can a meh middle manager be a good CEO, stickers in a work notebook, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Can a meh middle manager be a good CEO?

It’s common to hear of “worker bee”-like employees excelling in their duties only to flounder when promoted to management roles. However, is it possible for someone to be a meh middle manager only to shine in an upper management role?

I work in a nonprofit with satellite locations throughout my county – think a string of community centers – and serve under a site manager who often appears bored in their current position, is vocal about the fact they have more management experience than anyone else in the organization, and is pretty transparent about wanting their boss’s job. They are active in a statewide leadership organization and have given talks on management at various conferences.

As my direct boss, they are responsible, sane, and skilled at nipping employee interpersonal conflicts in the bud. But I would not rate them as one of the best managers in the organization. While other site directors have worked to cement community partnerships, conduct asset mappings to better understand their neighborhoods, and encourage staff trainings to improve customer service, my manager has not. Instead, they’ve spent a lot of time in their office viewing and participating in leadership zooms. They started this position right as the pandemic began, and there is some basic information – budget logistics, resource relationships – that wasn’t immediately shared, so their institutional knowledge has been limited in places. When an employee turned to staff outside our building for clarification on these points, my manager has become angry, asserting that all questions and requests must run through them. On top of this, they are a big fan of delegating – at times responsibilities that should fall to them.

Our organization’s CEO recently left, and our board president is smitten with my manager. They have heard them give talks through their professional organization and thinks they have great leadership potential. But can a person be emotionally checked out as a middle manager only to blossom as the head of that large-scale institution? Or are their prioritizing of professional leadership organization activities over boots-on-the-ground community service, anger at employees going over their head for information, and delegating some managerial responsibilities red flags that they would be a problematic executive director?

The delegation on its own doesn’t worry me so much — executive directors often have to delegate nearly everything but fundraising, community relations, and decision-making — but spending a lot of time on leadership webinars instead of engaging with your team’s work worries me, as does the anger at someone who tried to get highly relevant info this manager couldn’t provide. And if they’re emotionally checked out, I’d be extremely concerned about putting them at the top of the organization; a checked out executive director can do serious damage.

None of this is a crystal ball or means that your manager would definitely be a terrible executive director, but the biggest red flag might be that it sounds like your board president is basing their enthusiasm on things that don’t relate to how your manager does their actual job and is responding to stuff that’s more window dressing than substance.

2. Should I still recommend someone after they violated confidentiality?

I work as a contract employee at a large health care organization. I’ve been in this role for 14 years and prior to that was a “real” employee/manager here for several years. I am entrusted with important work, I love my clients, and am well paid. However, I’m looking forward to an early retirement this fall. If possible, I would like to help in the transition and would be very willing to train the new person.

My plan is to give four months’ notice. I have specific reasons for this timeframe, i.e., I want to continue working right up until I retire and don’t want to be left with little or no work once my replacement is hired and I train him/her.

I work with “Amy,” whom I considered to be a good candidate as my replacement. I knew she was only marginally satisfied with her current role and thought she would do well in my role when I retire. We had a friendly relationship. I quietly told her my plans, making it clear this was confidential and that I don’t plan to tell my client for a few more months and why. She was enthusiastic and asked me to put her name forward when the time came. She understood it was confidential.

So imagine my surprise when one of my clients in the organization recently told me that Amy said I’m retiring soon and that she likely will be my replacement. My client was understandably hurt/confused that I didn’t tell her myself and that she had to hear it from Amy. I apologized profusely and said it was confidential and that in no way did I promise Amy that she’s my likely replacement. I’m furious with Amy. I waited a couple of days to calm down and told her she violated my confidentiality and put me in a very awkward position with my client. She gave tepid excuses and apologized, but the damage has been done. I have remained professional but cool toward her ever since. I have no doubt that she’s noticed.

Now it’s almost time to give my four months notice, and I don’t know whether to put Amy’s name forth as a potential replacement. She could do the work very well, but I believe she is untrustworthy. Sometimes my job requires handling confidential information, although not always. I don’t want to be petty and vindictive, but I also don’t feel comfortable recommending her wholeheartedly any more.

Should I tell my clients, all of whom I’ve known for years and am close to, that: (1) She could do the work very well but that I have reservations about her judgment and ability to keep things confidential (and give a high level overview of what happened)? (2) Put forth her name with no comment at all? (3) Or not recommend her at all?

You’re not under any obligation to recommend anyone if you don’t wholeheartedly think they’re right for the job. Amy is welcome to throw her hat in the ring when the vacancy is announced, but you don’t need to champion her candidacy if you don’t want to. However, if she still has the impression that you’ll be suggesting her, you should make sure she knows she knows that you don’t plan to — which could be something like “I’ve decided I’m not going to make any specific recommendations for a replacement” — and that she needs to formally apply if she wants to pursue the job.

If she applies and you’re asked for input on her, you should give it as impartially as you can (including your concerns about confidentiality, if that’s important in the work).

3. Using stickers in a work notebook

I work as a receptionist in a small counselling service. It’s a very busy office with two receptionists working at the same time, as we get quite a lot of phone calls, emails, and people coming in through the door on top of all our other admin work.

I have Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD and I keep track of everything — calls, to-do lists, emails, and more — in a notebook, like the other receptionists do. What I would like to do is add stickers and different colors to my notes. I did this in college and found it helped me focus immensely and not forget something several pages back. That way if I don’t sort something immediately, I can draw my attention to it so I won’t forget it.

My office is quite casual and very friendly, and I have brought in other stationery as I love it and buy too much. My boss noticed some sticky notes that were pink and had flowers and complimented them and used them herself, so I know those are okay, but I don’t know if stickers are too much. They wouldn’t be sparkly or cartoons or anything overly childish — just arrows, dots for bullet points, and things like that. I’d obviously only use them on my own notebook and nothing else. I’m also usually the only one who uses or sees my notebook; it’s not out at meetings or shared with coworkers or anything like that. I think stickers would help me remember things and be much more efficient, but it’s my first office job and I want to be professional but I’m not sure about this. What do you think?

You are totally fine! Get the stickers! It would be fine even if other people did see your notebook — the sort of stickers you’re talking about are likely to make you look more organized, not less, and they’re something you see in plenty of offices. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of your coworkers like them and adopt the habit themselves. Go for it.

will my taste in office supplies seem weird or unprofessional?

4. Fending off solicitousness about my pregnancy

At the end of May, my organization is hosting a large conference that I’ll be helping to staff. I’ll see all my coworkers (I work remotely so this is an unusual occurrence) as well many clients, partners, etc. who I work with on a regular basis.

At the time of the conference, I will be seven months pregnant. I’m a fairly private person and being so publicly pregnant is a bit outside my comfort zone (my first pregnancy was entirely during the height of Covid restrictions so I didn’t see anyone!), but I’m prepared for the congratulations and questions about when I’m due. The piece I’m not sure how to handle is the solicitousness I’m expecting from some folks at the conference, both colleagues and conference attendees. Some of my responsibilities will involve light physical activity (along the lines of running mics to attendees during sessions), and I’m anticipating some people jumping up to try and take the mic so that the obviously pregnant lady doesn’t have to be on her feet. This anticipated reaction is making me uncomfortable! I’m fully prepared for the conference — I’ll wear comfy shoes, have water and snacks available, take breaks when I need them, etc. And I have a very active toddler at home, so it’s quite likely that being at the conference will be less physically demanding than my average weekend chasing after him. I’d prefer to be treated as a professional and not have people try to take over my conference responsibilities, but I’m assuming that some people will want to do so. Any advice on how to address this would be much appreciated!

Keep repeating this: “I’m fine, I’ve got this.” And if necessary: “I enjoy doing it and don’t need help.”

If there’s a core group of people you expect this from (like the people you’ll be working most closely with during the conference), it might make sense to explain it to them ahead of time — “FYI, I’ll be visibly pregnant while we’re there and I know sometimes people want to save the pregnant lady from physical activity — but I’m fully capable of running mics during sessions, etc. and wanted to preemptively say I don’t want to modify anything I’m normally responsible for! I’m looking forward to it.” (You might throw in a joke to lighten this up if there’s any risk of this reading in your office as martyr-ish.)

5. Saying you’ve graduated when it’s a few months away

My son, who graduates high school in early June, is filling out applications for park maintenance and the like for seasonal summer employment. These ask if he is a high school graduate, and he is answering “Yes,” while also uploading his resume with a grad date of “June 2023.” Is he handling this correctly, when he hasn’t technically graduated yet?

He’ll have graduated by the time he’d be beginning work, so it’s fine to answer “yes” to that question to avoid being wrongly screened out.

how can you get around automated screening questions when you’re actually qualified for the job?

{ 210 comments… read them below }

  1. E*

    As a client I’d be horrified if someone handling my confidential information had recently broken that boundary. To me violating that makes her not a great candidate period.

    1. Observer*

      Agreed. Don’t recommend her, and tell her why. This is the kind of field where it’s almost impossible that discretion is not crucial.

      If you get asked about her, be factual and calm. You gave her information in confidence and she broke that confidence – and clearly it was not for a significant need. (If someone’s life were at stake, eg, it would be a different narrative.)

      1. LG*

        I’m sure her reason for breaking confidentiality was for her own personal need – to brag about her new position. It shows a total lack of maturity, and she shouldn’t be recommended for this job at all.

        1. Language Lover*

          Not only are her reasons probably self-serving but she probably played fast and loose with this information because it doesn’t fall into the more protected confidentiality like HIPAA and therefore, she’s not afraid of the consequences.

          lw, you no longer feel comfortable giving her a hearty recommendation so you shouldn’t. It’s pretty simple and everything about that is fair.

          I think the best thing you could do now is tell her that she’s going to have to go through the process like everyone else. If they approach you for a reference/assessment, be as straight forward and clear as you can. You will be retired. Let them assess her trustworthiness.

        2. LifeBeforeCorona*

          In a moment of frustration I confided in a co-worker my plan to resign and told them it was very confidential. They immediately informed my manager and I was forced to have an uncomfortable meeting as to what would keep me. Since all the problems were longstanding issues that they had no interest in fixing it was awkward. My ideal response was that the person who violated my confidence was an example as to why I was leaving but instead I said nothing and left the org sooner than I had planned. Amy clearly has poor judgement and unless she thoroughly understands what she did was wrong, she shouldn’t be moving forward.

          1. Michelle Smith*

            I agree with everything you said, but I would still find it weird if someone who works at a company that provides a service I need thought it was important to let me know that someone who might be replacing them after they retired let the cat out of the bag about my retirement when I asked them not to. It would come across as spreading drama to me and I wouldn’t be comfortable with that conversation. She hasn’t even gotten the job.

            1. Michelle Smith*

              about their retirement. Sorry the pronouns are getting all confused. I just mean I would find this gossipy as the client to be given this information by the LW especially at this point.

          2. Lisa G*

            I’m sorry a similar thing happened to you. I’m a fairly cynical, cautious person, but what Amy did definitely caught me off guard. Like your colleague, she probably felt important to share news that wasn’t hers to share. I suspect she’ll end up staying unhappily in her current job.

      2. Sean*

        Not only that but when you told Amy, she acknowledged that it was indeed confidential.

        So if this all comes out in the wash, resulting in another candidate filling your role, there’s no way Amy can claim it was just a misunderstanding, or that she didn’t realise she was breaking confidences.

        She agreed with you that it was confidential, then she spread the word as soon as your back was turned in full knowledge of what she was doing.

        If she then does that to a client who values discretion, they might not be a client for much longer.

    2. Need tea*

      Yes, I’d definitely see what Amy did as a red flag. OP, make it clear that you no longer support her as your successor.

      1. Lisa G*

        OP here again. I believe it’s crystal clear that I will no longer support Amy taking over my job when I retire. I have been extremely icy to her and that will not change. We previously were friendly. She knows she blew it.

    3. Peanut Hamper*

      Adding my voice to this.

      The question for me is: if she’s not maintaining confidentiality about this, what else might she not maintain confidentiality on?

    4. Cait*

      I agree that what Amy did was 100% wrong and OP has every right to pull their recommendation but I would caution them to be more careful about what they disclose and to whom when it comes to future employment plans (although retirement should relieve most of that).

      Even if Amy were totally trustworthy, a hundred different things might happen between now and your retirement that affect your retirement plans or the business in general. So then there’s a chance you might need to backpedal, which isn’t a great look. I also get wanting to let Amy know ahead of time so she can throw her hat in the ring but… it didn’t sound absolutely necessary. And when you disclose something you intend to keep quiet (esp. if it affects your work life), you need to understand there’s a chance word will get out, no matter how close you think you are to the other party.

      So while I think what Amy did was terrible and definitely deserves you backing out of your previous declaration, I’d warn anyone against ever announcing any future, professional plans until everything is set in stone and the word can spread without repercussions to their work life.

    5. LR*

      Agreed, and in addition to issues with trustworthiness and discretion, this raises some huge questions for me about her general intelligence and people skills.

      If someone comes to you and tells you they’re going to stick their neck out and hopefully help get you promoted, responding by backstabbing that person in an easily provable way is… quite the choice.

      1. Lisa G*

        I definitely felt betrayed since I stuck my neck out for her. No deed goes unpunished, right?

    6. Lisa G*

      I very much am horrified, and I still haven’t gotten over it weeks later. I agree it’s best not to recommend this person. They simply can’t be trusted.

  2. NeutralJanet*

    I misread the title as asking if a meh middle schooler could make a good CEO and was trying to figure out if the possible CEO in question was an adult who did poorly in middle school or if they were in fact currently a preteen, and was ready to answer “absolutely yes” to the first and “no, but the grades aren’t the big problem here” to the second.

    I’m going to say no to the question as asked as well, just because there’s no indication that the manager WOULD be a good CEO and there is an indication that the manager is not great at prioritizing the company’s success.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Thank you for that, because I saw it the same way, too.

      C’mon brain, it’s Tuesday, not Monday!

    2. allathian*

      A friend started a computer assembly business with one of his friends when he was 15. He wasn’t the CEO but he hired (without pay or for a nominal sum) his dad to act like one until he was 18 and could sign legally binding contracts.

  3. My Dear Wormwood*

    #: yes, get stickers!

    I too have autism and probably ADHD and there are things I do in the office that I was worried would look unprofessional, like wearing earplugs. But when you tell people it helps you stay organised or helps you concentrate, most people just think you’re an organised and disciplined person.

    And you are! You’ve worked out a way to be organised and you’re sticking (ha!) to it, therefore you’re an organised person.

    1. Observer*

      I’m not autistic, nor do I have ADHD (that I know of). But I very much agree with you. Nothing unprofessional looking here.

      1. SarahKay*

        Seconding this hard. For context, I am also neurotypical, and have been in my current profession for 15+ years. I recently went through my main ‘how-to’ notebook adding little coloured tabs to identify each section. Things to note:
        a) The sticky notes came from my office stores, so are clearly considered professional supplies.
        b) Not long after doing it someone talked about how well organised I am, and specifically referred to the coloured tabs as one of the reasons they thought it.
        OP#3, go for it!

        1. BlueSwimmer*

          I get similar remarks. I find it so funny how people talk about how organized I am, when I am ADHD and have to set up visible systems to keep myself organized. The visible systems are a sign that “I” am not organized on my own, which is why I need a system.

          1. MadCatter*

            ADHDer here as well, and I get similar comments. It’s a little funny because my systems are set up because my brain is a disorganized mess but it’s nice to know it doesn’t look like that from the outside, I guess!

          2. mall*

            I started keeping a personal and work planner for the same reason (because I have ADHD and needed remedial help with organization), and now everyone thinks I’m totally organized because of the planners. I do full-on decorative and functional stickers, and I don’t know if anyone thinks any of the more decorative stuff is unprofessional. The decorations are mostly just a strip of washi at the tops and bottoms of the pages, and the rest of the functional stickers are color-coordinated to it with a monthly, seasonal theme.

      2. Sloanicota*

        At first I was picturing cartoons or animals or something, which I was wondering might cross the line, and even then I was like “well, if it helps, it helps!” but office-oriented shapes like arrows? Go for it! You’re just going to look like you really care about getting it right.

        1. korangeen*

          Same! When I heard the stickers were just going to be arrows and dots, and that no one else was even going to be using the notebook, I was like “well that’s so benign I’m not sure why you even had to ask.” But even for less boring stickers, it’s your notebook, do what you want!

          1. coffee*

            I had the exact same thought pattern! I’d say it’s more than benign, but a positive. I’d be impressed they were so organised with their stickers.

    2. Casper Lives*

      Agreed!! I might have ADHD (diagnosed but unsure). I need help staying organized, as do loads of people. LW’s way is much better than my “stacks of paper / many word docs open or I’ll forget” lack of good system.

      Switching to electronic only has worsened my organization. Go for anything that helps in reason. Professional stickers are a great idea.

    3. GingerApple*

      Yes, stickers, make everything better! I have been using cute little stickers for 40 years in the work place, a fun and feminine flaire

    4. AlwhoisThatAl*

      Definitely stickers and anything else you can think of. Appointments in Alphabetical and date orders, Departments signified by colour. Documents in Priority order. It would look great to any messy person like myself with documents everywhere. It’s something that should be recognised, so many people with this sort of thing are far better organisers, why it isn’t recognised as the advantage it is baffles me.
      Read a story on Reddit AntiWork about a random young guy was spotted in a hardware store just re-doing the nuts and bolts baskets, talked to him and asked him to bring his mum which he did to explain the situation. They offered him a job on the spot. He had Autism and the hardware section was totally immaculate as long as he worked there.

    5. sewsandreads*

      100% agree! Reading this made me go, “ooh, now that’s an idea I could get behind myself!” And now I’m off to google!

    6. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Things like this are sold in office supply stores for a reason–go for it.

      Efficiency tools are work related, so why not put a small packet of mixed-color markers or sticker-dots into the office’s next supply request?

      (To be clear though, I mean office grade items not luxury/executive ones or artist-studio supplies.)

    7. Zoe Karvounopsina*

      I am currently looking at mid-year diaries, and I was worried about balancing what I like (fun! floral!) with what looks ‘professional’ but the key is that I have to like it enough to use it! If I don’t like how it looks, I will be less likely to take it out of my bag.

      1. Be Gneiss*

        I have one with a nice embossed cover and little line-art drawings on the pages – and it’s Star Wars themed. The art is subtle enough to be the kind of think you’d catch if you were really looking, or maybe at a glance in a IYKYK way, but it’s not childish or cartoony. I’ve gotten tons of compliments on it. I can’t see how floral would read as unprofessional. You should go with something that you love, so you WANT to use it!

        1. Michelle Smith*

          I had a supervisor once whose desk was fully covered in these intricate Star Wars collectable figurines. Not only did I find it easier to approach him because he shared that bit of humanity at work (it was a law office, so typically a very uptight and stuffy place which sucked for a person like me), but he was definitely one of the smartest and most talented attorneys I ever met. I learned a lot from him.

          It helped give me the confidence to get my bright pink office supplies (stapler, hole punch, etc.) that I really liked and if someone thought less of me for it, they never said anything to me. My reviews were always stellar.

          1. It’sAlwaysSunny83*

            I’ve had a deadpool water bottle, marvel phone cases, marvel and WWE patterned walking sticks. I’ve never had my professionalism questioned. I’ve also worked in a variety of sectors.

      2. fine tipped pen aficionado*

        Hell yeah live your best life. I like everything to be aesthetically pleasing and literally everyone thinks I’m so organized and put together even though my aesthetic is “unicorn-obsessed 7 year old”. I have tricked them all into thinking I am crushing it at life with my pastel post it task list on the wall. They don’t know I’m just engaged in an elaborate game of tricking my brain into making dopamine!

      3. Just Another Fed*

        For a decade my office ordered everyone the same bog standard annual planner book, and I would shove it in a drawer and ignore it. This year they announced we could pick our own, and it’s amazing how much better organized I am with a planner I actually like to look at. (It’s brown and pocket-sized and has a picture of a tree on it.) I’m a little embarrassed it never occurred to me before to just…buy my own.

    8. Hotdog not dog*

      From someone who color codes just about everything….unless they’re scratch and sniff stickers, they’re fine! I keep a notebook with random bits from my day, and between the different colors and the doodles to indicate whether it’s something that needs further action and what kind of action, it almost looks like a coloring book at first glance.

    9. EngineeringFun*

      I am a principal engineer with a scattered brain. I have an engineering notebook where I make lists. Then I highlight the lists with blue for done, green for obsolete and yellow for moved to the next list. Purple or pink could mean something important or fun! Also during meetings I tend to sketch/cartoon in the margins of my notebook. This is my long way of saying your stickers are totally fine and totally normal.

    10. NothingIsLittle*

      I’ve got ADHD and suspected, but undiagnosed, Autism; I use a lot of stickers! I have all sorts of fun ones, some with just colorful florals and others with little cats in outfits making silly poses. I also have a bunch of colored pens and markers. They’re used my notebook and I’ve gotten complements from many people.

      Of note: I work in a casual museum, so my work environment is more relaxed overall. I don’t know if more fun or zany stickers would fly in more traditional fields like banking, though arrow and bullet point stickers seem like they would fly. You can take note from your coworkers’ desk decorations to tell you how out of the box your stickers can skew.

    11. Jojo*

      I have learning disabilities, and I use different color inks and I have a sticky note system. No one cares about it as long as I’m getting my work done. (I had a sticky note failure this morning, but caught myself before forgetting something/someone). You are fine. I agree with some others, you will look very professional and organized and will likely get questions on your system.

    12. EPLawyer*

      Ditto — go get your stickers. Organizational tools are fine. Like Alison said, others will go oooo good idea. Just like you have seen here.

    13. Maglev No Longer to Crazytown*

      I have playful stickers in my personal planner. I do complex theme layouts (think months/seasons) combining traditional planner with bullet journal, and use stickers in lieu of my completely lacking personal art skills. I am very personal about the contents of my planner, much like I wouldn’t be going into someone else’s either. But the times people have noticed the stickers and colors, I have gotten a nothing but positive comments and even people telling me they wish they could be that organized. I had a few coworkers come back to me a few weeks later to show off all of the pretty pens and markers they got because they wanted to try to do the same.

      I always explained it as customizing my planner helped me dialogue with it, and really become invested in using it, which keeps me honest about remaining organized. I can’t use a planner than makes me feel like it is the equivalent of visiting a security max prison.

    14. Retired Professor*

      Go for the organization aids! I was quite unorganized after graduating and tried many organization systems over the years. They morphed over time into MY system and life. Being on the autism spectrum, the routines really worked for me. Meanwhile, I went from a disorganized person using aids to the most organized person I knew. On my evaluations, organization went from a weakness to my greatest strength!

    15. lilsheba*

      Yeah I don’t even understand why this is a question. Use whatever you stickers you want it doesn’t matter, it’s what helps you and is important to you, don’t worry about how it looks to anyone else.

    16. Lucy P*

      Does anyone have links to websites with these kinds of suggestions for working in an office? I work with someone with ADHD, who is also on the spectrum. I’ve tried everything that I know to do including given handwritten task lists and frequent reminders (which makes me feel like I’m micromanaging). The task lists get buried under other paperwork and the reminders are forgotten in less than an hour.

      I don’t want to thrust anything onto them as if to say they have to do it that way, but if they happened to try this and it finally clicked, it would be awesome. As I understand, their forgetfulness is very frustrating to them.

      Also, I love colored and patterned stickers and post-it notes. For me it’s not so much an organizational thing, but something that gives me a pop of cheeriness during my day. I will use the patterned post-it notes with coworkers but avoid using them with higher-ups (we’re still a paper kind of office and not one that uses digital messages/email and such).

      1. Fran*

        Bring in your own fun notebook and encourage others in your office to try to create their own planners as well. The notebook may not work for your employee but it’s a way to try

    17. Stickers!*

      OP3: go for the stickers and don’t be defensive about it! If anyone sees it, you’re more likely to get a ‘wow, you’re so organised’ than any other reaction.

    18. Reluctant Mezzo*

      I knew someone who had post-its in colors I never knew existed and we all loved them. The company told her, ‘these are the colors we buy for the office. Here is the catalog for if you want to order others.’ I thought that was a fair compromise.

  4. Louisiana Jones*

    Re: 1: I have seen okay to middle of the road to generally good teachers (my profession) go on to become great and excellent principals.
    Of course, teaching kids how to read, do algebra, and understand nuclear fusion is a different skill set than doing more managing of adults and their own personal-professional work/skills/development.
    So, yes. People can be just okay in one part of an organization, but excel in another.

    1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      And hopefully, all that leadership training will help them too.
      It sounds like this manager is good at impressing his own superiors, which is the way to go, especially since the superiors rarely think to ask the underlings what they think.

    2. Snow Globe*

      It sounds like *this* manager likely wouldn’t be a great CEO, but, since I hate absolutes, I’d agree that it is possible for a “meh” manager to turn out to be a great CEO under some circumstances. For example, a someone who is usually a great individual contributor might be a poor performer if their direct manager isn’t great (constantly changing goals, incomplete information, etc.) Similarly, it’s possible that someone who could be a great manager has similar issues with *their* boss, and it might look to someone on their team as if the manager is pretty mediocre.

  5. learnedthehardway*

    With OP#1 – I wouldn’t say that all “meh” middle managers would be lousy CEOs. Some people are genuinely best at big picture, visionary thinking, can see several chess moves ahead, can anticipate what the competition is going to do, what the industry trends are, figure out what needs to be done, and need other people to do the actual delivery work to get things where they need to go. Usually, these people have made their way through middle management, but they’re not all great people managers. They’re usually passable people managers, though.

    In your situation, your manager doesn’t sound like a visionary, big picture CEO – they sound ambitious (for themselves, not for the organization). They also sound like they have a bit of Dunning-Kruger effect going on – ie. they don’t know what they don’t know, and don’t realize their limitations, and aren’t willing to consider that they have any. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like the board president sees your manager’s limitations, either. Hopefully, the selection process for the new CEO will be rigorous, and will include people who look for real accomplishments rather than flimflam.

    1. EPLawyer*

      You hit the nail on the head. All the professional speaking is for THEIR benefit to make them a SME on leadership. They aren’t speaking about the organization and its accomplishments but how great they are. They are watching leadership development for themselves. They want info to go through them so they look like they have all the information — even when they don’t. None of that is centered on the organization.

    2. Sloanicota*

      To be fair, I’ve also seen people who are excellent CEOs mostly because of their contacts – people who (in my business) can pick up the phone and get contact from lawmakers, or who have a rolodex of big donors or influencers that can move the needle on the company’s goals. These people are not-infrequently poor to middling managers, but they are generally highly valued. Sometimes to the detriment of other goals.

      1. Avery*

        I’ve had a boss like that, though it was in the nonprofit sector so she was President, not CEO. But she was genuinely great at connecting with people on a peer-to-peer basis, presenting the organization’s cause to others whether they were already like-minded or not, had lots of personal connections that could make a big difference when it came to fulfilling our goals… horrible manager, though, and a lot of the reason why I left that job, but very good at all the organization leadership activities that don’t require managing those lower on the org chart.

    3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      I had similar thoughts about this person. “This job is beneath me; I deserve the CEO slot, so I’m going to act like what I think a CEO does instead of actually managing my site.”

    4. Elenna*

      Yeah, my response to the letter was “some ‘meh’ middle managers can be good CEOs, but it doesn’t sound like this one is one of them”

  6. AcademiaNut*

    In my experience, there can be quite a difference in skills needed at a middle manager level, and those at the top management level, and they don’t necessarily transfer. At the middle level, the manager is applying decisions made at higher levels, and managing individual people (or projects). At the higher level, they’re making those decisions, doing long term strategic planning, and high level politics in whatever the field is.

    I will say that in my branch of academia, I’ve never seen a poor people/project manager be a good higher level manager. I do know people whose research was unremarkable, but who turned out to be very good at the management end, those being very, very different skills. Plus lots of competent researchers who were terrible people/project managers, and competent faculty who excelled at supervising students but faltered at the director level.

    1. kiki*

      There are different skills needed at the middle management level and top management level, but I think middle management and top management have more overlap in skills than, say, being an individual contributor and being a director. The best middle manager won’t necessarily make the best CEO, but I would be wary of promoting somebody like LW’s boss who seems very focused on seeming CEO-like but a bit hesitant to involve themselves in day-to-day actual work.

  7. SB*

    I say use the sparkly stickers. It is YOUR notebook for YOUR to-do list & if those stickers keep you on track why on earth would anyone care what they look like (obviously you probably shouldn’t use anything obscene)? I too have a big dumb ADHD brain that needs constant reminders to keep on task so I use visual aides to assist, including sticky notes, pretty coloured pens & a stash of scratch & sniff stickers I snagged at a bookshop clearance sale. They smell like fruit. I am on task day to day & my diary looks amazing. Everyone is happy.

    1. Hotdog not dog*

      Be careful with the scratch and sniff stickers. I had a colleague complain that my office smelled like fake strawberries and said it gave her headaches.

      1. DJ Abbott*

        Yes, the scent is made by chemicals that people can be sensitive to.
        I avoid these chemicals because they’ve been shown to cause disruption of the immune system, which causes new allergies to form. Not always, but it can happen. I’m sorry if that disappoints anyone.

  8. Heidi*

    I’m curious to know how people feel about leadership training activities. It doesn’t seem that they’re making OP1’s manager a great leader, but maybe he’d be worse without having done them. Plus it seems to have given him networking opportunities, and maybe that’s the whole point.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It sounds like the issue is that it’s a lot of them and they’re being done at the expense of higher priority things (as the LW sees it, anyway).

      1. Small Business Guy*

        Sounds like he goes to them because it impresses the guy in charge of finding the next CEO. He seems to be doing the exact right thing to move himself forward, and that’s not aligned with moving the organization forward or being a good manager.

        1. Grith*

          But of course, if he is the perfect manager, maybe doing this stuff is purely because he’s identified what his superiors value and is flexing to show that off?

          It’s an interesting theoretical question (as much as any question can be when the only possible correct answer is “…sometimes?”), but I’m not sure it’s immediately relevant to LW1. Someone described as “responsible, sane, and skilled at nipping employee interpersonal conflicts in the bud” moving up to CEO isn’t setting off “get out now” alarm bells to me regardless of the other listed negatives.

          So barring other significant factors we haven’t been told about, this just seems like a wait and see situation, possibly even riding her boss’ coattails up a level if the opportunity arises.

        2. Sloanicota*

          To be fair, a lot of people promoted to leadership don’t really take the time to think big-picture about their new role, especially if they’re heavily immersed in the day to day of their work. I’d love more CEOs to think about what style of leadership they want to have, what the practical implications of some of their choices are, what signals they’re sending or not sending. However, that can’t be the end of the job haha. It could probably be just reading a few books or something.

      2. constant_craving*

        It’s interesting- I read “leadership zooms” as him joining in on meetings with higher-level leadership rather than trainings. It seems like the amount of time away from his core responsibilities is still a problem, but if it’s the case I wonder if that contributes to the CEO thinking he has leadership potential.

    2. Tio*

      The problem with leadership trainings in general is that they run the gamut from “Oh, wow, I never thought of that, what good advice” to “What a waste of my time” to “Oh god I can’t believe you’d suggest someone ever do that”. There are a lot of “coaches” and “trainers” floating around nowadays that couldn’t manage their way out of a paper bag, and even some good companies have trainings so bland as to basically teach nothing at all. That said, I’ve had a couple very good ones, particularly at my recent jobs, so they do exist.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        A lot of them are nothing but buzzwords, as well.

        The moment I hear “synergistic” I start to tune out, because while that word does have an actual definition, it has pretty much lost all practical meaning whatsoever.

    3. AlsoADHD*

      I think LW having an issue with it is reasonable but I also think it’s realistic — the whole story. A lot of moving up in many organizations is “looking leaderly” and found leadership things rather than actually doing great work. That’s not great but it’s also wildly common I think. I don’t think leadership training is good or bad, necessarily, but I don’t think many people go to them because of the skills as much as the checkbox to move up. The boss may not WANT to do their current middle management job frankly and may be bad at it for that reason or many others. Or they may be fine to company standards but not good to work for (happens a lot). I think you’re right that the networking was the larger point.

    4. Qwerty*

      I think the manager is watching leadership trainings aimed at how to move up the ladder or how to sound like an executive rather than on how to be a good manager. There is a very big difference.

      It would explain why the higher ups love him – the manager has learned to speak their language, or he is spouting off the high-level leadership ideals without actually implementing them, etc. I’ve worked with some managers like that and they were always very focused on quickly getting promoted rather than doing their current job well.

    5. Decidedly Me*

      Participating in training doesn’t matter if you don’t put it into practice. Training can be amazing and relevant, but none of it matters if you do nothing about it. We don’t know if this training is any good, though, and giving the aspirations, it’s less likely it’s relevant to their current role.

  9. nnn*

    #4: The bit about this work being easier than chasing after your toddler is compelling and effective messaging if you want to use that, although I do realize not everyone wants to mention their kids in work contexts.

    1. Observer*

      I think it’s healthy to ditch the idea that it’s never ok to mention the existence of one’s children in a work context. That holds true in spades when someone is obviously expecting.

      It’s not like the OP is going to be bending people’s ears about her BRILLIANT, GIFT TO MANKIND< INCREDIBLY TALENTED child or even just "normal" boring oversharing. It's just a comment that makes sense in the context.

    2. Lucky Meas*

      I agree, I think that any change in how people treat OP after the mention of her kids (increase in personal questions, parental discrimination, etc) would already happen as soon as they see she is pregnant. So mentioning the kid can’t make things worse, imo.

    3. overthinking*

      Definitely! If you’re comfortable talking about it, it could be a great way to weave humour into it: “I’m looking forward to a break from wrangling my toddler and engaging in some relaxing, light mic-running activity” or something.

    4. Varthema*

      Yeah, it even works in the moment – “oh please, this is nothing compared to chasing after and lifting my toddler!”

      1. bamcheeks*

        At eight months’ pregnant with #2, I took my 3yo shopping for new shoes and she fell fully fast-asleep on the bus home. I had to get down the stairs from the top deck, carrying a fast-asleep 3yo, and then try and wangle a pushchair out of the luggage rack (fortunately someone took pity and helped me with that!), get off the bus and unfold the pushchair, with both a nearly-full-grown bump and the big one slumped over my shoulder. Carrying a freaking MICROPHONE? I got this!

    5. bamcheeks*

      Yes, that made me laugh because I remember that stage so well! All the careful things I did in my first pregnancy like eating properly, getting early nights, avoiding small children with their hundreds of germs, staying off my feet etc went out the window in my second and subsequent pregnancies because , toddler. Work went from being the most strenuous thing I did to the nice relaxing place where I COULD sit down and take a break if I wanted to.

      1. KateM*

        I found out something similar when I stayed home with sprained foot and understood it would have gotten more rest at work.

      2. Annika*

        My co-worker came back to work sooner than she planned after having her baby. She called work more relaxing. And she was so happy to go to the bathroom alone.

      3. Yoyoyo*

        Yup, I never understood how physically demanding parenting is until I had a child. Work is my time to rest my body! Running a microphone around to people is much easier than carrying my writhing toddler down the stairs because he wants to hop down instead of walking and has no impulse control.

    6. SansaStark*

      I totally agree and it allows those of us who would be unintentionally insisting to have an AHA! moment. I often find that light humor gets the point across without being needlessly heavy-handed and allows everyone to just move on gracefully from the moment.

    7. NOT The BEES!*

      this made me laugh in a different way bc this was so me during my 1st -3rd pregnancies. Now 7th months pregnant with my fourth (and I’m much older) and I can’t even bend down to pick something up off a floor and I really envy the spry pregnant person with toddlers I used to be way back when. Run those mics!

    8. learnedthehardway*

      Agreeing – it’s a good reality check for people who might otherwise unintentionally discriminate against pregnant women in other contexts, as well. A bit of education that a late-stage pregnant woman finds work MORE relaxing than childcare (which she also does) would be good for those folks.

    9. Dahlia*

      I think if people are talking about your pregnancy at work, you’re kind of past the “not talking about your kids in work contexts” stage and a brief mention is not a bad thing. I mean it usually is one of them in there.

  10. RLC*

    #3: Absolutely use those stickers! I’ve used stickers as you describe, plus a myriad of colored pencils, sticky tabs, colored vinyl coated paperclips and such since university and through a 35 year engineering career. Color coded organizational tools are quite common with many professions as they are so helpful.

  11. John Smith*

    #1s manager reminds me of mine. He sits on some advisory panel related to the subject of his role, but not the actual job. Most of his time (inside and outside work – a panelist acquaintance showed me the activity on the Whatsapp group they have) is spent discussing panel matters with fellow panelists at the expense of our actual work and generally brings nothing to the table. Any question is either batted back as “what do you think we should do” or is a generalised summary of the question repeated as an answer. That, coupled with his officious and argumentative nature makes him so bad a manager that when a vacancy arose for a senior manager, several colleagues were pleading for their own managers to apply so that our manager wouldn’t get the role. There’s a saying that a fish rots from the head downwards but it sounds to me that the rot has already set in (in both our organisations).

  12. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP2 (breach of confidence) – I wasn’t sure if the “clients” in the org are people who work there and are clients of OPs contract work, or if they are the org’s “service users”. If they are service users I wouldn’t say anything, however in OPs position I would be very clear with ‘the powers that be’ what had happened and state that on that basis you feel you can no longer recommend Amy for the position. Amy can take that as “revenge” as she likes (although it isn’t), perhaps that will teach her to keep confidences.

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

      Yes, telling all the “clients” about Amy’s breach of confidentiality seems weird to me, depending on the definition of “client.”

  13. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP1 (middle management is below him and wants to be CEO) – I think it is always a bad sign when an organisation becomes ‘besotted’ with someone and goes one of two ways. Either the person is a good bs artist and has marketed themselves successfully with no underlying substance (as seems to be happening here), or the org is pinning its hopes on that person as a sort of saviour (no evidence here, but also common).

    Of course as a CEO he would have a lot more opportunity for ‘style over substance’ leadership and do more damage, as the answer pointed out.

    I think it would be best if he pursued opportunities at other orgs when the time comes to move up. If there is any substance to his conference speaking etc then that will come out, I think people in the current org just like OP will find it difficult to respect.him and be suspicious of his motives (personal gain vs what is best for the org)

    Does it reflect badly on the org that he is speaking at events from the perspective of CEO/vision level stuff (presumed but a reasonable assumption) although he is ‘only’ a middle manager? I wonder if he is being quite truthful about his position to the other attendees. I also wonder if he is associating the org’s name with his activities (e.g. presenter this week will be John Smith of ABC Org, as opposed to presenter this week will be John Smith who is self-representing).

  14. Napkin Thief*

    OP#4 – I was working an on-my-feet, occasional light lifting job during my first pregnancy, and I leaned into things like “this is my exercise for the day!” “it’s good for me to keep moving!” That takes the “concern for pregnant person” and redirects it to support what you’re already doing instead of trying to counteract it.

    1. TROI*

      I like this advice. Also, there are sometimes benefits to just letting someone do something simple for you when it doesn’t make more work. It makes the person offering feel good about themselves and can be a little boost to the relationship, which is really nice when you are mostly remote.

    2. KateM*

      When I was heavily pregnant, people kept offering me a seat on bus, while the truth was that I was so much more confortable standing that sitting (especially on bus) when legs would press into belly.

      1. Lenora Rose*

        I preferred sitting to standing – to the point of preferring riding a bike to work over walking. But each body is different and I try and take the pregnant person at their word.

  15. Emmy Noether*

    #4 (pregnant LW), I’ve been there. I had a fairly easy second and third trimester, and stayed pretty active (current medical advice is to stay as active as comfortably possible). I still rode my bike everywhere, walked a lot, took the stairs, etc. People tried to take things off my hands, but generally backed off after a cheerful “thanks, I got this, trying to stay active!”.

    You just have to ignore the looks people tend to give you (which one has to do all the time as a parent anyway, so…)

    Most annoying was probably a supermarket deli salesperson who was shocked!!! that I was there shopping alone and insisted on knowing who was accompanying me. What if my water broke? I was like, dude, this isn’t a Hollywood movie, don’t worry, I’m not about to give birth on the deli counter, that’s not how it goes in real life.

    1. Observer*

      That must have been SOOO annoying! But it’s a really funny story. Did the idiot really think that a pregnant women is never ever alone?

    2. A Simple Narwhal*

      When I hit my third trimester my dad solemnly told me that he didn’t want me driving alone anymore and if I needed to go somewhere (and my husband couldn’t take me), to call him and he would give me a ride. He was apparently convinced/terrified I would go into labor and have the baby alone in the car.

      He was immediately and appropriately chewed out for being ridiculous by my mom.

    3. coffee*

      On the upside, it would be so easy to get your baby weighed if you gave birth at the deli counter. He probably thought you had plans for the scales. (j/k j/k)

  16. Varthema*

    OP#4, I was worried about the same thing when I attended a conference at around the same stage, but I shouldn’t have worried – I was treated so scrupulously normally that I wasn’t even offered a seat in a crowded presentation room and had to stand for the duration. Actually wouldn’t have minded a bit of solicitousness just then!

  17. Madame*

    Lw#3, not only are stickers, coloured pens etc absolutely fine, many offices provide them to assist staff. And not as a special accommodation for neurodiversity or anything, just because it’s a perfectly usual handy sort of equipment they expect people to want. In my public sector (ie they aren’t extravagant with the budget!) office we have an array of coloured highlighters, coloured dot stickers, many colours and sizes of those little index tab sticky notes (*looks at packaging* pop up tabs?) which I am faintly obsessed with, coloured plastic paper clips, coloured bulldog clips (very good as a fixed bookmark for a notebook, I find) and sticky notes in three sizes and four neon colours! We only have biros in blue and black but could order red or green.
    Then anything fancy you want to get yourself is fine – we all envied a colleague’s unicorn sticky notes, and I myself have one of those eight-colour biros beloved of 12yo girls…
    Over here Poundland is good for novelty stationery (or Paperchase if you are a bit fancy) so I say get to Dollar Tree and stock up!

  18. Same*

    OP1, the answer in my hard-won experience is “no”. It’s much more likely that someone who is useless as a lower level manager will cause even more harm at a higher level. And I’ve experienced plenty of managers who are okay, or even good, at a lower or middle level, become absolute monsters once they’re promoted to a higher level.

    1. Serenity by Jan*

      Yep, I once worked for a manager who was very solid when she was at the mid-level, and monster (or actually I have more choice words) describes what she became once she reached senior management.

      Based on OP 1’s description, I’m willing to bet that manager will be even worse in the senior ranks.

  19. DarkMatter*

    Not related to this post.
    I remember seeing a letter a week ago (?) from an OP, who went back to visit a workplace they were fired from the next day. I didn’t have time to read Alison’s answer or the comments and can’t find it now?

  20. There's a G&T with my name on it*

    OP#3 – use your stickers! As a likely autistic and ADHD person myself, I’m always interested in learning how people manage their work. One colleague got me into bullet journaling a few years back which worked for a while, and at the moment I’m trying Todoist, so if you were to bring your notebook in I’d probably ask questions to see if it would work for me, not to accuse you of being unprofessional!

  21. MistOrMister*

    Re the stickers – they sound like a fabulous idea and I think you are not realizing how organized they will make you look. Having the sorts of stickers mentioned is going to make you look organized and on top of the ball. As long as you are not spending an inordinate amount of time using them. I use color coding of text and highlighting in various colors in my notes in word docs for work and it can be so incredibly helpful. That said, I had a coworker who had a whole process of printing out EVERYTHING (why, I don’t know, we had 2 screens and that should have been enough for what she needed to do) and then spent absolutely ages highlighting what she needed. It was super wasteful (she would print an entire 10 page document then throw away the 9 pages she didn’t need rather than only printing the 1 page she needed) and took her absolutely forever. I am all for people color coding or highlighting or whatever, but it took her longer to do all that than it did to do the actual work. So inefficient! sorry, rant over. Long story short – stickers for organizing are fine!

  22. UKgreen*

    If I have learned anything about offices over the 20+ years I’ve been working, is that there’s no such thing as ‘too much’ when it comes to stationery. Stickers, post-its, coloured pens and pads… just be careful people don’t steal stuff!

    1. Delta Delta*

      This. I have an entire rainbow of Pilot pens and I am not afraid to use them. And I buy more even when I don’t need them.

  23. Hiring Mgr*

    I can understand not recommending Amy, but I don’t get why you would mention any of this to the clients.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Because you don’t want to leave them in the lurch. A client is someone you’ve had a long-term working relationship with.

      Imagine their surprise when they show up expecting you and there’s somebody else different there that they will now be working with permanently and they were never given a heads-up. It would be confusing and unsettling for a lot of people. They will appreciate knowing that you are leaving, but that they will still be well taken care of by someone who is at least as capable as you.

      1. linger*

        Yes! If a client is planning anything with a timeline of more than four months, it would be appropriate for Amy to mention that there may be a change in contact person over that time. Where Amy overstepped was in assuming her promotion was a done deal, and communicating it as such to the client. This is certainly a mistake, but not necessarily the big red flag that OP sees it as, unless OP has also seen Amy sharing client information inappropriately. If OP has any concerns in the latter regard, it may be worth having a conversation with Amy about exactly how that news came to be shared, as a way of helping Amy reinforce boundaries around what she tells clients about the org and (more seriously) about each other. It should be seen as a teaching moment, rather than a disqualifying event.

        1. Proofreader*

          Once the LW informs the company of her impending retirement, it becomes the companies responsibility to decide when and how it’s announced. It certainly isn’t Amy’s responsibility to jump the gun and start informing clients, particularly when the LW made it clear they had not informed the company yet.

        2. HonorBox*

          No. Where Amy overstepped was saying anything at all to the client. The OP has a right to make the announcement about their retirement themself and at the time of their choosing. They’ve been working there for 14 years so I imagine (and we’re to take a LW at their word) that they’re sharing it at a time that isn’t going to leave the client in the lurch.

          If the client and Amy were discussing something more than four months out, Amy didn’t have to say anything in the moment. She could have spoken to OP and let that information inform their decision about how and when to share news of their retirement. It isn’t Amy’s news to share. Period.

        3. Colette*

          I disagree that it was appropriate for Amy to mention. The OP was planning to give 4 months notice, but hadn’t given it yet, so there was no solid plan for her to retire. Amy had been asked to keep it confidential; there was no reason to share it. On any long-term project, it is possible that the people involved will change; saying “the people involved might change” isn’t adding any useful information until there is an actual plan.

          The fact is that many jobs invole keeping some information confidential, and Amy violated confidentiality by sharing something she had specifically agreed not to share.

        4. Observer*

          If a client is planning anything with a timeline of more than four months, it would be appropriate for Amy to mention that there may be a change in contact person over that time.

          Even then it’s a major overstep.

          This is certainly a mistake, but not necessarily the big red flag that OP sees it as

          Hard disagree. You don’t share other people’s information without a real need, and there was none here. In a field like this NOT sharing needs to the be the default and you need to have a good explicit reason to share. Otherwise mistakes and excuses get made. And even when it’s not a LEGAL issue, it can create problems.

          HIPAA’s passed because *legal* sharing of confidential information was such a problem. It’s worth noting that this law is actually not a privacy law, but a law about medical records access. But there was a lot of opposition to various aspects of the law, and the thing that got it over the line was the added privacy protection – I’d be willing to bet that it is on the list of 10 most bipartisan items passed by our Congress.

          Same for all other privacy related laws. It was never ok to share that information, and these laws just basically encoded that into law. Just because something is legal doesn’t make it OK. And in some cases, it more that not ok.

        5. Qwerty*

          The OP had not given notice yet and still had a right to change her mind or timeline. This is more like your coworker telling your boss that you are quitting. Amy kinda put in OP’s notice for her, which is really inappropriate and negatively affected OP’s relationship with the client. Especially because Amy had already agreed that it was confidential information.

          Amy damaged OP’s professional reputation, I don’t see why the OP should be under any obligation to turn it into a gentle teaching moment. OP was doing something positive for Amy by agreeing to recommend her for the role. Losing out on OP’s recommendation *is* a teaching moment – actions have consequences.

          Honestly I suspect the reason Amy spilled the beans was to ensure that she was more likely to get the role. Amy had *asked* OP to recommend her – it was not a guarantee that she would get the position and not even OP’s idea. Amy presented herself as the presumptive heir and having the client onboard would work in her favor.

    2. Hiring Mgr*

      I meant the part about the LW saying to the clients that she has reservations about Amy’s judgement… That doesn’t sound like something one employee would say about another employee to a client?

      1. WellRed*

        I was really confused by who these clients are and how they figure into all this retirement announcement stuff. Are they patients? Is OP some sort of consultant to a group that provides patient services? At any rate, I’d not recommend Amy.

      2. Peanut Hamper*

        I read that as a typo, based on the other options. I figured LW meant to say “management” not clients.

      3. Exme*

        Agree, that’s too much detail. When the LW is ready to tell the clients about their retirement, LW can explain that the successor has or has not yet been chosen and add anything they can share about timeline if the selection is ongoing.

    3. The Person from the Resume*

      I am contract employee at a large health care organization. I’ve been in this role for 14 years and prior to that was a “real” employee/manager here for several years. I am entrusted with important work, I love my clients.

      I think clients might be the large healthcare organization in this context. Her clients that she has a contract with, but also serving as her boss/employer/the organization paying her. It’s a bit confusing and I initially read clients as patients/customers, but that doesn’t make as much sense with the context of the rest of the letter.

    4. Mockingjay*

      When I put in notice at Former Job, I was not permitted to mention it personally to our government client. The company wanted to line up a replacement first, then present it as: “Mockingjay is leaving, but Sally is stepping right into her place for a seamless transition.”

      Company management gets to decide how/when clients are notified of staff changes.

  24. Kelly*

    #1 I’ve known a few (very) small business owners who talk this HUGE game about their business and their management style in professional conferences and management groups, but in reality they’re just narcissistic jerks who like power and the attention it gets them. I fell for one’s impressive speech at a conference for students and did an externship. His talk of work-life balance and amazing work environment was all puffery. In fact the co-owners HATED each other because one did the things mentioned in the lecture and the other thought he was abandoning the business by having a hobby that took up a lot of time. One of them sexually harassed me during my visit and got removed from my school’s site list.

    The other business I actually worked for. He talked such a great game about us being a team, while treating us like indentured servants. His management group friends thought he was a superstar manager, but it was entirely a facade.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      Yes, I’ve become pretty jaded and cynical after work for an organization where the CEO spent the majority of his time working on various leadership strategies, while ignoring that the organization was falling apart due in no small part to his egregious behavior and tolerance for predatory and illegal behavior by his favored subordinates.

  25. AlsoADHD*

    For LW2, I’m confused if that would really be confidential information? (I think it’s still inappropriate to tell a client and presumptive.) If someone tells me they’re retiring and I’d be great for their position, it would never occur to me that was actual confidential information. It might not even be clear it was private, secret, or said in confidence. But I definitely don’t see how it becomes proprietary, confidential, or protected information (unless I had learned or because they filed such paperwork but it sounds like they just had normal conversations). I don’t see any reason why it has a bearing on how Amy would handle client information, though I do think LW can be miffed and not recommend her.

    1. AlsoADHD*

      Ah, never mind, I missed a paragraph on mobile. Amy knew it was secret. I’m still not sure an individual employee or individual in general can make things “confidential” (which is a legally distinct term I thought) but Amy lacked discretion for sure if OP said not to tell anyone.

      1. ecnaseener*

        I don’t think confidentiality is only a legal term, it can just mean private. Like if someone said to you “please keep this confidential” that doesn’t mean the info is legally protected.

        It’s not confidential on the same legal level as info protected under HIPAA of course (although, fun fact, the relevant section of HIPAA is called the Privacy Rule not the Confidentiality Rule)

      2. Arthenonyma*

        Like ecnaseener says, “confidential” in this context (“please keep this confidential”) just means keep it private, this is not public info, I am trusting you with this and trusting that you will not share it. It’s much more common to use it that way than to indicate any kind of legal category.

    2. OKaye*

      While obviously Amy knew this was a secret, I agree that there’s a big distinction (in my line of work at least, which is legal-adjacent) between confidential information, and private/secret information. LW2 is well within their rights to not recommend her, but referring to this as ‘violating confidentiality’ and thinking it has a bearing on handling other, actual confidential information is a step too far for me.

      1. MsM*

        Eh, “violating” might be a bit strong in this context, but I’d be concerned that if they can’t exercise discretion when there’s no real reason for them to say anything because nothing’s really happened yet, are they going to be able to do it under actual pressure?

      2. AD*

        This is parsing words, and I do think there are a lot of people (me included!) who use the term “confidentiality” in a more colloquial context than in a legal sense. If I said something to a colleague “in confidence” (like in this case) and they tactlessly shared it with others, that could be a big deal for me. Let’s not get hung up on “confidentiality” as a legal concept — I think we all know what OP is concerned about.

      3. Observer*

        thinking it has a bearing on handling other, actual confidential information is a step too far for me.

        Then you don’t really understand how this works. Sure, there is a legal difference. But in real life, the biggest flag for people who are going to violate legally mandate confidentiality is failure to maintain non-legally mandated confidentiality. People who gossip and share information that’s not theirs to share are far more likely to over-step the legally mandated boundaries than people who know how to keep their mouths shut.

        In many cases, sharing information legally can be a job ending and seriously career limiting move.

        I’m going to link to a post where someone got fired for sharing information that was not theirs to share. There are a number of issues in that letter, not just the sharing, but that’s at the core of the issue. And the discussion in the comments really gets to some of the issues.

      4. constant_craving*

        We seem to be in the minority here, but I agree with you. As someone who regularly works with HIPAA-protected information, I read the title and was immediately appalled- how could you even think of recommending someone who broke confidentiality? That’s a firing-level offense. And with OP being in healthcare, that sounded really serious. But no, the coworker just shared a secret. Understandable that OP is upset and OP certainly doesn’t have to recommend the coworker, but the phrasing really had me expecting something much more serious.

        1. upipaniot*

          I had the exact same reaction to reading the title and then seeing the actual situation. Invoking language about “violating confidentiality” seems kind of overblown when this seems more like a (still legitimate!) gossip problem.

  26. Peanut Hamper*

    LW3: Yes, please get and use the stickers! In most workplaces I’ve been, people appreciate seeing someone who is well organized (for whatever reason) and you will be seen as a role model for organization by some. Go for it!

    Also, you can never have too much stationery!

  27. Jane Bingley*

    I really wish that we, collectively, could stop being such absolute weirdos about pregnancy.

    On my first day back after my honeymoon, I lifted a ream of paper (labeled as 20lbs). A colleague of mine gasped and grabbed it out of my hands. “You can’t do this anymore! What if you’re pregnant?!”

    Pregnant women are not made of glass. If you’re concerned, ask, don’t give orders. But it’s usually safe to assume that they know their own limits and won’t put themselves in danger by lifting microphones or jogging lightly.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Omg. Dontcha know from the moment you get married you’re not supposed to stray too far from your fainting couch, lest you suddenly turn out to be in a delicate condition?

    2. SarahKay*

      So much this.
      A pregnant colleague of mine was sweeping up some stuff, and a (male) colleague took the broom away and started to scold her as if she was a small child. Luckily no actual small children were around as her response absolutely blistered his ears – and rightly so.
      He then tried for sympathy / back-up from me. Spoiler alert: I supplied neither.

    3. beedy boop boop*

      WOW. Your coworker would have shit the bed if they saw me running (slowly) a couple miles the day before my induction. (I always loved the “wow, when are you due?” comments, when the answer was “today” or “two weeks ago” or somewhere in-between.)

    4. CommanderBanana*

      Hah, I also think that some of these responses are from people who simply don’t understand the mechanics of pregnancy.

    5. Irish Teacher*

      What? Even apart from the fact that it would be bizarre even if you were pregnant, being married…doesn’t mean have to constantly assume you could be pregnant and not being married doesn’t mean one can’t get pregnant.

  28. LooseSocks*

    I have ADHD and work in HR. Tons of deadlines, interviews, meetings, etc. I color-code EVERYTHING in my calendar and use tabs to draw attention to certain pages often. I also leave a color key so coworkers that need to reference my notes understand. I’ve actually been complemented on my organization regarding that (many of you will understand what a feat it is for someone with ADHD to be complemented in organization at all!).

    Use your stickers, and get highlighters as well! I use green for meetings, pink for interviews (and yellow for “not offered position”), orange for “reschedule request”, etc. My coworkers prefer a physical calendar over the Outlook one, so this is what works for us.

  29. Peanut Hamper*

    Now that there is a lot of support for what LW#2 is doing in these comments, it would be great to have a “how do you keep organized?” open thread some time. I feel I’m fairly well organized in my professional life but am always open to new ideas and strategies.

    1. EPLawyer*

      Ooh I like this idea. No one idea works for everyone but having a lot of ideas to try to see what works best for you is an awesome idea.

    2. Zephy*

      I feel like there was an Ask the Readers thread about that recently, but “recently” could mean anytime between yesterday and 2018, so…

      1. Mockingjay*

        I wouldn’t mind a new thread; company has gone completely digital with multiple systems and I find it very difficult to organize consistently. I could really use some ideas!

        (I used to color-code my white boards per project piece, same colors in my planner & calendar, then use the same colors to tag emails for sorting, same color folder for printouts, etc.)

      2. Hlao-roo*

        There was a “how can I stay organized when I’m working from home?” Ask the Readers from October 8, 2020.

  30. Kan*

    OP#4 – to solicitous coworkers, you could also say (if you feel like it) “doing my regular activities throughout the day is part of staying healthy throughout my pregnancy.”

  31. HonorBox*

    OP2 – this was your information to share and Amy stepped on the boundaries you set. She asked you to put her name forward when the time comes. It doesn’t sound like you proactively made the offer. So therefore, you can choose to walk away without suggesting anyone as a replacement.

    If you do, however, it would be good to let Amy know. You’re obviously hurt that she broke the confidentiality you asked her to keep. And you’re concerned that it shows poor judgment because there’s some confidential things in your job. Tell her you’re not going to offer up a suggestion but will tell the client the truth (about the pros and the cons) if you’re asked when Amy applies.

  32. Phony Genius*

    On #3, if you want to use colors but are worried about whether it looks professional, Post-It makes tabs and flags in all sorts of colors, all designed to look professional.

  33. ThisIsNotADuplicateComment*

    LW2 you’re unsure about putting Amy’s name forward because you know she’s not right for the job but feel bad about going back on a ‘promise.’ Don’t give in to that feeling. You both know there was no good reason for her to break your confidence and if it really was an honest mistake made because she was just so excited (Press X to doubt) then she would have given a better apology. You don’t owe her your job.

  34. BellyButton*

    LW4- please please please get and wear some really good compression socks for being on your feet all day like that. I am not one for this kind of advice- or to scare someone, usually, but I lost a dear friend (6 mo pregnant) from a blood clot after a day of travel and then being on her feet for a few days.

    1. Dover*

      LW2: “Should I tell my clients[…] that I have reservations about her judgment[…]”?

      No! Share your concerns with your leadership to help them decide on your successor and to help them support Amy in correcting this behavior. But, don’t set her up to be distrusted and fail.

  35. fine tipped pen aficionado*

    LW #3 My entire office is decorated in pastel rainbow stuff and I bring in my own stationary because I am happier when I am working with aesthetically pleasing materials and in an aesthetically pleasing environment. I use a bullet journal for work and personal tasks and I have loads of twee office supplies. I am also the go-to person in my building for questions of professionalism.

    You can do what makes you happy without compromising your reputation. :)

  36. fine tipped pen aficionado*

    (Should have done this in one comment but I got so excited about the sticker question I commented before I finished reading.)

    LW #5 – Municipal Parks & Rec person here! Just want to add assurance that Alison is absolutely correct and he should mark yes. They likely cannot hire high school students to Parks Maintenance work due to insurance restrictions so marking No would get his application an automatic dismissal. And every Parks Maintenance division I know of is desperate for any hire they can get and will have no issue waiting until that answer is true to complete the hiring process (it’ll probably take that long anyway; gov’t processes are slow and it’s a constant complaint for P&R and other departments with seasonal hires).

    1. Helenteds*

      I am in a similar position applying to jobs right now, except I am about to graduate from college. I have completed all of my coursework at this point, I literally only need to have my actual graduation ceremony in June. I have selected yes for questions asking if you graduated because I feel like otherwise it implies you dropped out. I make my situation very clear in my resume and cover letter if I include one, I just don’t want to be screened out.

  37. Cruciatus*

    #1 reminds me of a situation we have at my academic library. Our director applied to be an associate dean and people all love our director…except their employees. They will tell people what they want to hear, a total people pleaser, but they do it at the expense of their employees by not telling us what is happening so it’s a surprise when, say, all of a sudden other groups on campus form a committee about how THEY want to utilize OUR library space because our director apparently thought nothing of this request. And there are lots of other things like this that leave us employees absolutely frustrated. I both didn’t think they deserved to get the AD position but I also wanted them to not be our director anymore. They didn’t get that position which made me hopeful that maybe, just maybe, others out there can also see past the glam and glitz they portray and saw the truth that they aren’t as good a leader as they think. So it’s not exactly the same, but if you ask me, I do think being successful at a lower level position is a good indicator that someone would be successful at a higher one. Not the only indicator. But a good one. The more someone understands those below them (because maybe they once did that position, and did it well) the better they can see the big picture for everyone.

  38. El l*

    The world is full of people promoted on the “Peter Principle” – promoted one past their level of competence.

    But the world is also full of people wrongly promoted because someone didn’t see their current competence and instead only saw potential (usually men, though it may not matter here).

    What I hear here is someone who has nailed part but not all of their job, and wishes to use lots of (publicly taken) leadership classes to compensate and stand out. But you can buy leadership classes, in a way that you can’t buy on-the-ground expertise. Plus, while like 1 class a year might be useful, it is so easy to take so many as to reach diminishing returns.

    Not sure if there’s anything you can do about it, but it doesn’t look good.

  39. RVA Cat*

    I know we’re not supposed to get political but #1 reminds me of governors who are mediocre because they use their term as an onramp to run for president instead of, you know, *governing*. (The person I’m thinking of was decades ago and someone I mostly agreed with. I’m saying this is a bipartisan Thing That Happens.)

  40. cabbagepants*

    pregnant lady — emphasizing that you *want* to keep doing xyz tasks is the way to go! many people have been taught that it is actually rude to “make” a pregnant woman do physical tasks and so would feel uncomfortable not stepping in. saying “I can do these things” doesn’t really address their well-intended concern, but “I want to do xyz but I’ll definitely let you know if I need help later” does.

    signed, formerly pregnant woman in a workplace full of well-intended, slightly awkward dudes who were socialized like this

  41. Empress Matilda*

    Alison, I agree with your response to #2 – OP does not have to recommend Amy for the job under the circumstances. But I’m curious why you didn’t recommend telling Amy the actual reason? Your suggested script of “I’ve decided not to make any specific recommendations” is quite different from “I had intended to recommend you, but you shared information that we had specifically agreed was confidential.”

    I would recommend spelling it out, so she can clearly see that her action lost her the recommendation. Otherwise you risk her making the same mistake again – which I would want to prevent for the client’s sake, if not for Amy’s.

    1. Glomarization, Esq.*

      100% agreed. If Amy is never told that her conduct was problematic, then she’s not likely to correct herself if a similar scenario arises again.

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      I wouldn’t tell Amy. It’s not on LW to manage Amy or her behavior.

      LW should tell management and it’s on them to tell Amy. There’s no point in giving Amy an opportunity to make things difficult before LW is gone.

  42. Dust Bunny*

    Manager to CEO: My organization had a checked-out Executive Director and it did a tremendous amount of damage to our standing. He was apparently under the impression that the position was mostly ceremonial and he could delegate everything to a couple of admins. It wasn’t, and doing so meant that a bunch of underqualified, unprepared, untrustworthy people were running the show. We fired the lot of them and started digging ourselves out of the hole. We’re a nonprofit and this made a big dent in our reputation and funding.

    Your manager sounds like a nice person but not a big-picture person or one inclined to step out of their comfort zone (literally; it sounds like they’re hiding in their office watching videos), which is not what you want at that level (in fairness, I am like this, too, but I would actively avoid becoming an ED or CEO of anything because I’d be terrible at it).

  43. Violet Rutherford*

    “I’ve got this, but I’ll be sure to let you know if I need any help!” Sometimes that works on people who feel they MUST at least try to rescue a person whom they perceive to be physically challenged.

  44. Pikachu*

    #3 there was a cult of Erin Condren/HappyPlanner at my last job. Sticker trading between adults definitely happened, and we loved sharing new note-taking/dot-journaling tips and tricks. Our planners looked more like scrapbooks. If it makes you happy and helps you accomplish things, go for it!

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Sticker trading between adults

      This needs to happen more often in the world.

      Getting ready for a zine-fest this summer, and picking up some great stickers is part of what I am really looking forward to.

  45. Texas Teacher*

    #3 Thanks for the idea. I’m dyslexic and dysgraphic. I’m going to try your method.

  46. CommanderBanana*

    Ahhh yes, the irony of spending one’s time in leadership zooms and yet…not displaying leadership.

    Such leader, much wow.

  47. SleepyHollowGirl*

    Re: pregnancy

    To help me be more sympathetic to all the people you don’t know or who you don’t know well who ask questions about your pregnancy (I’m thinking the usual benign but boring ones like “when are you due?” or “is it a boy or a girl?” etc), I like to imagine life is sort of like a video game where talking to a pregnant person gives you magic pregnancy sparkles, and so all those people who come up to you and ask the questions they don’t need to know the answer to really just want to get some of the sparkles.

  48. Juniper*


    to me, it sounds like the manager is very self-motivated/self-interested and doesn’t realize they’re focusing on the wrong stuff (like taking all the leadership trainings… but not actually producing leadership skills). I don’t think they should be ED because it seems like they’re not ready and also don’t understand how behind they are.

    Does your board ask for input? Cause you could always say you think you’re boss is fine where they are now and you’d rather see someone like Cecil or Jane be the ED.

  49. Juniper*


    Yeah this is bad, breaching confidentiality could lead to law suits and professional discipline in most healthcare/ allied healthcare fields. Your colleague has showed stunningly bad judgement by speaking out even after your told her to.

    As I used to work in allied health, I’m also concerned by fact she thought it appropriate to tell the client. I don’t know what you do, but this kind of thing has major impacts on clients. Like if I had a colleague who told a client about my pregnancy I’d be livid because a big part of my job (had I been preggers while still in this field) would have been to personally prepare clients for my maternity leave because another person isn’t going to understand the intimacies of the case and therefore may cause harm to a client who may be very vulnerable psychologically vulnerable by not properly creating space for that transition according to that clients needs.

    I would say that the judgment + the breach are big enough of a problem not to recommend her. Personally, I might even reach out to a supervisor and be like hey this thing happened and I’m concerned by the lack of judgement and confidentiality I witnessed here, could you coach jane on how to handle such things better??

    1. Juniper*

      Clarification: breach of confidentiality with clients is what could to lead to law suits. I’m not implying that someone like OP would want to sue their colleague – I’m mostly concerned about the lack of judgement and how that disclosure could harm clients and/or if they fully understand what client-related info can be shared / not shared.

    2. cncx*

      My feelings are in this direction- in some fields, losing the main point of contact can have implications for the contract terms. Depending on the work agreement, if the relationship is coming to a renewal cycle and your main person of contact is gone… some clients would change providers. Also, like you said, some clients may be vulnerable or need this info delivered in a certain way.

      So for me, while Amy bulldozing boundaries is a Big Deal, interpersonally, I have also worked in fields where this is the kind of info that would make a client walk and the kind of info where management likes to set the tone. That is also a big deal and if I were management I would be concerned Amy took it upon herself to announce such a transition.

  50. TomatoSandwich*

    LW3 – this is a small thing but might help you think of things a little differently. I worked in a press shop for a few years during college.

    What you have there are “labels”, not stickers. Stickers are pictures of cartoon characters. Labels are for business and organization.

    If you said “sticker” on the shop floor someone would remind you quickly back then.

  51. Weaponized Pumpkin*

    I read an article about Ulysses S Grant that asserted was a fairly middling student and indifferent soldier, and no one would have expected him to shine as much as he did as a leader in war.

  52. Me*

    Just FYI that “Aspergers” is now considered an outdated and offensive term. I would urge the OP to re-consider that terminology.

    1. Observer*

      I’m not about to scold the OP for how they describe themself. But for anyone who wants to know why the term is offensive here is the issue.

      The man who described the set of symptoms as a related group was Dr. Hans Asperger, who it turns out was a Nazi. I don’t mean that he had an official membership in the party. I mean that he referred some of his patients the the Am Spiegelgrund Clinic, to be euthanized.” And he knew EXACTLY what he was doing!

    2. April*

      Many of us find it a useful way to describe ourselves. I would be interested in hearing a widely recognizable and acceptable term for “autism, but the kind that means I’m sensitive to loud noises and weird about organizing things, not the kind that means I’m physically violent”, if you’ve got one. (I realize the distinction is deprecated in disability-rights groups, but I still need to communicate it to everyone else.)

      1. Observer*

        I would be interested in hearing a widely recognizable and acceptable term for “autism, but the kind that means I’m sensitive to loud noises and weird about organizing things, not the kind that means I’m physically violent”

        Are you really implying that everyone else on the rest of the spectrum is physically violent? That’s a pretty ugly thing to say. And it’s just not true.

        If the assumption is “autistic/ ASD” = “violent” you have a problem. That doesn’t make it a good idea to promulgate the name of a eugenicist who was ok with murdering children on the spectrum.

  53. Real Carp*

    OP4, one of my colleagues who was pregnant ran into this issue all the time, where people would try to intercept her lifting or carrying something remotely heavy. She would cheerfully reply, “unless you’re going to come to my house and pick up my 20lb toddler for me, I can pick up and carry this just fine.” I thought that was brilliant.

  54. BackstageRae*

    #4 I was a mic runner at conference when I was 8 months pregnant! I’d been hired to do just that, so there was no question of what my other duties were. Just be firm in your abilities like Alison said!
    Luckily for me, it was a medical conference, so if I’d had an issue, there was a definitely a doctor in the house!

  55. KWu*

    LW4, another response you can use is something like, “oh thank you, but my doctor actually wants me to exercise more and I’d rather do this than have to go to the gym later! That’ll cut into my Netflix time!”

  56. CLC*

    Stickers– I agree with Alison’s response and just want to point out that this isn’t an unfounded or silly concern. I’m ADHD and struggled with this kind of thing all the time earlier in my career. Neurotypical bosses and coworkers at multiple jobs told me it was “unprofessional” to take notes, read on paper, check math on paper, use paper at all, use post-its (plain multicolored ones), write in different color ink, use the category function in outlook, and probably other things I’m forgetting. None of these jobs were the least bit customer facing. There are still people out there who would think like this, though it is getting better and it sounds like the OP’s coworkers aren’t them.

  57. Managercanuck*

    Re OP4, one of my co-workers is pregnant with her 4th child. My (female) boss and (male) co-worker are also both parents, and they are mother-hen-ing the heck out of her. Thankfully, she’s remote 99% of the time, so it’s easy for her to escape the hens. She hasn’t said anything to me, but I do wonder if she’s getting frustrated by it. The three of them were at a conference together this weekend and I’m curious how that went, but tactful enough to not bring it up.

    I’m not a bio-parent, so my approach has been to let her take the lead. She knows a lot more about pregnancy than I ever will!

  58. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    LW3, I used stickers etc even before being officially labelled neurospicy, and let me tell you it went very well.

    In fact, a client liked it so much they requested that all their paperwork come through with colour coded stickers, please, and it helped us build a more solid working relationship. That incidentally was the point where I started getting colourful stickers through the office stationery order rather than out of pocket, for what it’s worth!

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