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Managers with Inquiring Minds
Wednesday, Jun. 16, 2004, 11:40 p.m.

QUESTION: Do I have to answer?

WHAT I LEARNED: Managers are not like cats.

I have been home sick today. I hate to tell my manager that Iím sick. Itís not that heís not nice enough about it but somehow I think that he is really secretly annoyed. Annoyed that I had to switch some training around, annoyed that I didnít keep myself healthy enough to keep my hand to the plough, annoyed that I canít just pop some magic pill and keep on ticking like a little bunny with the right kind of batteries in her back Ė the Eveready Bunny meets the working mothers of America. I wonder how much batteries like that would cost and if the bunny would part with them at any price. He always seems to be having so much fun in those commercial ads.

I could be wrong about my managerís perceptions, however. One of the consistencies of working in the modern workplace is assuming that other people donít think you are doing what you should be doing, as well as you should be doing it, and as quickly as you should be doing it. We really worry that our managers think that and maybe their managers too. Mostly, we think that to ourselves though Ė that maybe weíre not getting it all quite right and maybe somebody else will notice this lapse between superstardom and our standard workmanship. I know I ponder it once in awhile. I often scolding myself Ė you could have done this sooner, you could have done this better, you could have done that more like that person over there Ė the one who seems to have the whole routine down perfectly. Of course, they are sitting there thinking the same thing Ė sometimes they are thinking that about you - or me in this particular case. Itís comforting to know that in the great fields of labor that make up the business landscape that we populate today as we earn our daily bread that someone, somewhere, thinks theyíre the loser and youíve got it all right.

image from

Itíd be better however, if it was my manager and not a coworker distantly observing my work-a-day efforts at supporting myself in the style to which I am currently accustomed, who thought I was the golden workplace girl. Itís difficult to maintain the golden girl persona with some managers. For instance, my manager asks a lot of questions Ė itís just his management style. The questioning manager can leave the worker feeling second-guessed, a little defensive, and a little more determined to not take it that way Ė the feathers-getting-ruffled way Ė next time it happens. Iím still working on that last point. I want to be the happy worker with all the right answers.

One thingís for sure - my manager just likes to ask a lot of questions Ė itís his management style - and his subordinates just hate to answer a lot of questions Ė thatís our natural resistance to providing maximum explanations for even small actions. This reaction to his inquisitive nature as it plays out in the workplace is something he seems to not have noticed at all. Actually, it's pleasantly ironic. Still for all of this, he has a boyish sincerity that makes it all tolerable. I think he strives to do his job well and sees the way he is doing things as the path to success. So I answer the questions but always worry whether I passed the test of the moment wanting to travel my own path to success without incident as well.

At those moments where our pathways meet, I want to say - Hey, you are not the boss of me. But then I remember - Damn, I guess you really are the boss of me.

Iím an independent professional woman but really, I am not independent at all. Some managers can make you feel that you really are working independently when in reality they are keeping a steady hand on the helm. Others subscribe to the my-way-or-the-highway school of thought. There are a thousand different points of view in-between like ragged outposts or a lush oasis in the dessert of the workplace world. Considering all this, Iím content with the manager I have Ė multiple-questions oral exams and all. Itís like being a perpetual student in the workplace of life. Not intolerable Ė most of the time.

I have also learned a new truth of life. Evidently, curiosity killed the cat but has no effect on mid-level managers.

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