The Only Black Guy in the Office

My New Direct Reports Are a Trip

A manager is only as good as their team — and mine is a mixed bag

The Only Black Guy In the Office
Published in
5 min readNov 8, 2021


Illustration: Michael Kennedy

Update 6/7/22: Level has a new home. You can read this article and other new articles by visiting

There’s a difference between being a manager and being a boss — or at least I believe there is. In my opinion, a boss is someone who cares about the people who report to them strictly through the lens of productivity. They tell their direct reports what needs to be done; when it’s done to their satisfaction, they direct them to the next task. It’s all output and little-to-no input.

A manager is more collaborative. They see the people who report to them as important to the overall business and therefore invest in them beyond projects and tasks. A manager measures their own success by the success of their direct reports — if they’re thriving, the manager is thriving too.

How do I manage someone and help them grow in their career if they’re already halfway checked out?

Which one am I? The answer depends on which of my three direct reports you ask. With the exception of my intern, I didn’t hire my team. Instead, they were assigned to me as part of the same company restructuring that resulted in my recent promotion. Of course, this influences the relationship I have with each of them as do their unique personalities, which is why I feel it’s important for you, dear reader, to meet my team.

Black Karen

Associate content strategist
For the sake of this column, it’s important to be clear that I manage a woman named Karen — but she’s not that type of Karen. For the sake of clarity, I’ll henceforth refer to her as Black Karen. BK has been at the company for a year, yet we’ve never directly worked together nor made the transition from skinfolk to kinfolk. The best we could do is give a head nod from our Zoom windows in biweekly all-hands meetings.

That has recently changed. I’m not quite sure how she feels about it, but I’m definitely trying to manage her up beyond my role — and honestly beyond the company…



The Only Black Guy In the Office
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Do you know him? Is it you? The trials and tribulations of a Black man navigating corporate life.