Bad management is easy. Well, let me rephrase that. It’s easy to perform management badly. But, it’s not so easy to perform management well. From the outside, it can seem as if management is effortless. But that doesn’t mean that good management is easy.
Early in my management career, I returned home one day, plopped on the couch, and said, “Mark, I need a drink! And, not just water. Something much stronger.”
“Oh? And what would that be? And why? Maybe you need dinner first.”
“I’m bushed. I ran around all day. I did nothing on my todo list. I went to meetings. I listened to people.” I rolled my eyes here. “I even had to make sure I didn’t interrupt until they said everything they needed to say. Which was a good thing, because they didn’t get to the good parts, until the end. If I’d interrupted, I would have missed the best parts.
“And, then, I had a few one-on-ones, which I do love. Tom is really coming along.”
“Oh, I forgot you don’t know him. He’s the new guy. Maybe I’ll have a little party here and you can meet him.
“Oh, and then I had a couple of customer calls. I had to explain what our roadmap was, and when we would have releases for them.”
“Why are you having roadmap calls? You’re not in marketing.”
“No, but the customers wanted to talk to a technical manager, not someone in marketing. I could discuss the features. And, I know better than to make promises. I could discuss how I make the schedules. They love to hear about our rolling wave scheduling, and how everyone stays on track.” (Remember, this was early in my management career. Pre-agile.)
“But, I didn’t do anything!” I was almost whining.
“Well, you didn’t do anything you wanted to do,” Mark reminded me. “You did plenty of work. It just wasn’t anything you intended to do.”
“Right. Okay, let’s have dinner. Do we have anything to eat?”
And this is why I wrote Management Myth #19: Management Doesn’t Look Difficult From the Outside, So It Must Be Easy. If you’d asked anyone I worked with back then, you’d have heard that I was running around, doing “nothing useful, just management.”
So, let’s discern the value of some of what I did that day:
- When I listened to the people in the meetings and provided feedback on their ideas, I helped create an environment of technical leadership and problem solving. No, I did not provide all the problem solving. I created the environment. I didn’t jump to conclusions. I helped them articulate their ideas. I provided an agenda and minutes for the meetings. I used active listening techniques, which helped them.
- I had one-on-ones with people. I provided feedback, possibly career development, and built a trusting relationship with my staff.
- I had one-on-one calls with customers. I built trust with them also, by sharing what we could share, and discussing what was discussable. And, by sharing some details of our development process, we could help them. Yes, some of those people are now my clients.
I also answered emails, voicemails, and made decisions that I no longer remember. The key is that I facilitated the work of other people. I created the environment in which other people could do great work. I attempted to move out of their way.
Was I always successful? I don’t know. I tried. I’m sure I made mistakes.
Good management is not easy. It’s difficult to know when to offer a solution instead of facilitation. “Do you want to know what I think?” is often a good thing to say, but not always. Sometimes, you even have to say, “Please do it this way.”
Sometimes, you’re the right person to provide feedback. Sometimes, you’re not. It all depends.
So, please read Management Myth #19: Management Doesn’t Look Difficult From the Outside, So It Must Be Easy. Let me know what you think.