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Porters, Handymen, and Doorman, or PHD's Blog
  Managing Your Manager - Musings on the Super/Manager Relationship  
  by an anonymous super -  this article appeared in July 2007 issue of SUPER!  

Like a great many New York City supers out there, I've worked with numerous property managers in my life in New York City supering. Some I've come to like a lot. One, although it's been many years since we've worked together, we now and again make a mutual effort to have a drink together to catch up.

There is one I still have secret homicidal thoughts about, and if I ever see him again, even on a crowded street in front of a police precinct house, I will probably have to be restrained.

The rest fall mostly somewhere in the more benign middle.  

Since property managers in New York are not required to have a degree or pass a “property management test” or be in a formal way certified to manage a residential property, almost anyone can, and I might add unfortunately does, become a property manager. I worked with one some years ago who quite obviously, despite what we were told, had no previous relevant experience. He reeked of inexperience and fear, and the worst thing was, he didn't get any better at his job with time.

Almost needless to say, it was one of my worst experiences being a super, and one in which I came out of it at the other end saying "What was THAT all about?"

I say ALMOST needless to say, because I do mean to qualify that statement somewhat. I know that one doesn't necessarily have to have experience in a field to be or become quite good at it, or even to have the makings of being good (some people, because of their demeanor, previous relevant experience or high emotional intelligence can quickly become proficient in most anything they try). 

Most of the time work experience helps, of course, and the longer one's experience the better, more proficient and adept one will become. And the more quickly it will all come together.

Some of the time, experience can be a direct, insulting hindrance.

Nevertheless, most anyone can become a better property manager with experience. Not true with this dud, however. After a year and a half’s worth of experience, he was no better than the day he started, and in some ways much worse, mainly because he believed, quite wrongly, that the experience gained in that year and a half had brought him proficiency, knack and know-how - somehow made him better at what he did.

That is to say, he thought, after more than a year on the job, that he knew what he was doing. Too bad - he really didn't and it showed.

They say we learn from experience. For 99.9 per cent of the population, that would almost certainly be true. But there is still that 0.1 per cent who can't seem to tease out some level of learning, understanding and common sense from anything that is thrown at them.

I still don't understand why someone didn't tell him the job didn't fit him, someone he trusted who could have been a good influence on him. But this much I found to be true: the only thing worse than working with and for a manager who doesn't know what he's doing or what he's talking about, is working with one who thinks he knows what he's doing and talking about - but doesn't.

I certainly tried to help him, to tell him. More than once. He thought it was personal between us. Couldn't have been further from the truth, but our relationship was what it was. Truth be told, it doesn't, in and of itself, bother me greatly to work for someone who knows so much less than I, or has so much less experience.

No, what really grabs my gotcha is if that person has neither the stones, the common sense nor the intelligence to learn from his experiences, to grow from the lessons screaming out to be learned.

  Fully as bad, and this happened to me a lot with this guy, because of the DIPs (developmentally impeded pipsqueaks) he turned to for guidance when he got lost (which was only all the time and every working day) was when you knew he was telling you to do something only because HE was told by his superiors to tell you to do it that way, and not out of the experience to know why or why not, and explain why it should be done that way.

Not to mention knowing that he and his superiors - all of them put together - had nowhere near the experience nor the expertise and common sense in the field that I had in my little left finger.

It was, to say the least, a deeply humbling experience - the kind that leaves scars and sundry other signs of struggle - to have to carry out orders from a complete greenhorn and his acolytes and collaborate, in a manner of speaking, on numbskull directives cooked up from on high. And furthermore, to be a part of perpetrating them, with a straight face even, on completely innocent (well, maybe not completely innocent) but very rich, clients.

And then having to explain to my residents when they invariably had that shining, spluttering WTF moment and a clear channel to vent to me upon cornering me alone, that this wasn't springing fully-formed out of my own cranium but I was merely following and carrying out orders from the not-so-sharp knives-that-be above, all without losing my dignity and patience and without the dissing and unbearably debilitating blame game that tends to grow like a cancer inside you.

Which brings me to this thought: if you don't respect someone, you probably don't like them very much, right?

One wants, nay one needs, to respect those one works for. But when it can't be pulled off, it can, well, damage the relationship. To say the least and to wrap it up in a nice bow. 

What to do in such a case? All I can say is each super super must work out his own collection of responses, on his own time and in his own way, and make it work for him or her. No two supers are alike (now there's a blinding bit of insight) just as no two managers are alike, and therein lies the rub.

Humans being all-too-human as the tendency is, we all have to make honest, continuing attempts over time to work with those whom we find in the mix together with us, and try to get the projects of the day, the week and the year completed, for the greater good of the building and its residents.

And speaking of wrapping it all up in a nice bow, it probably can't be done, if we're talking about how to deal with the problem manager. It's work. It's life. And if you're smart it's a learning experience, one which you can write home about (or in a super’s newsletter) some day.

Oh and if you have a good manager, or a great one – and yes there are plenty out there so thank your lucky stars for that - thank him or her once in a while also. Let him or her know how you feel. Do tell that you appreciate the hard work on yours, and your residents, behalf.

Because it’s a truism that the good ones invariably have at least this one thing in common: they work extremely hard, and very conscientiously, for you and your residents. Much of it you don't even know about, unless you've also been a property manager once.

Which brings me to my final reflection on this issue.

My leery theory is this (no this is not an original thought, I know numerous supers have yearned vocally for this very same thing): part of the formal training a property manager should have (yes I think some formal training should be mandated) is a minimum of a year as a residential super before being allowed to manage a high-end residential property.

Yeah that'll happen, sometime directly following the aftermath of a certain hotspot getting frosty all under. But wouldn't THAT help the property management world imagine the possibilities and allow them to walk a mile or two in a set of super work boots?


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