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How to tell if your manager believes in “heads I win, tails you lose” | The Alex Elliott Blog

In my last post, I went over some of the ways to tell if you have a bad manager. I received a lot of feedback asking me for some specific examples of manager behavior that, while bad, may be harder to detect.

In response to that feedback I’m going to present a conversation I had with a colleague in regards to what is sometimes called the “heads I win, tails you lose” strategy of management.

Me: How are things going?

Tom: Not so great.

Me: I’m sorry to hear that. I heard you just got promoted so I would assume you would be in a good mood. What’s going on?

Tom: Well, I was just given a new project to build a QA testing lab from the ground up.

Me: Isn’t your background in QA though?

Tom: It is! However, my background is in manual QA testing. I don’t have a technical background and I’ve never built a QA testing lab.

Me: Hmm. Did your manager give you any resources or get someone with less QA experience but with a good technical background?

Tom: Not really. When he gave me the project he said, and I quote, “I just received this project from the department head and, Tom, you were the first person I thought of. You’re so good with QA testing this is a perfect fit.”

Me: Does the department head have a background in technology and/or QA testing?

Tom: No, actually, quite the opposite. They have more of a business background.

Me: What happens if you are able to complete the project vs not being able to finish it?

Tom: Well, the department head is really tough. They usually takes credit for projects that succceed. I’ve also seen them demote or even let go people who don’t finish projects on time.

Me: So let me get this straight:

Tom: Wow! I never put it together that way. No wonder I was feeling down about this.

Me: This sounds like a pretty bad deal for you, Tom.

Tom: But I’m the kind of person that gets stuff done!

Me: Of course you are. It sounds like your manager was given a project they think isn’t going to work and then went through the following thought process: Given how this company works, this project is probably going to be a disaster. Who do I know who:

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