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Six banking bosses from hell, and how to handle them

Working in investment banking is not simply a case of getting your head down, working hard and then reaping the rewards, it’s also a political game. Key to success is often having a good manager, but what happens when your boss is making your life a misery?

Not every boss is a competent man-manager looking out for the best interests of their employees. Some are self-serving or inept, meaning that your working life can become intolerable. Generally, according to leadership experts, they tend to fall into distinct types and, once recognised, can be relatively easily handled.

1. The ruthless advancer

Who are they?: This is by far the most common type of manager in the financial sector, according to John Hoover, SVP global contextual coaching services at Partners International and author of How to Work for an Idiot. “You have very successful producers, who have brought in money often by exploiting their fellow human beings suddenly placed into managerial roles where they’re told that behaviour is inappropriate,” he said. “These are Machiavellian, highly-political animals who will stop at nothing to achieve their goals.”

How to survive as a subordinate: Circle their star but never get too close. The sad fact is that they’re highly intelligent and so ambitious that they will most likely succeed and advance further up the organisation. Being perceived as a threat would be a big mistake: “They will rip out your heart through your mouth and eat it while it’s still beating,” said Hoover. Instead, be perceived as an asset and they will want to keep you close, make your actions appear to be for their benefit and the chances are that they’ll move you up the organisation with them as they progress.

2. The genuine idiot

Who are they?: It’s really not their fault, but someone who has been recognised as being am excellent performer by the bank – whether that’s as an investment banker, relationship manager or trader – and has been thrust into a managerial position outside of their comfort zone. “By taking them away from their area of expertise and presenting them with managerial problems they have little experience with, their natural response is to go on the defensive,” said Hoover. This means surrounding themselves with people they can easily blame when things inevitably go wrong.

How to survive as a subordinate: Ride the wave and get out before it crashes. If you’re close to these people, the chances are that your career will take off once they make it into a senior position, said Hoover. However, it’s important to get out before the situation comes crashing down – the idiot will have ensured that they’re surrounded by plenty of people to point the finger at when things go wrong. Don’t let that person be you.

3. The best buddy

Who are they?: Just because they’re managing you doesn’t mean they’re not one of the boys now, right? Like David Brent (or Michael Scott) from The Office, they just want to be loved. Ironically, suggests Hoover, this often means that their workers are more productive – burying yourself in your work is the only way to escape their attention.

How to survive as a subordinate: Drown them in love.  Make sure they’re always invited to the pub, and get them drunk quickly, send them photos of any work sporting or social event until the point that they get sick of it. “Over-indulge him to the point of nausea, and he’ll stay away,” said Hoover.

4. The spy-in-our-midst manager

Who are they?: Paranoid, political game players who believe that everyone is out to get them and that has an ulterior motive to displace them from their current position. Sadly, this can be a dangerous boss to have because if they become convinced that you are the person attempting to undermine them, it puts you in a precarious position.

How to survive as a subordinate: Get away. Too much deference will prompt them to smell a rat, and challenging them will also enact their paranoid tendencies. Maintaining a balancing act for a long period of time will lead to stress and anxiety. Hoover advises extreme measures: “Go into their office with a blank sheet of paper in an envelope in one hand and a transfer request in the other. Tell him you have the names of people conspiring against him within the envelope and will hand it over once he authorises your move to another department."

5. The god-complex

Who are they?: They’re in it for the power, the ability to rule over their team and have people bow in deference to their leadership. Hiring and firing is their bread and butter, and only helps cement their feeling of omnipotence. Sadly, for those underneath, these characters also tend to have “a total lack of empathy”, according to Hoover, and will not think twice about trying to oust those who cross them.

How to survive as a subordinate: Worship at the alter and give the impression you share their grandiose view of themselves. The rest of the organisation rarely takes this boss as seriously as they take themselves, but they still wield a decent amount of power when it comes to hiring decisions. Simply embrace the nepotism while you have the chance.

6.  The sadist

Who are they?: The sort of manager who will send you an email at 2am and expect you to respond within minutes, who’s quite happy to impose unreasonable deadlines and take joy in the fact that his employees invariably work late even as he swans off for a golf ‘networking’ event.

How to survive as a subordinate: Short of wailing at your desk, give every sign that you’re suffering or the sadist boss will invent other ways to make sure you do. “Don’t try to be macho and pretend it isn’t hurting, and never make out you’re happy,” said Hoover.

AUTHORPaul Clarke
  • bl
    12 July 2013

    I currently work for 1, 2 (with a dash of 1) & 3. I have previously worked for (and outlasted) 4, 5 & 6.

    Number 2 is the worst -- because I'm usually the person they want to take down. I actually enjoyed working for 5. They're difficult and they know it -- get it right and they'll make sure you go far with them. It was fun beating 6 at his own game.

  • An
    11 July 2013

    Had two of the above and the advice is spot on.

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