Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Slow learner

I was talking to my old college roommate today and he was explaining the challenges of raising a teenager. "I told my daughter pretty clearly she needed to do something. I thought we had an agreement. Three days later she was doing 180 degrees different from what I asked. I said, 'I told you to do something different and yet you're doing this instead.' And she said, 'Yes, I thought about what you said, but decided that it wouldn't work for me.'"

This reminded me of my days as a programmer. When a manager looked over my shoulder and started to micromanage, for example, saying "try this," or "type this command now" or "don't forget to do this." I nodded politely, waited for him to leave and did it my own way.

The funny thing is that when I managed, I was often just like the ineffective manager who told me what code to write. In other words, I tried to work through my people, instead of letting them work. When I wrote the code, I had control. When someone else wrote the code, but worked for me, I thought I still had control. In retrospect, I treated management as an ordered rather than a complex system.

This is one of the problems with the promotion into management. The skills you need are so radically different that when pressed you revert back to what you know. Which is doing it yourself (or trying to do it yourself via another person). Can't be done. Staffers are not marionettes.

It took me years to realize the lack of control I had, and to trust the people more. But I'm not sure I ever learned that lesson completely.

, , ,


davesteinsblog said...

You're so right, John.

I typically look at this problem from the sales side (when you're a hammer...), but it does apply pretty much across the company.

The capabilities (skills and traits) required for a first-line manager are most often a superset of capabilities of the people they are managing. A person directly managing a team of JAVA programmers should know how to program in JAVA.

That first-line manager most also have coaching, delegation, hiring, organization skills, conflict resolution, and motivatial skills, among others.

It is always a mistake when a senior executive promotes even the best individual performer into a management position unless they have that layer of management capabilities or a short-term plan to get them (through training, coaching and assistant managership, as examples).