Is your boss a bully, a carer or just really insecure?

5th August 2005 at 01:00
It occurred to me the other day that five years have gone by since I became a manager. Of course, I never set out to be one. In fact, I remember saying on many occasions that I never would be one. But then we end up doing all sorts of things we said we'd never do, like wearing straw hats on holiday or peering down our noses at people over the top of our reading glasses.

And then I like to tell myself that I'm not really a manager as such, just a teacher who happens to have some management responsibilities. In reality, I've got one of those jobs that are legion in FE, in which you have too much teaching to be a good manager, and too much managing to be a good teacher.

One thing that being a manager has taught me, though, is to be more aware of the management style of others. Despite all those courses we are constantly sent on, you can't help but notice that personality still plays a big part, and that so many managers revert to type when it comes to doing their job.

So what are those types? Let's start with that hardy perennial, the "never there" manager. FE tends to specialise in these, partly because so many people in it have had another occupation before they came into teaching.

So, while the name on the door might read "head of faculty of business", everyone in the department knows that their boss's real job is running his accounting consultancy, and that his rare forays into the building are strictly reserved for handing out blame and picking up his wage slip.

All the canniest "never there" managers make sure they operate across two or more workplaces, so they can always account for their "invisible man" routine by being "on the other site". Their one rule is never to apologise for, or even acknowledge, their absences - just breeze in and breeze out again with a smile and a wave and the unshakeable conviction that all will be well.

By way of contrast, the "wants you to like them" manager is always there for his or her staff, because that's the sort of guy he is. He is the one who always knows the names and ages of your children, and asks you about them frequently to show how much he cares.

He never holds line-management meetings as such, just cosy little chats where he expects you to share all your problems with him. Sadly, he still has to get you to spend your evenings doing all those pointless admin tasks that modern FE demands, but he just wants you to know that he feels for you while you're doing them.

Then there's the bully. There are more of these around than there used to be, as evidenced by the high number of teachers who complain of being bullied when surveyed. What the bully loves is the power that comes with the job, and the high level of control over others it brings.

Unlike their playground equivalents, bully-managers don't tweak your ear and steal your gob-stoppers. They are more subtle, more destructive than that. What they steal is your self-respect, your security, your peace of mind. Theirs is a petty, sneaky, grubby little world, where small things are important. But - and this is the key point - it is they who decide what those important things are.

The bully shares this pettiness with another familiar face on the management scene - the "seems to think it's coming out of their own pocket" manager. Here, however, the pettiness is only and entirely about money.

Every item of expenditure is scrutinised and fussed over. All cash is petty cash to the "own pocket" manager, and the spender of it the most profligate person in the world.

At the end of every financial year he proudly hands back a big chunk of his unspent budget - only to see it handed over to a less parsimonious peer.

This won't stop him being just as penny-pinching the following year, though. Ultimately, as with the bully, it's all about control.

But the real bad news manager is none of the above, albeit that he's not averse to a little bullying once in a while. I refer, of course, to the insecure manager. This character has never been able to persuade himself that he's landed the top job, and assumes that others aren't persuaded either. Thus, he's convinced that everybody is forever plotting to get his job. He can't, or won't, delegate, and ends up doing lots of things he doesn't need to do - all of them badly. When he does allow someone else to do something, he monitors their progress obsessively. He hates failure, but hates success more, because work for him is like a see-saw: one person's "up" must mean another's - in this case his - "down".

Hopefully, I've avoided most of these troublesome tendencies, but my own particular management foibles I think I'll keep to myself. After all, I wouldn't want to be confronted by them at the next line management meeting, would I?

Stephen Jones is a lecturer in a south London college

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today