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In the last article I described the concept of mental processing capability and how disconnects can occur between layers of management. In this article, I will discuss the symptoms of these situations.

When Capabilities are Too Close

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In situations where both the manager and a direct report subordinate manager are at the same level of mental processing (or problem solving) capability, it’s impossible to get the kind of higher level direction that is needed to be successful. This situation often creates that feeling where a boss is breathing down your neck or looking over your shoulder, giving context that is too narrow for you to make decisions.

In this situation, if a subordinate manager asks for support in solving a problem that he or she cannot resolve on their own, because the two managers approach the problem in the same way with similar capability, there is no solution. Managers often see their manager’s manager as the “real” boss because that’s the person able to make decisions, solve problems, and generally add value to the managerial work that is being done below them.

When There Is A Missing Layer Of Capability

Another horrible boss situation occurs when a manager is more than one stratum removed from his or direct report, creating a missing layer of management. In this case, that missing layer of management causes improper translation of context and delegations are not made in the appropriate way. From the subordinate manager’s point of view, looking upward, it feels as though there is too much distance, that the superior manager is not available to them. When direction is given, it’s often misunderstood leaving direct report managers with a feeling of not being properly managed.

From the superior manager’s perspective, the subordinate manager is characterized as not taking initiative or being lazy, when in fact, there is a missing layer of management creating a disconnect. A void exists between the two levels of mental processing capability. It could be as simple as someone being promoted without having the level of capability needed or as intricate as a flaw in organizational design, but it is not behavioural.

When There is a Missing Layer in the Organization

On the flip side, if there is a layer missing in the organization due to a position vacancy it can also cause disconnect. For instance, if the Director of Accounting retires or leaves and the Vice President of Finance is charged with the accountability of managing the lower department, employees may feel abandoned. The Vice President of Finance is capable of working at a Stratum 4, but is having Stratum 2 level employees report to him or her directly. The Vice President will ultimately be solving problems at a Stratum 4 level, without a subordinate manager in the middle to receive direction, translate and delegate to the level 2 team. The context will be too broad, instruction will be vague, and the accountants will most likely feel mismanaged.

While the preceding examples illustrate a mismatch of capability between the manager and his or her direct report manager (capability too close or too far removed), there is also the case of the relationship that did work at one time, but no longer does. Consequently, before a direct report manager matures up to the next level of mental processing capability – for example, moving from a professional accountant to the level of Director of Accounting – it’s not uncommon to start bumping up against management, second guessing and questioning direction.

Symptoms of Capability Disconnect

What are the symptoms of a capability disconnect and how can you recognize if your manager is either in the same stratum with similar problem solving skills or too far removed? When a manager is working at the same level of problem solving capability as a subordinate, they are generally unable to add value by solving problems the direct report cannot solve. Additionally, if as a direct report manger, you find yourself looking to your manager’s manager to solve issues or there is a general lack of respect for your manager, it may suggest a capability disconnect. When there is a missing capability link, there is often a void between a superior manager and a subordinate manager, and you may feel that the context is often vague leaving you feeling as though you are not getting appropriate direction.