A. By asking these questions in advance, you're already thinking like a senior executive. And the outlook may not be as fraught as you fear.
'With the right mindset and game plan, this can have a very positive upside, but it must be carefully and scrupulously managed,' says outplacement counselor Rod Williams with Lee Hecht Harrison. 'Where there's a so-called hotspot in any company, it's usually well-known to upper management, and being selected to enter a such a situation can be an opportunity to leapfrog your reputation forward.'
The game plan has three initials: C.Y.A. 'In the most positive manner possible,' says executive coach Maggie Craddock, 'sit down and have a conversation with this manager about his or her expectations, and then be sure that every time you're asked to do something, you send an email that afternoon to the manager reiterating exactly what you've been asked to do and the deadline by which you will accomplish it.'
But rarely can you insulate yourself completely. 'Other than through careful documentation and having a fair amount of third party corroborative supporting evidence, either in the form of a witness or emails shared with others, you can only do so much to protect yourself,' says recruiter Peter Gonye at Spencer Stuart.
Indeed, says Craddock, 'the best way to insulate yourself is to see if you can negotiate a reporting line to more than one senior manager. Are there any divisions of responsibilities among other departments that would allow you to have a dual reporting line to someone else besides this individual manager?'
Before you leap, also take some time to consider what's behind this person's inconsistencies, which may foreshadow the pitch of battle you will likely face. 'A bad manager isn't necessarily a malicious manager,' says Gonye. 'A contradictory manager isn't necessarily a malicious or bad person.'
'You're often dealing with people who just have poor memories,' agrees Craddock. 'Sometimes they're manipulative, but frequently people like this are just overscheduled.'
To help you fully grasp your manager's motives, try speaking to the person who held the job before you. Still, says Gonye, 'whether it's incompetence or whether it's duplicity is kind of irrelevant, because in either case it can backfire on you. You can be held accountable if people want to pass the buck.'
If you do decide to go forward, says Williams, 'keep an open mind and allow for another point of view about this boss, and the possibility he or she may have grown in his or her thinking and/or changed modus operandi.'
Finally, conduct a realistic assessment of yourself. Just how much incompetent (or worse) management can you stomach? Also, 'If the boss is hated, his or her star is already kind of tarnished. You are either going to go up with that person'-unlikely in this scenario-'or replace them. Do you have a sufficient relationship to the next level of seniority to be able to take over the position?'
If the answer is yes, and you are emotionally girded for a tempestuous working climate, then the move may be appropriate for you, especially if you can string up a safety net along the lines described above. But if you decide to sit this one out, don't second guess yourself too much. Unlike lightning, opportunity usually strikes the same spot more than once.
Next week's question:
I'm a fifth-year corporate finance associate at a large New York law firm. I've been here long enough to know I don't want to practice law forever, and I'm considering making a move into investment banking. What skills are arguably most transferable, and will the fact that I'm presently a lawyer be held against me? What's the best way to find a job, and will I need to start at the bottom?
What would you advise? Send your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Look out for the experts' answer to this dilemma and readers' comments on Ask the Expert next week. If you would like to submit a question to our panel of experts, ASK THE EXPERT.