In my experience, top security performers love nothing more than to solve problems and improve the state of security where they work. These star professionals give much of themselves to any organization to which they belong. There are good managers who treat this type of exemplary employee in a healthy, constructive manner. There are also more than a few bad managers who use a variety of manipulative techniques to put problem solvers down.
Worse, while the personality type of many top performers empowers them to excel in our field, it also sets them up to be taken advantage of and exploited. Here are 12 warning signs to show how to distance yourself out of a toxic work environment and into a healthy one, before too much time has elapsed.
- No straight answers: Ask a question, get an answer, right? Not in an unhealthy situation. If you find yourself asking straightforward questions and not getting straightforward, direct answers, take notice.
- The story keeps changing: A famous quote attributed to Mark Twain says it all: "If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything." When the story keeps changing to suit whatever point is being made or whatever narrative is being told, be aware.
- Lack of focus: It's easier to move from one shiny object to the next than to focus on strategy, vision, goals, and objectives. Further, distraction and noise are great ways to cover lack of progress. If the security targets keeps moving, it's a sign.
- Lack of clarity: Do you find it hard to get any type of commitment or clarity in writing? Does written communication contain only vague statements or a promise to get back to you later? That makes it much easier to say "I never said that" or to change the story later.
- Blame game: A good manager will accept responsibility when things go wrong and distribute the credit when things go right. If your manager does the opposite, that's not a good sign. In particular, if you, as a top performer, always seem to be the problem, it could mean that your manager sees you as a threat and wants to keep you from succeeding.
- No visibility: Even the most open of managers will have topics that they cannot share with their employees. That being said, a good manager will provide a decent amount of visibility into what they're up to. If, instead, he or she shrouds themselves in secrecy, be wary.
- No tangible accomplishments: At the end of every week, month, or year, a good manager should be able to provide a tangible list of their accomplishments to both senior leadership and his or her employees. Be worried if all you get is circular talk that gives you a headache.
- Lack of monetary success: At the end of the day, monetary success is hard to argue against. Whether it's a revenue target, investment capital, or a budgetary number, a good manager will work diligently to meet and exceed his or her goals in this area. If the manager talks a good game but can't deliver, that’s an indication that something is not right.
- A shred of truth: One proven tactic of manipulators is to include a shred of truth in every lie. That makes what their saying much harder to argue with, refute, or dismiss outright. If you find this happening over and over again, it’s time to find a healthier place to work.
- Prying for details and offering none: Does your manager ask repeatedly for more information and more details while offering none in return? This is a common trick, and one that can take a long time for many employees to pick up on.
- Seeking leverage at every opportunity: If every conversation with your manager seems like a debate team contest, that's another signal that something is awry. Those who can't succeed on merit often try to extract leverage in every possible interaction. This also involves putting down, blaming, or insulting the other person.
- Taking: Some say that there are two types of people in the world: givers and takers. The best managers are givers — they want to do what's best for their employees and the organization as a whole. A manager who's a taker, on the other hand, will work to maximize his or her own personal gain. That's toxic, and a sure sign to move on.