her ethnicity, gender or sexuality are part of the reason she’s considered ineligible for a promotion into management.

            There are definitely ways to succeed other than management! There are definitely legitimate reasons why OP might not get promoted into managememt! But giving her that feedback without any details is bad management and, yes, potentially toxic for members of minorities.

      2. Ominous Adversary*

        “Why is not everyone being a manager a sign of a toxic environment?” – it isn’t, but telling someone they’ll never be in management while expecting them to be a personal career coach for their own manager sure is.

        1. Lucette Kensack*

          But that’s not coming from the company, is it? A “trusted third party” encouraged her to coach her boss. Her company needs to deal with the problem of the incompetent boss, but it doesn’t sound like they are doing the LW wrong (except by not articulating why they don’t see a path to management for her) — and, of course, if she is being discriminated against as a result of her personal identities!

          1. Ominous Adversary*

            It is. The “trusted” third party is horrible, but the LW says “My boss told me that he wanted me to help him grow into his new position”.

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              Bingo. The company is co-signing this nonsense. If she’s not management material, how in the world do they think she can train her manager how to be one? It’s illogical, which leads me to believe there’s some serious bias going on when it comes to the OP.

            2. Lucette Kensack*

              Without a lot more context (like, he followed up by saying “Let’s set up weekly meetings for you to coach me on managing a remote team”) that’s not a demand (or even request) for the kind of intense coaching the LW is offering. I’d read that as “I recognize that some parts of this role are new to me, and I’ll be leaning on my team as I develop in those areas.”

              1. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

                If the boss doesn’t want this extensive coaching, why is he still accepting it? Surely he’s not unaware of the number of hours he is spending in teleconferences listening to OP teach him things!

                1. Lucette Kensack*

                  There’s nothing in the letter about hours of time spent on teleconferences. Folks are writing a lot of their own stories about this letter.

                2. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

                  I dunno, sure seems like this list would indeed take many hours:
                  “I tried to coach him around how to communicate during a Zoom call. How to communicate in a Slack channel. How to communicate during unsure times, threading the needle between false promises and no information at all. How to bring a diverse team together. How to build a common mission and vision. How to create a common identity, and bring the team together to tackle a common goal.”

                  Ggranted, OP doesn’t say how this “coaching” was delivered. If it was delivered all by emails or other written communication instead of meetings, then I could imagine the boss not noticing or ignoring how much effort OP was putting in, and not properly managing by telling her to quit spending so much time on it.

            3. EventPlannerGal*

              That’s such a vague statement, honestly, and could be interpreted any number of ways. It sounds like OP is interpreting that as “please provide me with frequent high-level coaching on management skills”, but is that definitely what he meant? Why would he ask a subordinate who does largely technical work and who he explicitly has said will never be management for this type of coaching, rather than another manager or somebody senior to him? To me, that just sounds like a we’re-all-in-this-together rephrasing of “I don’t quite know what I’m doing yet so please answer my questions when I have them”, not “OP will you be my life coach”.

        2. WantonSeedStitch*

          This. The only barriers to management for a person should be:

          1) Lack of management skills
          2) Lack of desire to be a manager
          3) Lack of available management positions suitable for the person’s skill and experience level.

          Being told “there’s no chance for you to get into management” is very different from being told “you need to get some more of X type experience, or brush up on Y skills in order to be ready for a management role,” or from “it’s really rare for a management position in your area to open up: there are only management positions you could step up into right now, and neither of the people currently filling them show any signs of being ready to leave.”

        3. Lady Meyneth*

          I totally agree, but in this context I don’t really see that OP is expected to be doing managerial work, or even be a coach to his boss. From what OP says, it sounds to me the boss asked for feedback on how he could improve, which is a good thing and not a red flag as OP says. It seems likely to me that OP is misunderstanding how much input the boss is actually asking of them.

          That said, if becoming a manager is important in OP’s personal carreer plan, they should definitely consider leaving ASAP.

        4. alienor*

          Plus at a lot of companies, becoming a people manager is the only real way to advance past a certain point. At my current employer, I’ve been not-a-manager, then a manager, then not-a-manager, then a manager, and now not-a-manager again, and in every case, as soon as I wasn’t “in management,” I was completely out of the loop and not involved in higher-profile projects, even though those projects had nothing to do with being a manager. Same company, same colleagues, same skills, same me, but totally different perception of who I was and what I could do. At this point I’m bemused rather than bothered by it, but I can completely see why being told “you will never be a manager” could be a big problem in certain environments.

      3. MassMatt*

        I agree with your 2nd sentence wholeheartedly but don’t understand where most of the rest is coming from.

        Are you suggesting the LW is offering unsolicited advice when you say there’s no evidence it was solicited? LW says “My boss told me that he wanted me to help him grow into his new position“.

        You dismiss the issues as being “soft skills” but the LW’s boss does not know how to use Slack or Zoom effectively, these are not soft skills. You say there’s no evidence of the boss being broken but this is what LW says, we take LW’s at their word here unless something clearly does not make sense. And in this context it makes a lot of sense, the boss is expecting a subordinate (that he has said will NEVER be a manager) to help him learn management skills. That is piss-poor management.

        Dunno why you are getting into generational differences about who asks for meetings, that is not an issue in the letter.

        1. Mazzy*

          As per your first question, I’m thinking that the manager meant “I want advise pertinent to your area of expertise” not “I want advise on everything in general.”

          As per the 2nd question, the OP has to be talking about the soft skills part of zoom because there are almost no hard skills required for it. There are barely any buttons in the program. I use it frequently. There aren’t any technical functions to be confused by. It’s not like a Microsoft program with loads of menus.

          Yes, take OP at their word but that’s not a blanket statement for never asking a question or asking the OP rhetorically if their POV is correct. “Broken” is an extremely subjective term so I don’t even know what “take them at their word that their boss is a broken” person would mean.

          “Dunno why you are getting into generational differences about who asks for meetings, that is not an issue in the letter.” – OK but the OP bought up demographics. In my experience, age plays a huge role in how people want to be treated so if we’re going to talk demographics, then age is absolutely on the table. If the manager is managing middle-aged workers, then the onus is less on the manager to do some of the things the OP expects.

          1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

            As per the 2nd question, the OP has to be talking about the soft skills part of zoom because there are almost no hard skills required for it. There are barely any buttons in the program. I use it frequently. There aren’t any technical functions to be confused by. It’s not like a Microsoft program with loads of menus.

            I have a few colleagues who have technical issues/troubles with Zoom and we use Zoom multiple times a day, every day. Not nearly as much as with other programs, but there are issues. Very skilled and beyond competent colleagues, but technology doesn’t always make sense to them.

          2. MassMatt*

            I agree with much of what you say elsewhere in this thread but your last paragraph of the post I was responding to seems like it is commenting on a completely different letter.

            And while Zoom and Slack may be very easy for most to use (I dislike Slack but use Zoom and other similar tools frequently) the problems the boss may have with them may well be technical. How do I enable my camera? How do I share my screen? How do I mute someone? How to I make someone else the presenter?

          3. Brooke*

            “I’m thinking that the manager meant “I want advise pertinent to your area of expertise” not “I want advise on everything in general.””

            You mentioned a few times that you think the OP misinterpreted what her boss was asking for. Her boss’s original request sounded vague so a lot of that is on him for not communicating what he wanted. But the boss has continued to have his own autonomy through the coaching process.

            If this has been going on for a while, then her boss would have had plenty of opportunity to recognize that she’s coaching him in things he didn’t want to be coached in and tell her to stop. If he’s accepting all of her coaching, and it sounds like she’s done a lot of it, there’s nothing to suggest that he doesn’t want to be coached that way. Otherwise, his management is so dysfunctional that he can’t even communicate to his employee that he wants her to stop coaching him.

          1. Mazzy*

            Don’t nitpick for God’s sake. “I don’t believe in them” means I don’t believe all millennials are lazy, entitled, and need constant hand-holding.

            Is that better? Do you think you really added anything by nitpicking that

            1. emmelemm*

              But nowhere in the letter does the LW say that either they or their boss are Gen X. Or make any other reference to their “generation” or stereotypical generational attributes. So why are you bringing it in as an issue?

              1. Mazzy*

                People are saying a whole bunch of stuff that isn’t in the letter, so I’m not sure why you’re singling this comment out. But since you brought it up, I was throwing out a possible explanation for why the boss’ being hands off may not actually be a problem, even though the OP thinks it is.

      4. Quinalla*

        You need to reread the OP, you sound like you are responding to a different letter. Her manager DID ask her for advice. Yes, I get that it is bit vague, but someone saying “You’ll never be in management” was either unsolicited – which WTH? – or she asked about what she’d need to do to get to management and this was the response. I do agree that there is nothing wrong with the technical track if you WANT to go that way, but some folks WANT to get into management. I’m not sure if you are projecting you not wanting to be in management on the OP, but this response just does not line up with what the OP wrote at all.

        I definitely agree with Alison, stop coaching this person! Giving quick help/advice when asked is fine, but stop worrying about trying to fix your manager. I’ve been in a situation once where I had a new boss who was hired from outside and I was responsible for onboarding him on our processes, etc. That was reasonable, but I didn’t try to go further than that! This is not your problem to fix.

    3. kt*

      Listen, I agree with much of the above but I *wouldn’t* discourage you from your job search. I have a colleague who is looking and they’ve had like 6 remote interviews and just got an offer, after applying just a month ago. Take all your energy from coaching to spinning your unique strengths — you sound like a fabulous candidate!!

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Oh bugger, I read through what I wrote again and you’re right, I should have said that searching for a new job is a good thing to do! I just wanted to advise against quitting without something lined up.

        (Which I’ve done twice in my career due to nasty workplaces.)

        Thanks for pointing out what I missed :)

      2. MassMatt*

        I agree, don’t assume the job search is impossible due to the pandemic. For people with skills that are in demand, hiring is still brisk! I know of a couple of people that have moved jobs successfully, and one HR manager that says they have quite a few jobs open that they are having trouble finding good candidates for and are having to increase their offering salaries.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          You’ve given this poor unemployed techie/manager some hope by the way for her job search :)

      3. TootsNYC*

        I agree–ramp up the search, COVID or not. It sure can’t hurt! And you never know when that “visibility” effort will pay off later, even if it doesn’t pay off soon.

        When I was a hiring manager, I often went back to my folder to find people I’d met before.

    4. SierraSkiing*

      And heck, depending on your industry and seniority, right now might not be a bad time for a job search. A lot of tech companies (and it sounds like OP is in the tech industry) are doing great right now, and might be hiring someone like OP and be happy to have her as a manager.

    5. AKchic*

      Absolutely this.

      It is time to detach. You have been told you’re not going to become management, with no explanation (however, the unspoken sentiment is because you are not a yt mxn), so stop trying to be the puppet master of a failing manager.

      Let the manager(s) sink or swim on their own merits and let the idiots who put these mediocre individuals into positions they didn’t want actually deal with the consequences of their decisions.

      Document as needed, do what you were hired to do and not a single thing more, and make the best resume ever. Ditch this “trusted friend” for advice because they really have no clue about office norms, and good luck on your job search!

    6. tamarack and fireweed*

      Yes, this.

      I’d just add that all this coaching advice – how to lead diverse teams, how to lead remote teams etc. – is available from third party vendors the OP’s employer could hire. A new manager in a large tech company SHOULD be offered training anyhow, and it should be tailored to their needs.

      (You might say, but the OP knows it too – the expertise is clearly available in-house! OTOH: one of the most eye-opening moments of my work life was when I was chatting with someone from a training provider who was holding a training session for us, and they said something like “it’s odd – we often get called in through someone who knows what we have to offer and who would be perfectly suited to training their own co-workers”. Very often even for very technical training, there’s someone who knows their employer’s teams would need a certain kind of training, but lacks the social capital, seniority etc. to be heard if they were to provide the exact same information. Even in cases where it’s not about experience training others. Get the specialists in – they’re more likely to be effective.)

    7. Koala dreams*

      The pandemic has made certain parts of tech more busy, for example when it comes to setting up work from home networks and online shopping. Even if it’s harder to find a new job in your specific industry, that just means you have more reason to fine tune your resume and look for job leads. Not that there’s something wrong with having hobbies, it’s always good to have a life outside work.

  3. different seudonym*

    OP notes their multiply minoritzed status. My own experience living with a similar set of public identities is that I’m way more susceptible to guilt trips than I should be. Partly that’s just my internalized sense of beong lesser-than (SO hard to unlearn!), but partly it’s my survival tactic being turned against me. I’ve always had to extend myself for others, with no expectation of reciprocity; consciously or unconsciously, coworkers know this and can activate it to their own advantage, almost at will. Currently people are leaning on me to provide anti-racist policy and strategy…which is far outside my job description, and something they want instead of paying for real help. Well, f that. I will not martyr myself for others’ personal comfort and professional advancement.

    TL;DR: take care of yourself, OP. The only thing to do is protect yourself. This is an attsck on you as an outsider, even if it doesn’t feel that way.

    1. Three Flowers*

      This. An attack on OP as an outsider that is *specifically* designed to maintain the power of an incompetent insider.

    2. Three Flowers*

      Also, I’m deeply sorry you’re experiencing the whole white-people-demanding-to-be-educated phenomenon.

      1. different seudonym*

        Oh, I’m white too. They (non-Black, non-Latino, non-Indigenous coworkers) think I’ll be nice, whereas BIPOC are mean and scary.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Ahh yes, the urge of “I must be seen to be a good representative of my minority!” is so very strong and takes a lot of time and effort to train the brain away from that. I don’t want to be a role model anyway.

    4. Aquawoman*

      So much this. Every privilege a person lacks adds onto the expectation that they are there to serve. That expectation gets internalized so easily. The whole Black-folks-need-to-educate-white-folks thing comes from that (IMO), like the tone policing that goes along with it. Also, the “we want anti-racist policies but we don’t want to pay for them.” If you could leverage the request into them hiring a Bipoc-owned business for that, it would be great.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        My company just hired a black female consultant to help launch their new diversity and inclusion initiative – I was glad to see it since there are only, like, five black people in my whole company and none of us should have to be responsible for this.

  4. MayLou*

    I would always side-eye anyone using the phrase “manifest your own destiny”. It sounds too much like the phrasing you get in MLM marketing and weird self-help cults where oh gosh, turns out we can help you manifest your destiny for the very generous price of $80 gazillion dollars and a portion of your soul! Okay, I exaggerate, but it is odd language to use and I’d see it as a warning flag.

    1. Spencer Hastings*

      This! I was somehow not surprised that that old “The Secret” letter showed up as a related article.

    2. 2QS*

      I found that so hard to take seriously that I actually giggled. It sounds like it came straight out of a parody take on American history.

      1. Beth*

        As far as I know, the phrase “manifest your destiny” was coined by Terry Pratchett, in a deliberate parody of the term “manifest destiny”. He was sending up the mindset of how a Heroic Figure is supposed to have everything just fall into place so that the Quest will be achieved, the castle stormed, etc. It became something of a catchphrase in his later books, but it was always a parody.

        It’s NOT SUPPOSED to be taken seriously.

        The idea that the expression might have gotten out into the realms of woo and life coaching, where it’s being used unironically, should have me wincing into next week. But I would have to stop laughing first.

    3. Kiki*

      Yeah, even though I agree with part of the intention of this phrase (individuals have agency to make changes in their lives, sometimes more than they realize), I have found most people who use this precise phrase are either trying to sell you something or incredibly privileged and prone to disregarding the very real obstacles most people face in their lives.

    4. Aquawoman*

      I hate that stuff. And saying “manifest your own destiny” to anyone who has multiple structural barriers to their destiny is tra-la-la-ing away racism and sexism. I wish it were that easy.

      1. Code Monkey, the SQL*

        Pre. Cise. Ly.

        There is nothing whatever wrong with having a goal in your head of what you want your life to look like. Say it’s to go to Mount Rushmore someday. Some people can stand in their driveway and see Mount Rushmore, and know how to get there. Other folks live in Chicago or Cleveland or Cairo and have to do a lot more work and have their vision a lot more obscured while trying to get to the same goal.

        “Manifesting your destiny” is a cheap way of saying “just try harder!” and I hate it.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I once burnt a copy of ‘The Secret’ after being recommended it by a former friend. The idea that everything wrong with my mind, body, life etc. was all my fault was insulting on a level I’d never experienced.

        1. pope suburban*

          If I ever run across a copy of that book, I’ll do the same. I got a heaping helping of that “advice” after my nice paid internship evaporated in the 2008 recession, and it was the most demoralizing, blaming garbage. Not that a struggling new grad who’s getting a crash course in poverty has the long-range perspective to spot that for what it is and shut it down, so it plagued me for years. Now, a decade out, I nuke that sort of talk with extreme prejudice because it’s unrealistic and it ignores so many valid structural barriers like physical health, ethnicity, orientation, economic conditions, implicit bias, and…well, the list is long, and I think we all know it. Plenty of people do their best and still struggle or experience discrimination, and that is emphatically NOT their fault.

        2. Gumby*

          I have not read a word of it but have a general idea of the concepts from being alive around other people? Some sort of osmosis anyway. The most recent example is a acquaintance who thoroughly believes in it and similar approaches to life. He is currently homeless and unemployed.

          OTOH, he is also currently being housed in a nice hotel on the beach and, in his words, enjoying his down time relaxing… maybe there is something to it? (Not really.)

    5. The New Wanderer*

      I’ve had similar advice that had nothing to do with Secret visualization techniques or other woo. The advice I got was “Find your own source of funding so you can be independent of your current budget structure” which, to be fair, the previous project lead had done. (That lead had also seriously misled their funding source about the project and just abandoned any obligation to the funders, but hey, they had money for a few years.) The problem is, there just aren’t, like, bags of money laying around the company for the one who hustles the most. That lead happened to get lucky and is about the only person I know at this mega-corp who ever had that situation. So to me, the advice was just as useless as ‘visualize success!’

    6. Generic Name*

      Seriously. People do have agency in their own lives; you can control how you respond to things, but it makes me uncomfortable when it skews into victim-blaming or implies that you’re living your life “wrong” (couched as being on the wrong path) if your life is anything but a breeze where things fall into place effortlessly. The toxicity in this viewpoint, in my opinion, is playing out in the letter writers situation. The letter writer can “manifest their own destiny” by applying to other jobs, but they can’t change another person.

      1. Cedrus Libani*

        Exactly. It is true that once you start actively trying to do a thing – whether it’s get a new job, learn to crochet, or whatever – you start to notice when life hands you opportunities. For example, you may have recruiters in your inbox on a regular basis, but when you’ve just come out of a meeting in which you’ve been told you’re never going to be a manager, no explanation given, despite the fact you’re fireman-carrying the older white guy who wasn’t qualified and actively didn’t want the job…maybe you start responding. You didn’t “manifest” these opportunities, you just became open to them.

        It’s also true that, while we’re alive and conscious, we have SOME agency. We always have choices. Those choices may start at awful and go downhill from there, through no fault of our own. But we have choices. Those choices may well be manipulated by someone with power. When a mugger asks us to choose between our money and our life, what she actually wants is the money, so she’s engineered the situation to make that the only sane choice. But we do have a choice…

        And that’s important. We can take steps to get out of a bad situation, or to avoid getting in one to begin with. Even if we don’t “deserve” the trouble, we can still take evasive action. We are a tiny ship in the middle of a big ocean, being tossed about by forces we cannot control and can barely comprehend…but we have some ability to steer, and to batten down the hatches when necessary.

        There’s an entire genre of aphorisms that are both really good advice for living in that world, and a really awful thing for one human to say to another. “Manifest your destiny!” No, you’ve given me an impossible task, and you’re mad that I noticed because you were hoping to blame me for the inevitable disaster. “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent!” No, you’re a bully, and you want an excuse to be cruel while also blaming the victims for reacting to you. I resolve this by putting these aphorisms in the mouth of the Universe. You’re not wrong, Universe, you’re just a jerk. And I’m perfectly aware the Universe is a jerk; that’s why I have insurance and an emergency fund.

    7. PeteAndRepeat*

      Yes. This is so weird as professional workplace advice that I wonder if the trusted third party is totally external to the company/OP’s field and is a life coach or something. OP, advice from a neutral third party who’s not embedded in your workplace politics can be helpful, but you are still the expert on your job, your company, your boss, etc. If it doesn’t seem like good advice, you don’t have to follow it!

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        Yes, it sounds very much like life coach/lifestyle guru/“positivity and wellness!” Instagram influencer talk to me.

  5. Three Flowers*

    What I’m wondering is whether there is any overlap between, say, the “trusted third party” telling you to coach your boss, and the folks who are telling you (not white, not straight, not a man) that you will never advance to management in your company. From over here, it sounds a lot like you’re being told to manage from below with no acknowledgment so a white straight guy (presumably, based on your allusion to his inability to manage a diverse team) can remain in power, and also that you’re incapable of managing. Maybe you don’t *want* to be a manager or you feel like your personality isn’t a good match with that type of work, which is totally cool, but it sounds like this company might be a racist/sexist/homophobic/old boy’s network trash fire, and in another company you might find your horizons are dramatically different. I wouldn’t trust third-party’s advice or your boss’s and grandboss’s minimizing of your abilities…

  6. Jimming*

    A boss saying they’re open to feedback doesn’t mean they don’t know how to communicate on Zoom, slack, with diverse teams, etc. I mean, sure, if they need a few tips here & there, that shouldn’t be a big deal. But overall it sounds like you were trying to manage your boss, which is not your job! And is unsurprisingly leading to frustration.

    Look for a new job or focus on other things while you’re there and the frustration should go away. Like Alison said, you can’t change your boss into a different person.

    1. MassMatt*

      The LW says the boss doesn’t know how to use Slack or Zoom effectively. It is possible that LW is incorrect, but hers is the only info we have and second-guessing her assessment simply leads to a quagmire where we doubt every LW. Eventually we wind up with arguments for why maybe it’s perfectly reasonable for a boss to come to the funeral of an employee’s family member to get documents signed, or how maybe that spicy food a coworker stole from the fridge really WAS an attempt to poison a coworker.

      1. Jimming*

        I wasn’t 2nd guessing. I was saying the OP will find peace if they let go and stop trying to coach their manager. It’s one thing to give tips about Zoom & Slack. It’s another to try to manage their overall communication style, which is probably why they’re feeling frustrated.

  7. V*

    “My boss told me that he wanted me to help him grow into his new position, and that he was a great listener and always open to feedback (in retrospect: a red flag).”

    I don’t understand why this is a red flag. I’ve done this before with trusted subordinates, and have listened to their feedback and adapted accordingly. Why is this (in and of itself) a red flag?

    1. V*

      And actually now I think of it, I’ve had a senior (not a direct boss / line manager) make the same request of me. I provided feedback, he listened and took it on board, it worked well. While seniors should obviously not put as much weight on the opinion of someone junior as they do on the weight of their own seniors, in my experience really useful development can come this way.

      1. Littorally*

        ‘Great listener’ is one of those things that people are not well equipped to self-assess. And the boss’s message, taken all together, boils down to “Tell me all the ways I could do my job better, and I promise I will not get weird with you about it.” Which is a promise to be wary of.

    2. Three Flowers*

      I’d say it’s a scarlet cloth factory coming from a guy who is also telling OP they will never be management material…

    3. Mazzy*

      I think the OP took it as “I want all of your feedback” when it probably meant “I want feedback pertaining to your area of expertise.”

        1. Mazzy*

          I just re-read it and the OP isn’t giving any indication of what they provide advice on. I’d assume it’s on their expertise but since they bring up other issues, I’m guessing they’ve also made comments outside of their area. Who can say, since they don’t mention it

          1. Brooke*

            The OP did talk about what kind of advice they are offering:

            “…I ought to try and coach him on how to navigate his new world order. Things like how to manage a remote team. How to manage a diverse team, in terms of both skills and demographics. How to stay afloat in a rapidly changing industry. I’m in a good position to provide that kind of coaching.”

    4. D3*

      When you TELL someone you’re a great listener, you probably are not. Best way to let someone know you can listen is by….listening. Not telling.
      It reads like all those men who are so adamant that they are a “nice guy” as they treat women like crap. Any man who makes darn sure I know he’s a “nice guy” in the first 5 minutes I know him is immediately suspect.

      1. 2QS*

        This. I’ve only ever had one person go out of their way to insist that they were “trustworthy.” They turned out to be extremely…not.

      2. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Yeah, I’ve heard, “I am a great listener, I’ve got a thick skin, I can take your feedback” from someone who completely dismissed every single piece of feedback I gave. He’s not an example of everyone, but it’s tough to reframe after dealing with that.

      3. TootsNYC*

        Things you can’t accurately say about yourself:
        “I have class.”
        “I’m a great listener.”
        Saying these things generally means you aren’t. People who are GREAT listeners understand that how well you listened is solely to be judged by the person who is trying to speak.

        Some things are just not appropriate for self-evaluation, and the people who try to do it are betraying that they don’t understand where the truth is established. In other people’s eyes, not their own.

    5. NW Mossy*

      I read it as a red flag because in a normal boss/direct relationship, the boss is the one helping their direct grow, not the other way around. It’s not to say that bosses can’t learn from their directs, but the mentoring aspect is exactly backwards here.

      1. Malarkey01*

        I could see that, but they are also a senior technical person. In my experience as you get higher up the rungs that manager/report relationship flattens a lot. I’ve been in really senior technical positions where I’m setting the priorities, managing the programs, and the person above me is more support and there to help acquire resources or clear roadblocks and yes, if there were performance problems their jobs would be to step in and correct it. However with no technical knowledge and at that level it’s not mentoring it’s more passing on the news of consequences (ie your project will be defunded or we’re removing team members).

        In those types of situations I think a lot of the flow is going both ways without it being an automatic red flag (especially when it’s something boss has no experience with which happens a lot the higher you go).

        1. NW Mossy*

          I think of the growth/mentoring in this scenario not as content/subject help, but as navigational guidance on the organization’s politics. A savvy manager can be a huge asset in helping you tailor your arguments to convince key people to support your project, building your alliances, and alerting you to potentially game-changing discussions (like losing people/funding) before decisions are finalized.

    6. Confused*

      I don’t understand why this would be a red flag either. I honestly feel like there’s a lot of information missing and/or OP has a distorted view of the overall situation.

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        Because “I want you to help me to grow into my position” means “I need you to help me do my job and I will take credit for everything you do.” I entered into one of these bargains because I was financially compensated for being “Oz behind the curtain” and the boss was generally benign. I liked the work and my coworkers. Eventually, I moved to another department and the boss was fired four months after I left.

        In hindsight, I probably should have let her fail, but I didn’t want to change jobs yet and it was a way to negotiate for a higher salary. I left when the arrangement didn’t work for me anymore.

        1. MassMatt*

          It sounds as though it worked out for you, but the huge danger here is when it comes time for cost cutting, you stand out as the tech writer making a lot more than the others and a good part of your productivity (keeping your manager afloat) is outside your job description. The person looking to cut costs is probably going to be layers above your manager, who is not likely to say “Oh yeah, don’t cut Sparkles, she does most of my job”.

          One of many ways that layoffs can wind up cutting good employees while retaining dead wood.

          1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

            And that’s precisely what happened to me. My former job got to a weird point where basically everything I was working on, despite being high-profile and valued by senior leadership, was basically outside of my job description and my department’s mandate. Meanwhile, my counterpart who was seldom asked and would typically wouldn’t do a single thing outside a very narrow interpretation of their job description kept their job because, well, their work directly supports our group’s mandate.

            The moral of this story is to not do too much side-of-the-desk work unless you’re actively aiming to move up or out, because it makes you a liability.

        2. Diahann Carroll*

          “I want you to help me to grow into my position” means “I need you to help me do my job and I will take credit for everything you do.”

          Precisely – I’ve never seen it mean anything else. If the boss truly meant that he just wanted to learn more about what the OP does all day, he could have just said that. “I want you to help me understand your areas of expertise since I’m new in this position and we didn’t work closely enough for me to know everything you do in your day-to-day” is very different from what he told the OP.

    7. TootsNYC*

      “I’m open to feedback” is OK.
      but “I want you, my subordinate who reports to me, to help me grow into my new position, and i’m a great listener,” is very definitely a red flag. That’s someone who doesn’t understand how boundaries work, but will also enforce them (i.e., be mad when you try to coach him).

      1. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

        I didn’t get any impression from the letter that the boss is mad or bristling under all the coaching. Just that it is “not going well” with zero details about what is not going well about it. Maybe the boss is indeed getting mad. Maybe he is not following OP’s instructions as closely as she feels he should. From the letter we don’t really know.

    8. The New Wanderer*

      The “in retrospect” part is key – OP probably took the manager at his word and then quickly discovered that he didn’t listen and didn’t retain or apply feedback.

      My previous manager says this at the beginning of every meeting where he’s discussing a project – he’s open to feedback, willing to change things, or even scrap the project if it’s not a good idea. You will not be shocked to learn that he gets very defensive if anyone dares question his project and I have never seen him integrate feedback or retain new information/perspectives when offered them.

      By comparison, I don’t know any other manager or colleague who feels compelled to announce how open-minded they are (that should be a given), and while not all of them are open to feedback at least they aren’t falsely claiming they welcome it.

    9. MissDisplaced*

      If the issue were technical, and OP is a technical specialist, no, it’s maybe not such a red flag. Because that’s what they manager would turn to your expertise for. And maybe it did start out that way, but has progressed to many other areas? That’s what I’m hearing in this tale anyway.

    10. Delphine*

      The people you’re managing aren’t responsible for helping you “grow” into your new position (of managing them)–what’s the point of you having the job if you need that kind of help from your reports? So it definitely sounds like a red flag to me.

    11. Brooke*

      The piece to me that is a red flag is it sounds like her boss didn’t further clarify what that would look like, what he wanted to learn, and what specific things he wanted feedback on. An open ended statement like that without taking responsibility for the direction of it puts the onus on the other person to assess and figure out what *they* think the boss might need help with. And given that it sounds like her boss hasn’t objected to any of what she’s offered, and she’s offered *a lot*, that means he’s continued to allow her to take on that responsibility.

  8. ThatGirl*

    LW, you are not obligated to try to change your boss or your company. Do the best you can for yourself, but you don’t need to spend emotional, mental and physical energy on this dumpster fire.

  9. The Starsong Princess*

    Doing what you are doing isn’t working for him or for you. Doing it harder isn’t going to help. Put all the energy you are using to fix your unfixable boss into yourself and your own career

    Your current leadership doesn’t consider you promotable into management. Since your direct boss is incompetent and his boss considered him management potential, you need to find a role with new leadership, inside your current company or elsewhere. Where you are is a dead end.

  10. different seudonym*

    I also agree with May Lou that the “trusted” advisor sounds like a manipulator–like an MLM sales rep or a corrupt spiritual leader. If so, that person is ALSO benefitting directly from keeping OP weak and insecure.

    You need to protect yourself from that person,too.

  11. BenAdminGeek*

    Holy cow. I was grudgingly thinking you should help your boss at first, since he was pushed into a role he didn’t want, and this could be a great way for you to demonstrate skills and get promoted in the future. Then I started seeing the red flags… then I got to the part where your boss and his boss told you that you’d never move ahead in the company. Awwww, hell no. Let this guy fail, try and get out of there ASAP. I mean, it would be normally be petty to be happy about his impending failure…. but you have our permission to be petty about this. These people suck.

    1. Mazzy*

      I’ve been a manager and a technical lead. Honestly, the technical lead one was more interesting and where I got a chance to shine and improve hard skills and ironically, be more outgoing and social. I feel like your comment and some of the sentiments make management sound like the better job when it often is not.

      1. kt*

        I’m technical too. I love it. But this “you’ll never be management material” line is BS. It is simply not an appropriate thing to say to an employee, just like as a math teacher I viewed it as the heigh of professional incompetence to tell a student, “Oh, you’ll just never be good at this.” My job as a teacher was to help where I could, bringing out their strengths, helping them shore up weaknesses, and helping them see next steps. Same for a boss. You can think your employee isn’t management material, but it’s your job to give feedback on their *actual* *work* not what you think about their potential.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          You can also give feedback on their potential as long as you provide them with a reason for your opinion. If there is a legitimate reason why OP wouldn’t be promotable, then she should know exactly what that is upfront so that she can either try to get training/coaching to fill in those areas of deficiency or can move on somewhere else if she believes the opinion isn’t valid.

      2. BenAdminGeek*

        Agree. I am a manager right now and it’s definitely not my ideal. I do my best, but ideally I’d go back to individual contributor. So I had sympathy for this boss… until I read how he and the company were acting towards OP.

      3. Bee*

        Ok, but the OP WANTS to be in management. Your preference for non-management jobs is valid but also not super relevant here.

        1. Mazzy*

          I just re-read it for the 3X and don’t see where OP says this. Maybe I’m skipping over that line. Where do they say this?

          1. Bee*

            Why would she have asked about getting a management role if she didn’t want one?* Why would she care about being told she can’t be a manager if she doesn’t want to be? I’m reading a bit between the lines here, but the subtext is clear. All the comments about how it’s a problem the company doesn’t see it as a possibility are taking their cues from the OP and how bothered she is by their response, not from some sense that management is always a better job.

            *I suppose it’s possible they just told her “you’ll never be management” out of the blue, but if so, yikes, that’s even worse.

            1. Brooke*

              OP wasn’t super clear about this but I actually got the impression that she brought up the management issue because her manager has essentially asked her to teach *him* how to manage, while telling her that she’ll never be a manager. So regardless of whether she wants to be one or not, that’s clear evidence of dysfunction around what’s expected of her as an employee.

      4. The New Wanderer*

        Personally, I never, ever want to be a manager and am working on progressing up the technical track.

        However, there’s a big, big difference between being told by management “You’ll never be a manager” vs “We really want to support you in progressing up the technical track/We see you offering the most value as a technical leader.”

        If OP is only hearing the first and not hearing (or experiencing, through mgmt support of their career goals on the technical side) anything like the second, that’s a crappy environment regardless of OP’s own career goals.

      5. Tau*

        I’m also technical and never want to be a manager. However, I’d find it absolutely infuriating to have my company simultaneously tell me “you’ll never go into management” without the slightest hint of a reason for what might have disqualified me, and ask me to coach my boss on managerial duties/take some of them over for him. The hypocrisy there is galling no matter what career path I’m interested in.

        Honestly, just being told “you’ll never go into management” would be frustrating in and of itself. Even if I’m not interested, it’s still a sign that the company is not interested in working with me to achieve whatever career goals I have, but has already decided what they want me to be without my input. If they’ve just disqualified me for management based on nothing they care to name and no conversation with me, what else have they disqualified me for?

      6. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Look, for some SMEs in some organizations, you get to a point where your subject matter or technical expertise is better put to use in a management position. Why? Because being broadly knowledgeable as a manager carries more credibility than being broadly knowledgeable in a technical position, where it’s easier for people to dismiss you as a jack of all trades and master of none. One can become resentful of that really bloody quickly.

  12. Smithy*

    Without knowing the full extent of the advice given – I do believe that when people talk about manifesting destiny at work there’s often a divide when it comes to investment in making where you are better vs seeking new opportunities.

    You may be in a place where you see value and opportunity in investing most of that energy in your current place of employment. But it can also be true that after you evaluate your room for growth, your boss, and the overall company to decide to emotionally disengage from your current workplace and invest that “manifest destiny” energy into finding a new position.

    Right now this advice is clearly not helping you – but it may just be that there are other ways to digest the feedback.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      The thing is, it takes a LOT of personal energy and capital to make where you are better.
      And if you don’t have the support or encouragement of management, I’ve found it near impossible to do so.

      In this case, OP has been clearly told they don’t value the abilities she has and wants to manifest: (no chance of moving into management). So, I’d say that there is no real foreseeable future at this company and any energy should be expended to get out as soon as it’s feasible to do so. Life is too short to be stunted in your growth. OR
      No one puts Baby in the corner!

  13. MassMatt*

    Wow OP, it sounds as though you are doing a tremendous amount of extra work (MANAGEMENT work) for a company (and boss!) that has flat out told you that you will never be a manager. That a “tech company” has an upper manager that needs someone to show him how to use Slack and Zoom effectively and refers to someone with 7 years tenure as “new” really has me scratching my head. Put the efforts you have been wasting on coaching your boss towards your own career and job search.

    This phrasing (presumably from your “trusted 3rd party”?) really stood out to me:

    “I need to manifest my own destiny and take charge of my own reality“.

    To me this reeks of new age nonsense, the type of thinking that usually considers “manifesting reality” to consist of meditation, visualization, chanting, crystals, and other “if you want it, then it will happen” type thinking, especially if it’s misdirected at changing your boss. “Take charge of your reality” by bringing about change in something you can control—where you work, as in get a new job, not trying to change things you cannot control—your clueless boss and upper management, etc.

    If the advice you have been getting has been about the latter, then you need to change the sorts of people you are getting advice from. Expand your network to professionals in your field that know what they are talking about.

    You sound like a very accomplished person in your field with great skills as well as empathy and drive. Even in the pandemic there are places that need and are hiring people like you. Good luck!

    1. Hester Mae*

      I agree with most of this, but multiple neurological studies show that meditation can be of benefit to a person’s psychological well-being, from reducing stress to improved concentration.

      1. MassMatt*

        I absolutely agree, but meditation is not going to change the LW’s boss. There is an enormous gap between “improving your concentration and reducing your stress” to “visualize the changes your boss needs to make”, and the gap is magical thinking.

    2. Colette*

      Tech companies employ a lot of non-technical people (HR, sales, marketing, legal, customer service, etc.)

    3. lemon*

      Yeah, referring to someone who’s worked there for 7 years as a newbie struck me as very odd. It’s most likely that “newbie” is standing in for “outsider”– not a member of the in-group, not someone they can take seriously, not someone they trust yet (if ever).

    4. LTL*

      Yes! I don’t know why getting a new job wouldn’t count as “manifest my own destiny and take charge of my own reality”. Forcing yourself to stay at one place because you have to prove you can change it seems like the opposite of “manifesting your own destiny and taking charge”.

      I don’t know who’s giving you advice OP, but either there’s some misunderstanding or they’re really twisting their words.

    5. MissDisplaced*

      It’s not a uncommon as you might think MassMatt.
      Some of these Giant Tech Companies have people in management roles who have been there 20, 25, 30 years and are very behind the times when it actually comes to using new technology. They’re generally what I call the “paper-pusher” managers whose sole job is crunching the numbers and acting as reporter-gatekeeper with the (Japanese or Korean) home office, and there is often a very structured or rigid hierarchy involved.

      I have a sneaking suspicion OP is in a company like that.

    6. Archaeopteryx*

      Wouldn’t “manifesting your own destiny” involve expanding your territory westward and appropriating your neighbors’ land? ;)

      (And yes, this is definitely some New Age nonsense phrase)

  14. Brett*

    Are you sure this trusted third party is not trying to use you to undermine your boss?

    Because the advice they are giving is designed to do exactly that.

    Also, coming from another technical company, once you are down the read of leading multiple technical projects and holding multiple patents, the management path is likely closed off to you.

    I am on the technical path, and I have been in a temporary management role for about 3 months. My technical growth has screeched to a stop. I have zero time to work on my technical skills. Technical projects I was deeply involved in had to be abandoned because management tasks took up all of my time. It is clear that if this assignment does not end, that I will not be doing any more technical work. No more patents, no open source projects, no new code. I won’t be able to do it. So, this creates a crossroads for my leadership to determine if they need me as a junior manager more than they need my senior technical contributions. (As an aside to this, this has made me understand the enormous differences between being a technical team lead and being a manager.)

    So for the OP, you are taking this as, “my leadership thinks I am not management material when I can manage.” But I suspect the real answer is, “my technical contributions are too big to take me off the technical path.” (This is why so many tech companies set technical paths salaries higher than management salaries. If yours does not do this, that is something else to consider in choosing whether to stay or leave.)

    1. Myrin*

      As someone who has no experience at all with a setup like this, this was very interesting to read!

    2. kt*

      It’s one thing to say “We primarily value you for your technical accomplishments and we value them more than whatever you could bring to management” and another thing to say “Oh, we wouldn’t promote someone like you into management.” Especially when you’re not-white or not-male these sentences land quite differently.

      Agree that if the OP’s company doesn’t have a highly remunerative technical track then that’s its own flag of a certain color.

      1. LTL*

        LW didn’t say that management told them “we wouldn’t promote someone like you into management.” I don’t see the purpose of assuming malice when the context Brett has put this in makes sense, barring further information from the LW.

        1. kt*

          “A quick addendum; my boss and his boss have both told me that I don’t have any chance at moving into management, but I do have a chance at moving up the technical path at the company.” I am not attributing malice, I’m rewriting “I don’t have any chance at moving into management” as “we wouldn’t promote someone like you into management” and leaving the rest unsaid. No malice! But you read it into the sentence too :) which says something, doesn’t it!

          1. Brett*

            I think the loaded word there is “promote”.
            Moving into management from technical track is not a promotion (for a senior person who holds company patents, it is normally a demotion at tech companies). And OP’s phrasing makes it clear that there are promotions available in the technical track, while not saying at all that management is a promotion. Without confirmation from OP, this makes it sound like that the management role is almost certainly a lateral move. It is very common in tech companies for bosses to be lower grades than their direct reports (which might also explain why OP’s boss was reluctant to take the role in the first place).

            1. Cedrus Libani*

              All very true. But I don’t think OP writes this letter if her grand-boss (?) had said: “Look, switching to the management track would involve a demotion and a pay cut. You know that, right? But we’d rather have you as a manager than lose you entirely, so if that’s really what you want, here’s what we can do to help you.”

          2. LTL*

            You explicitly stated that “we wouldn’t promote someone like you into management” has to do with being non-white and non-male. I didn’t read into anything. Your implications were both clear and intentional.

            For the record, I’m not male and I’m not white, so please do not assume that the only reason anyone can reason that discrimination may not be involved is because they’re too privileged to understand. I’m tired of having to add that addendum about my gender and race because the Internet has decided that nuance and context don’t matter. If you’re going to disagree with me, you can at least do so without being patronizing.

        2. Forrest*

          It doesn’t have to be malice: it can just be incompetence. If the reason they don’t want OP moving into management is because she’s too valuable as a technical team lead, they had the opportunity to say that. If they assumed she knew that background, or if they haven’t actually listened to whether that’s in line with her own preferences, it’s bad management.

          And of things which create a hostile environment (in a non-technical sense) for minoritised people can be exactly that kind of omission and assumption: it’s knowledge that isn’t shared formally or explicitly that you have to be in the right networks to learn. Assuming that only malice holds back minorities’ advancement is very much not how it works.

          1. LTL*

            I agree that management mishandled the situation and I wasn’t defending them. I was responding to kt’s comment.

    3. Smithy*

      This is really helpful and why having opportunities for industry specific networking is so critical and helpful.

      I have a friend who works for a federal agency, where working there for 5 years is considered a short tenure. I’m in a profession where it’s common for people to leave organizations after 2 or 3 years as that is often the only way to get promotions. Neither one of us is more or less professional, there are just different norms and standards.

    4. MassMatt*

      Great post; this is an issue common to many fields, such as sales, where the skills of selling and managing are not the same. A really good salesperson selling high value items can make a lot and derive a lot of job satisfaction from it. Managing a team of salespeople, maybe or maybe not.

      But it sounds as though in this instance the message the company and boss is sending is not “you are too valuable in your existing role, and here’s how you can grow here” it’s “YOU will never be a manager; now help ME become a manager”. If LW is so valuable in the tech role, why is her boss pulling her away from it with his self-help project?

    5. The New Wanderer*

      As a point of comparison, in my own experience at a very large tech company, I think there may be two things at play here: one, having the management path barred to you if you’re seen as ‘too technical’ and two, getting into the management path leads to disruption of your technical progress.

      At my company, being too technical doesn’t appear to be a limiting factor with getting a management track job. I know junior and senior technical experts (or on that track) who’ve transitioned into the management track with varying degrees of success in the mgmt role. So it’s possible, but my experience is in divisions that typically have a hard time recruiting and retaining first level managers because it’s a tough job of managing 20-30 direct reports and they’re not spoiled for choice.

      But it is absolutely true here that if you go into management, your direct involvement with technical projects is basically wiped out. Any skills development has to be done on your own time, and I believe based on observations that most manager work longer days that technical people (in general). So, the managers who ultimately prefer the technical side occasional opt out of management and go back to being individual contributors.

      I don’t know how the salaries compare as I only have visibility into technical salary ranges, but I believe it’s more equal between manager and technical pay, or technical is paid higher. Certainly I’ve never heard anyone say they went into management for the money here!

  15. Heidi*

    I’m actually kind of curious as to how this is not going well. There’s a lot of detail on the background of the situation, but not a lot of detail about the ongoing fallout. Is the coaching just not taking and boss is floundering and everyone is looking bad? Are the OP and boss fighting now? Is the boss now so dependent on OP to do everything that OP isn’t getting their own job done? Is someone in danger of getting fired? If the problem is solely productivity, the strategy to address it might be really different than if there’s an open feud.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Not really. Regardless of what’s falling apart here, the answer is to step waaaaay back and stop this.

      1. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

        Well if the boss actually wants this level of coaching, they can possibly fire OP for insubordination if they stop.

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      Valid point. Some details or more context regarding the fallout would be helpful.

      What I can say from personal experience is that this “helping the manager manage” solution doesn’t scale. If things are working out, the manager’s responsibilities will be increased beyond what the subordinate can help with. Also, the boss eventually thinks he can handle everything and begins to resent the subordinate. Sometimes, the boss will make sure to get himself a new, highly visible project. That never does go well.

  16. glitter writer*

    “Managing up” is for sure a real and valuable thing but it’s not supposed to be your full-time job. This sounds like a deeply toxic situation and I hope OP can find a less miserable firm to work for quickly.

  17. ShwaMan*

    OP, your toxic workplace has messed up your sense of normalcy. As they do. Please take what Alison is saying to heart – you cannot remake your boss in your image.

    I don’t know what to make of you being told that you will never make management. I’m leaning towards that it is most likely you ARE being discriminated against, but without more context, I can’t rule out the possibility that someone has noticed your poor judgment in this matter. That’s almost certainly not your fault due to your goofy environment, but competent leaders have a knack of spotting situations like this, and it won’t reflect well on you, either. Something to keep in mind for when you get yourself back to a healthier work life, whether that’s at your current employer or elsewhere.

  18. kiri*

    Out of curiosity – where do folks feel that issues of safety-related incompetence fall here? My direct supervisor is someone who’s pretty checked out and as such happy to let things fall through the cracks and have others do his work for him. In normal times I was pretty good at setting boundaries with this, but we work in a university and are gearing up to reopen to students – and the things falling through the cracks are things like whether we’ll have enough cleaning supplies, how we’ll monitor who’s in our spaces, etc. etc. So, things that could directly impact the health and safety of me and my coworkers. I’m having a lot of trouble checking the impulse to micromanage my supervisor, since there’s so much on the line here. (There’s a departmental administrative office we could check in with if something egregious happens, but they’re so swamped right now it seems easier to do it ourselves.)

    1. Reba*

      This seems pretty different than the communication-type improvements in the letter… and also not something that can be micro-managed into a solution. Do you think your boss would be receptive to a big picture conversation about changing how he prioritizes these issues? Come up with some plans for better management and present them frankly. I think you should give that a try but be ready to go to that other office and maybe even higher. Ugh! Good luck!

    2. BenAdminGeek*

      With safety stuff, I always land on “I’m within my rights as an employee to let things fail, but I can’t in good conscience risk the safety of our customers/students/other employees/etc.” So I would step in to ensure safety, even if that means enabling bad management. But it’s a really tricky path to walk.

    3. Esmeralda*

      Kick it upstairs asap.

      Make it clear that it affects the health and safety of STUDENTS (really emphasize that, Uiniversities do not care as much about faculty and staff because it does not make them look as bad on tv as “student dies because U staff f’d up”) as well as employees and the wider community.

  19. voyager1*

    I am just going to say this. You can’t make a bad manager into a good one without two things:
    1. The individual is self aware enough to know that they need help.
    2. The individual is invested in becoming better.

    If those two things are not there then you are toast.

    However I do agree somewhat with helping your current manager in your situation. Not because it makes the manager in question, but hopefully it will make the manager realize that you are a team player. However that too requires a good amount of self awareness on the manager’s part again. But if you feel like you are at wits end, then bailing for another job is really the only outcome here.

  20. CheeryO*

    I’m not seeing where there’s any real pressure to do such intense coaching, other than from this “trusted third party.” I would take whatever that person said with a giant grain of salt and take a huge, huge step back. You can give tips on Slack and Zoom and look like a good team player while you focus on your technical work, and you can continue to look for something new where you might have more upward mobility in the management track, if that’s what you want, but you’re way too invested in a company that’s seemingly not doing anything for you.

  21. Budgie Buddy*

    OP, you use the scare quotes around “trusted” the first time you describe the third party for a reason. You -know- this person is giving you bad advice. At the end you talk about more advice from another (?) third party and other sources, and seem to be asking how to interpret their advice.

    You do not need to be parsing third party advice. What do -you- want from your job? No one else can tell you that. It can be scary to own your needs and your decisions, but no one else can tell you what you should be doing with your career and your life.

    At the end you ask, “Should I just accept that having a job comes with a certain level of misery and frustration, and a lack of control?” Does this really seem like a question where Alison would ever answer “Yes, by all means accept misery as the default and don’t try to control anything about your life”?

    It sounds like your instincts are right on, but you’re in the fog that comes with a toxic situation. Wishing the best for you and your job hunt, even in the middle of this terrible year <3

    1. MissDisplaced*

      It reads to me as though the OP has taken this “trusted party” advice very seriously. I wonder is that “trusted party” someone also highly-placed or long-tenured within the company?

      If so, I can understand why the OP would doubt herself so much, because if this advisor is within the same company, it would come across almost as being told “you must do this” to get along and fit within that company culture. I also sense there is a deep or strict hierarchy at work in this organization, and therefore presented as your duty to help the manager this much.

    2. kt*

      Yeah, I picked up on this too. Besides the work questions, the format of this letter is, “Other people are telling me A. I’m seeing B. Do I have to go with A?”

      Trust yourself, OP. You don’t need other people telling you what to think or do.

  22. Keyboard Jockey*

    I would not only step back from this kind of coaching, but I would encourage your boss to get coaching from an actual coach. Leadership coaches exist and some of them are even good! (Kidding, mostly.) You’re doing an entire other job for free, and that’s gotta change, but maybe this could be a way for him to continue to get input from someone who knows more than he does about how to lead a team.

  23. CommanderBanana*

    If someone told me I needed to mold my boss into a competent boss, my question would be why I am not the boss.

    1. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

      This is rather what I thought. They have told OP that there is no way that she will ever be a manager in this company, and yet is expected to teach her boss how to manage properly?
      Either she does have the management skills, in which case becoming a manager should be a viable option, or she doesn’t, in which case she absolutely should not be trying to teach someone else those skills.
      I am deeply suspicious of this company.

  24. JSPA*

    This creates the secondary question of how to disengage gracefully.

    ” My field of expertise is widget- wrangling. I’ve gladly passed along all the managerial tips I’ve picked up through the years, and whatever feedback I can give. However, I’m very officially not being groomed for management here. As a result, all of my formal development for the past seven years has been on the technical side. I’m delighted if my personal grab – bag of helpful management strategies works for you, too. But if you need more or different ideas and feedback, there are people who are trained in managerial coaching. I’ll be slotting fully into my niche, instead of moonlighting as a consultant.”

  25. Alex*

    Wow, this letter mirrors my own situation so closely! Except no one *told* me I had to manage my boss….it was just something I fell into doing because important stuff was falling through the enormous crack that is my boss and the only person who seemed to care was me.

    It is SO HARD to do the management work of your own boss. Obviously since I’m in a similar situation I have no good advice, lol, but lots of commiseration.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Ugh! I can depend on what your role is though. If you are your boss’s executive assistant, then it very much is your job to help them keep things from falling through the cracks and take care of all the minute details: everything from issuing and approving purchase orders, to travel, meetings and correspondence. Good Admins are like that, and manage the manager with many aspects of their daily work.

      But I am assuming this OP is not in an administrative role like that.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Unless the fallout would come down on you and not your boss, you need to stop covering for them. I totally understand the need to not things fall through the cracks, but if they’re incompetent, that needs to come to light. All you’re doing is keeping your boss from facing the consequences of his inaction.

  26. Llama Party*

    One area that I relate to is the “floundering male boss” and “helpful woman sidekick/underling” dynamic. I’ve been there and given my family dynamic I’m inclined to want to help bumbling, kind men. But, I’ve learned (largely from reading this blog) that that is not my place. We’re all grown ups in the work place, and we’re all responsible for ourselves. If he can’t get it together that’s his issue. You can help if there’s an area that you’re knowledgeable in like Zoom or Slack. But don’t go above and beyond. Just something like, “yeah we can do a little walk through, or this is where the button you’re looking for is, if you need anything else here’s the link to their how-to page”. It’s hard to break free of that care taking mentality but (especially in the workplace) you have to.

    1. TootsNYC*

      it’s also not really a kindness to help bumbling, kind men even in your homelife.
      They can too learn how to do laundry, if you get out of the way and make it possible.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I think my FIL died early because his wife did too much of the caretaking and he just passively followed along. She was in the hospital for 10 days, and he went rapidly downhill; he ran out of meds and didn’t take them, he didn’t eat well, etc.

        Now, after his death, one theme she keeps coming back to is that her 10 days in the hospital hurried his death, that it hurt him for her to be away for so long. What a burden for her to carry now!

  27. Manana*

    I’m sorry you’re dealing with this LW. I feel the “third parties” you’ve spoken to are purposefully denying your reality and the overt discrimination you’re facing (a white man in your position would very likely be seen as “management material” given your boss’s unwarranted & undeserved promotion). Your boss is incompetent. That doesn’t make him a bad person, but more importantly it doesn’t make YOU a bad person that you aren’t able to make him good at his job. He had way more leverage to decline this promotion, request training, or even read a damn book on his own time than you do to devote your time doing your own job and playing invisible mentor to him. I also 100% believe that his boss knows what’s going on and doesn’t care. He would rather see an unqualified white male face at the conference table than a competent BIPOC/queer/female in any position of leadership. Good luck to you in your job search. You have so much talent and so many skills, don’t let these losers drag you down.

  28. MissDisplaced*

    Your boss (who is drowning and failing) and his boss have both told me that I don’t have any chance at moving into management, even though you have the education, degrees and technical expertise to do so? [This isn’t as common as say, if a degree was required to move into any level of management.] Yet you are expected to help this boss do their job and you know MANAGE?

    Is your Great Big Technology Company also a Japanese company by any chance?

    If it is, then I totally understand because I’m sort of there too. The Japanese technology companies have such a rigid hierarchy, that being there 7 years will often still make you a “newbie.” If you are also American, it is hard (if not impossible) to move up into the C-suite. But generally you CAN move into the lower levels of management, and where I work there are a lot of female directors and VP level managers, even if the upper C-suite are all still Japanese men sent from Japan for their required terms in the US. So, I’m a bit confused at your situation overall and why your bosses would say you can’t move into any level of management, period?

    That being said, I am not a supporter of the “managing up” theory if you have a hopeless and incompetent boss. It’s one thing to show them how to use a piece software or something low-stakes level, but you need to draw the line at actually DOING their job for them, especially when it comes to managing the people on his team. At some point the person needs to sink or swim on their own– and you need to swim away with the life preserver.

    I hate to immediately jump to saying leave, but your future at this company does not look satisfying.
    You deserve better.

  29. TootsNYC*

    I’m going to throw out another perspective:

    it is disrespectful to your boss, as a human being, to coach him so deeply.

    Teaching him the Slack buttons? That’s OK .
    But to set yourself up as the expert on how to manage? That disrespectful. That’s not your role, as a subordinate, no matter what he or anyone else says.

    And it muddies the waters and keeps him from learning on his own (which is the most powerful form of learning).

    Any success he has, he should feel ownership of. Ditto any mistakes.
    It’s not good for him to think, “Oh, I only did that well because OP coached me” or worse, “That was a mistake; OP should have told me or prevented me.” (It’s also not good for YOU for anyone else in your company to think those things, of course, but righ tnow I’m focusing on the impact that you’re having on HIM.)

    And he can also say “I don’t have to think about what the best way to build a team is, because OP will tell me.” So he won’t invest the same level of focus in trying to learn on his own. And if he’s acting on what you told him, and he didn’t suss it out for himself, he’s not going to be all-in.

    A few years ago, my boss gave me this list from Continuous Improvement training he’d been through that was titled: “How to Show Respect to Your Employees.” It was aimed at managers, of course, but there are many things on it that will apply elsewhere.

    The one I always think of is: Don’t fix it for them.

    you are “fixing it for” your boss. Stop. It’s disrespectful. His job should not be about you and your coaching. Letting him screw up on his own is actually respectful.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I had the impression this “trusted party” was someone within the company who knows the situation and dynamics? Which is almost like being told she must do it?
      I sort of read it that way.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        I read it the opposite–that it’s someone in their personal life. OP gripes a little about the manager not knowing what he’s doing, and Trusted Party says, “You have the power to effect change in your life! You can manifest yourself a better manager by helping him grow!” or something like that.

    2. chris*

      Some of the phrasing in this letter — “my poor boss is drowning and they won’t accept my expertise about how to manage” — hit me the same way. It’s hard to know without more specifics but the letter writer’s ‘coaching’ of their boss may come across very differently than intended. Agree with the recommendation to stop taking advice from this third party.

    3. Mazzy*

      I can agree with this. Also, others are throwing out sexism as a possibility. We really don’t know. I don’t like that people rush to that as the first solution without looking for other explanations first. But let’s say that sexism does play a role. Also let’s assume all of the OP’s help is wanted.

      So if you are playing into the dynamic Llama Party mentions, you are only hurting yourself and keeping the sexism or negative social structure in place.

      How can an incompetent leader rise to the occasion or fail if you’re there helping? If some sort of -ism is at play, you definitely should not go above and beyond to help the person who in that structure is holding you back!

      1. MissDisplaced*

        In Giant Tech Companies, it might be the hierarchy more than anything, though sexism can still be woven into that. In such a rigid hierarchy, coaching your boss might be presented as being your duty to help the organization succeed, even if you aren’t recognized for it.

  30. zebra*

    There are corporate consultants and coaches who get paid a lot of money to do this type of handholding. You shouldn’t do all this extra work without compensation.

    This is part of how guys like this get promoted above their capabilities. If he always has a more-competent woman helping him behind the scenes and silently helping him skate by, HIS boss will think he’s doing a great job and promote him once again, and since he’s also likely too selfish to bring his crutch along with him he’ll leave you in the dust and find a new marginalized person to help in his coverup. You can help break this cycle by refusing to enable him. It is his own issue to deal with if he is not prepared for the job he was given.

    This company is your employer. They are not your family nor do they have your best interests at heart. They are not the only employer in the world and you should find another one who will appreciate your skills more.

  31. Georgina Fredrika*

    I think I’m in the minority here, but I think you overstepped a little.

    “My boss told me that he wanted me to help him grow into his new position, and that he was a great listener and always open to feedback (in retrospect: a red flag).”

    When people say this as a manager, I *wouldn’t* ever take it to mean “give me a detailed critique about everything I do, regardless of whether I’ve identified it to you as an issue.”

    I would take it to mean, “If I tell you to change X thing and you have a great reason for having done it, please don’t feel afraid to bring this up! You could be right and I’m open to hearing why.” It’s a little odd/tone deaf to read this as an all-encompassing request for advice and feedback.

    “A “trusted” third party told me that I ought to try and coach him on how to navigate his new world order. Things like how to manage a remote team. How to manage a diverse team, in terms of both skills and demographics. How to stay afloat in a rapidly changing industry.”

    This honestly feels like overstepping to me and almost a bit ? patronizing to call his promotion a “new world order” for him. As an example, there’s a big difference between saying to your boss “hey, I know you like to check in 6 times a day with us while working remotely, but it’s starting to feel a little overwhelming – could we cut it back to once?” and saying, “Hey, to effectively manage a remote team you need to do X, Y, Z. You’re overwhelming us and people won’t respond well to it.”
    It seems like your advice is leaning towards the latter here but that feels more like talking down to someone.

    So I do agree with stepping back, but I think you should consider that there may be a few different reasons you’re now in an uncomfortable position.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I’m now very curious about this “trusted party.” Was it someone within the company who is also highly placed?
      I admit I tended to read it that way. In which case it sounds more like being told to do it a certain way.

      1. Georgina Fredrika*

        it would help with context to know this. I kinda assumed it was a coworker/peer because it was bad advice, and maybe they thought it would be helpful to them if they got a better manager as a result – but maybe not!

    2. EventPlannerGal*

      I agree with all of this. We’ve had plenty of letters on here from managers who are frustrated that their employees are trying to manage up! And often a big part of that is that the employees think they are terribly expert but actually are not, or they don’t understand the big picture that their manager is dealing with. Since OP is not a manager, has never been a manager at this company and if she has ever been a manager it was at least 7+ years ago at a different company, it seems like she is trying to give her boss quite intense (and possibly unsolicited) coaching on something that she don’t actually do. Being part of or a senior member of a team is not the same as managing that team, or managing that team and also several other teams, or doing any of that in the middle of a pandemic. I think this is all probably a bit of a misunderstanding, but I agree it seems like OP has overstepped.

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      That’s a bit unfair, no? Are they in a situation that they don’t have enough political capital to successfully navigate? Yeah, probably. Are they aware of that? Probably not as much as they should be. But there’s probably more at play than being naive.

  32. Granger*

    AAM wrote, “You can still offer advice if asked, if you can do it without significant emotional investment…”

    That would be a BIG “if” for me in this situation!

    Good luck LW (I wish I had advice to offer)!

    1. Carlie*

      If the boss is the one asking for advice, I would start using the phrase “Haha! That’s way above my pay grade”. Repeatedly. Also, “I’m not sure what to tell you, but I’m sure (boss’ manager) could help you out!” in a chipper voice full of finality.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        I saw an old manager of mine say this repeatedly, jokingly, but it did stop people from coming to him asking for guidance on things he really had no business commenting on. I’ve used it ever since as well.

  33. Solitary Daughter*

    I actually have a similar problem: a boss who Can. Not. Figure. It. Out. And I’ve tried “managing up” only to realize that what’s called for is probably an exorcist and or a therapist. It’s disheartening and destructive to the team, and I think you’re right to be looking around for something new. It seems to me that with your skills, you would be valued in another setting, one that doesn’t outright tell you that management isn’t going to happen. Whether that’s something you want or not, it’s weird that they would have said something like that to you. Stop trying to help your boss. He doesn’t sound like he gets it or really wants it, and it seems like it’s costing you a lot to try and take on this emotional labor. Just hang in there, tread water, and keep trying to move on. Good luck!

  34. Lucette Kensack*

    Yikes. The boss is “broken,” needs help understanding “his new world order,” and is a “poor, poor man” that the LW is forcing unwanted coaching on? The tone in this letter is really, really patronizing. Bluntly, I can see why the LW’s company doesn’t see a future for her in management — these are not productive or appropriate ways to think about or relate to your colleagues (and, even more so, your manager!).

    It sounds like the LW should move on; her boss is struggling, she’s worked her way into a problematic relationship with him (and with his and her work), and she’s been told she doesn’t have a path to management without getting feedback on why that is. This is clearly not the place for her. I’m not sure why “manifesting your own destiny” or “changing your reality” can’t take the form of seeking a new role that’s a better fit, rather than trying to change the people and organization that the LW is currently with.

    1. Mazzy*

      Yeah, I found the “broken” part weird but didn’t focus on it because I had more logical ways to go, above. But I don’t see it reasonable to label someone as broken. Also, “broken” is a phase for many people, not a permanent state of being. Maybe one of his parents died. Maybe he’s going through a divorce, who knows.

  35. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    You are NOT responsible for your boss and his ability to do his job.
    You are NOT responsible for putting your boss into a position that he doesn’t seem to be qualified to do.
    You are NOT responsible for “coaching” your boss to be better at his job.
    You ARE responsible for yourself and your own job duties, and doing them to the best of your ability. You are in a toxic environment. I realize finding a new job is not very easy right now, but you need to continue looking and get the hell out of there ASAP. It’s okay to feel bad that your boss has been put into this position, but you need to stop thinking that it’s your job to fix it.

  36. Analyst Editor*

    Knowing how to be a good manager, like knowing how to do anything on paper, is worth a lot less than having the final responsibility to do it. Everyone is an armchair critic and quarterback, but much fewer can perform when on the spot themselves.

  37. American Oligarchy*

    No comment on the situation, but I’m ready to be best friends with LW, love their sense of humor and writing style!

  38. Khatul Madame*

    A boss is a lot like a spouse in that you need to go in with the premise that people don’t change, and learn to live with the person as they are, not as you want them to be.
    If you can’t, you should terminate the relationship.

  39. Bookworm*

    Been in a position like this (as an observer and unfortunately as a direct report to said supervisor) as well as knowing others who have been in similar positions. From my experience:

    1. Company is trying to get rid of the both of you or at minimum, keep you away higher positions. They elevated someone who is clearly unable to do the job and they tasked you to babysit him. In other circumstances this might be different (in an ideal world, this would see your roles flipped and you’re training a subordinate). That you are from certain groups that are not white, not male, etc. is a red flag for me.

    2. I know it’s not ideal right now, but I’d flee. If you’ve been told you’ll never move, this organization is clearly toxic and is protecting their own by freezing the two of you out in different ways. They might hope your boss is “trainable” rather than accepting you are the superior employee.

    Good luck, LW.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      It seems to me that the boss was “elevated” (what an interesting word, in this scenario!) based on personal connections or whatever. Presumably as a personal favour of some kind.
      I’ve seen it so many times where people were promoted to positions they weren’t fit for due to some kind of “favour” from a senior manager.
      What invariably happens is that the favouritism-hire “fails” and their direct reports get exhorted to show solidarity and so on.
      Then the favouritism-hire goes off on paid leave for several weeks leaving the reports to deal with everything.
      There’s no need for a handover because boss wasn’t really doing much of anything!

    2. Analyst Editor*

      I would be curious to hear more context on what exactly they told OP about their current prospects.
      There’s “you’re not manager material?”, or is it “you’re not manager material YET, for these and those reasons?” or “I don’t think there will be positions opening up in the foreseeable future, nothing personal?”
      OP says that they could advance along the “technical track”. I suppose they’re in some kind of matrixed organization where the people in charge of making sure work gets done aren’t the people doing hiring and firing — but whatever the downsides of such an arrangement, that’s besides the point. I think LW is omitting details here.

  40. Rhythm of the Night*

    The mediocrity or worse that cis white men can get away with compared to those of us with minoritized status is so appalling. Take care of yourself OP and I hope you can get out of there.

  41. Agent Diane*

    Echoing others, OP: it is not your responsibility to train your manager on how to manage.

    And adding: it is your employer’s responsibility to provide training for managers in managing people, just as much as they may provide training in technical requirements for people on the technical track.

    Right now you’re being a one woman management training programme. If your employer has a management training programme, point your manager at it. If it doesn’t, that’s their problem to fix not yours. Your manager needs to solve it for himself.

  42. Anon for this one*

    Baller move: submit a speculative application (yes, I know there’s no official opening) to your boss’s boss for roles of “your boss’s position”.

  43. Jaybeetee*

    Re: “Manifesting your destiny”.

    So I’m actually a little bit into Laws of Attraction/positive thinking/visualizing your success type stuff.


    a) The goals have to be at least sort of realistic. No amount of positive thinking is going to get me a time-share on Mars, the ability to breathe underwater, or a trillion dollars. If your goal is “management”, no amount of positive thinking is going to get you a management job at a company that has straight-up told you they’ll never hire you for that (it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s impossible for you to be a manager elsewhere if management is your goal).

    b) This sort of mindset is very much about you, the goals you set, the steps you take, the attitude you have. It’s never, ever about “changing” (manipulating) people around you. Creating your own destiny isn’t “How do I turn my boss into someone else?” It’s recognizing that perhaps the place you work at isn’t compatible with your goals, and looking at where you can go and what steps you can take to seek your goals elsewhere.

    At the end of the day, Law of Attraction, manifesting your destiny, whatever words you use, are all about the same things: clarifying for yourself what you want, the steps you would need to take to get there, seeking out people who would support you, avoiding those who would drag you down, and truly believing your goal is achievable and something you’re capable of having. It’s not “woo” or magic, it’s how you approach and carry yourself in the world. So. What do you want? How will you get there? Can this job, this company, this boss help you get there, or not?

    Also, whoever this “trusted third-party” is, they must be speaking to you like Yoda. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if someone drops advice like that and you can’t figure out how to implement it in your situation.

  44. Jennifer Juniper*

    I’m dying to know who gave OP the terrible advice. Was it a co-worker, a superior, a codependent mother?

    If you don’t mind, OP, please spill!

Comments are closed.