Something that is common in the workplace, is what I call “The upside-down umbrella management”. It describes behaviors of managers who act quite the opposite of what they are supposed to. It affects not only themselves, but also their subordinates in the worst way possible. Most of them try to handle every request they receive from the upper level as soon as possible. They struggle to meet deadlines that have been set by others, regarding projects, work orders and everyday tasks. They are not able to achieve a balance between the incoming requests and their available resources. It is inevitable, that all the pressure shifts down until it reaches the last cog in the wheel, their subordinates.
As a result, everyone who is being managed by such leaders feels a heavy burden on his shoulders. They might also feel trapped and unable to communicate. In the long run, they are afraid of speaking out their truth, as they see their managers become more and more demanding and despotic due to their scarcity of losing control.
A manager who assimilates the role of the upside down umbrella is a leader, whose main concern is to protect his supervisors than his staffers. Instead of taking care of his team through building productive and respectful relationships with his employees, he tries to deflect as many requests towards the upper management as possible. He dreads bothering his superiors either with pending issues or with project delays and reschedules.
There are plenty of examples in our everyday job routine. I remember the day of my interview appointment in a company I worked for. It was in the middle of the summer and I was meeting the direct manager. There was no free meeting room and we entered his office, where one of his employees was busy at the time. He said “Can you please go out for a few minutes? I have to make an interview for a while. Take a break and I will call you back later”. He offered me a seat in front of his desk and then he asked me to start describing my technical background. In the meantime, he was focused on his tasks and he continued writing emails and logging in applications and tools, keyboarding all the time. Ten minutes later, I wondered if he was listening to a single word and eventually I stopped. I got the impression that he was a task-assigning shell of a person, someone who hardly had time for the interview.
Fortunately, I was the successful candidate and he offered me the job position. Few months later, I noticed a pattern from a specific colleague from the Business Department. He used to send investigation requests which were raising red alert to our team. Although most of them were of high importance issues because they concerned billing discrepancies, he was sending them between five and six o’clock in the afternoon. They had to be handled immediately, so a lot of times we ended up at work until late hours. No one had made him aware of the impact on our schedule.
Some time, I decided to take action. I asked him politely to begin sending such investigation tasks early enough, in order my team to be able to search for records in time. This would mean that he should have performed the daily system health check until ten o’clock in the morning. At first, it made no difference because he continued the same attitude, as if I hadn’t mentioned it at all. But a couple of months later and after written notifications on the problem, he started to cooperate in compliance with my advice. I felt that I had contributed to the solution of a problem, which my manager was supposed to have been focused on.
The upside down umbrella management has to stop. Both managers and subordinates have to take their responsibilities. The managers must realize that they get paid to support their team, to protect their staffers, to lead them, to educate them, to build healthy and respectful relationships with them. Employees need to be comfortable enough to disagree with their boss and have an open line of communication each time they feel that there is lack of leadership.