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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

June 11, 2016

My manager has never managed before and refuses to delegate work so I have little to do except admin tasks. I’ve tried to discuss the issue, but he won’t listen. I’ve been with my employer for less than a year so what do I do? Stay or go?

Julie Q. Brush

Good managers are hard to come by. Any manager can be so-so. Many more are not so great. But being a good manager? That’s another story. It takes time, effort, self-awareness, self-confidence, security, care, understanding, good communication and a dedication to help others grow and thrive. All while performing his/her own role successfully. It’s a tall order for those who wish to be called Boss. And for those who do, they need to start somewhere to cut their teeth on the responsibility.

Your current manager is doing just that: cutting his teeth. He has fear and anxiety about letting go of responsibilities he’s used to owning during his days as an individual contributor. So he’s still stuck in that blocking and tackling mode. Consequently, he’s worried that if he shares or relinquishes control of the work, he will lose control, his value will be diminished…and he’ll be obsolete. And eventually, he’ll get fired. That kind of gripping fear is hard to conquer for a new manager. So as his managee, the likelihood that you will affect change and your situation will shift in the near-term…is very low.

So where does this leave you?

From a career perspective, this role does not provide you with the opportunity to grow and ready yourself for your next challenge. You are performing administrative tasks as your primary duties and are not developing your skills as an attorney. So your time is going to waste. You also have a manager who is either unwilling or incapable of allowing you to perform the job you were hired to do. You’ve spoken with him several times to no avail. So there’s no indication that things will change in time for you to stay engaged. From a personal perspective, you are simply not happy. Frustration and boredom are common experiences throughout each workday. And your current trajectory is not sustainable.

So given your circumstances, I recommend that you start seeking a new position now. Ready yourself for the search that is to come: Update your resume, educate yourself about the market…and prepare. Job searches take time and effort so the more prepared you are the smoother the process will be.

And what of your brief tenure with your employer? While you have not been in your current role for “at least a year”, the short duration won’t be a career killer. Today’s employers are more socialized around attorney mobility and they have seen situations like yours many times before. If your resume looks good otherwise, many employers will give you the opportunity to explain what’s driving you to leave. At that point, it’s up to you to provide a persuasive explanation about your current circumstances. Below are a few examples of what to say in an interview when this issue of your departure arises:

  • “I enjoy the people with whom I work, but after working at the company for several months, the role was not what was described throughout the interview process. It is far more administrative in nature and has become unchallenging. So I think a less experienced attorney would be better suited for the company’s current needs and it’s best that I find a position where I can contribute more value to the organization.”
  • “The firm and the people are terrific. But my boss is a bit new to managing and did not want to leverage all of my skills for my current role. So the role involves a lot of administrative tasks throughout each workday. I’m always s glad to pitch in, but I’m seeking a position where I will be more challenged.

Good managers are an essential component to employee happiness. So when one experiences significant challenges with his/her boss, the disruption can be a career game changer. In your situation, your manager’s inexperience is thwarting your opportunity to grow and ultimately advance your career, which places you in a tough spot. And while the decision to stay or go may not be easy, the answer is crystal clear: It’s time to move on. So be proactive and take the time to find the right role with the right manager. Best of luck!

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