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What can you learn from a no-decision manager?

Now that you have decided to work with your toxic boss: a no-decision manager, you should consider what you can learn from them. Learning anything from a toxic boss is a paradox in itself. Normally one would never even think that they could contribute anything to a subordinate or anyone else for that matter. But no-decision managers are different. They have this serious management weakness, which makes them both toxic and incompetent, and yet they survive, some of them for many years, so they must be doing something right.

As part of their survival strategy, no-decision managers excel in management tasks other than decision-making. These skills are used either to distract hierarchy away from their major weakness: that of never making decisions, or as part of their survival strategy. No-decision managers in middle management usually have an excellent technical expertise. Those in top management often have what I call the ‘three greats’. 

The three greats

The three greats are great analysis, great knowledge of the industry, and the great understanding of the organisation they work in and people in their company.

No-decision managers are experts in analysing situations and making the relevant report. This is because carrying out an analysis is a tactic for avoiding decision-making. It delays the moment when a decision has to be made so they make sure that the analysis is complete and takes as much time as possible. They have, however, one major fault in their analysis, which is also a way of detecting no-decision managers: they never make a recommendation. A recommendation is after all a decision. Instead they list the alternative solutions and push the report up to their boss for the decision. Senior no-decision managers also have a great knowledge of the industry they work in and will often be known as a reference in the company, where people can go to understand the industry.

It is easy to learn from them with these two skills. Reading a report made by a no-decision manager reveals tactics and insights for analysis and report writing. And they are willing to talk for hours on details of the industry as this is also a way of avoiding decision-making.

With the third expertise, that of knowledge of the people in the organisation, no decision managers are more reluctant to give away information. Specific questions are necessary, as opposed to general information about people: for instance,’ Could X help me with a marketing problem? ’ or ‘Does Y know anything about this process.’ These types of questions work.

Informal networks

No-decision managers are experts in informal networking. Networking is part of their strategy for survival. They use networks to get their information for their knowledge of the industry and the people in the organisation. But their main objective is monitoring information flowing through the organisation about their weakness of never making decisions. Complaints about their toxicity will eventually start to filter up to their boss and the boss’s boss. Through their networks, they are able to anticipate and counter negative comments being made about them, especially with their hierarchy.

It is not always easy to learn how they manage their networks because they never explain what they are doing. But by observing the way they interact with, for instance, people in headquarters or their colleagues, it is possible to learn networking techniques.

Managing upwards

No-decision managers are experts in managing upwards. Without this expertise they cannot survive long term in any organisation. It is a fundamental part of their survival. This is a skill which is useful to learn for any manager working in large organisations.

How the boss manages upwards is difficult to observe, because you are rarely present during the exchanges between your boss and the boss’s boss. Even so, when you are present during a meeting, a presentation or corporate gathering there are still occasions to learn. You can by astute observation, concentrate on watching the behaviour and attitude of your boss. All interactions are important, from the non-verbal to the exchanges between them, noting the tone, the content and, above all, the way your no-decision boss replies to difficult questions.

These observations can then be compared to the exchanges between you and your boss. With you, your boss will show his usual behaviour. With their boss you will find their behaviour is different. Differences will indicate behaviours designed to manage the boss and might be useful.

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