Getting What You've Always Gotten

Most people have a quirk or two.

I recall a product manager who once worked for me with a handlebar mustache, and a corked pot on his desk that said something like "Smelly Farts."  His quirks were quite visible, as he proudly displayed them.

Most employees learn to hide their quirks, rightly realizing they won't be appreciated, and might even be career limiting.  If you look closely, those behavior tend to peek out around the edges.  They pop out in stressful situations, or sneak out when the employee's guard is down.  No matter how well applied the the facade, employees can't seem to keep them completely under wraps.

All quirks are not created equal.  Some are horribly offensive, where others are mildly remarkable.  One manager I knew had a habit of pulling out a nail clipper and trimming his fingernails at times when the person speaking to him wasn't moving quickly enough.  Rude -- yes, but short of horribly offensive.  Another manager was a perfect gentleman 99% of the time, but inside he was holding back irritation and anger to the point of boil over.  The result were infrequent but unpredictable explosions of rage.  That quirk proved to be destructive in many ways.

One thing I can pretty much guarantee -- whatever quirks the an employee shows as an individual contributor, are likely to increase substantially when that person enters management.  And the higher up the person rises, the more likely the quirk is to surface with greater regularity and intensity.

It is one of the limiting factors for many managers.  As they reach higher in the organization, the normal limits to such behaviors (peer disapproval, fear of their boss's reaction, internal concern over making noticable mistakes) tend to recede into the background.  With fewer limiters, the errant behaviors come out more often.

One case in point -- an individual contributor in one of my organizations was a solid performer, but exhibited a few quirks.  He tended to reverse his opinions on a dime, often based on the latest bit of customer feedback he'd received.  He also sometimes seemed unnecessarily argumentative.  I forgave him these quirks, telling myself that he was showing me his openness to hearing new input and would revise his opinions accordingly, but that once he formed a well-reasoned opinion, he defended it.

Eventually, he was promoted.

As a manager, he was stubborn -- often arguing for his position regardless of the quality of evidence to the contrary.  He started to believe in his own infallibility -- relying heavily on his own gut feel, and disregarding opinions of others.  As a manager, he also continued to change directions rapidly -- often surprising his peers to the point of frustration.  Yet overall, he still managed to perform well.

As a result, I promoted him to Vice President.

At that level he became unmanagable.  He fought constantly with his peers, laying traps for them, and angering them at every turn.  He became a soothsayer, always inclined to believe his own prognostications and completely ignoring the evidence and data put forward by others.  He was combative, willing to fight over anything, no matter how trivial.  He changed directions daily, never consulting with anyone, and expecting everyone to go along with his lead no matter how much finished work it disrupted.

What had started as quirks became big behavioral problems.

I've seen the same pattern repeat itself time after time.

So if you contemplate promoting that individual contributor into a management role, or that manager higher up the ladder, expect to get exactly what you've gotten before when it comes to quirks -- except for quantity and intensity, where you'll most likely get more.  Much more.

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Corporate Thriller novels: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZE, and DELIVERABLES.  These are all based on extensions of my basic experiences in the world of corporate management.