Monday, March 9, 2009

Managers Should Not Need to Be Managed

It is amazing to me how much some managers need to be managed.  I am not sure why this is. After all, the ability is built into the job title.

I have worked with numerous managers in the past who for the life of them cannot even remember the simplest things that they need to do.  If you do not constantly remind them to do things it might never get done.  I often joke with people that Program Managers should have almost nothing to do.  If everyone just did their job and made sure the people who work for them do their job, then high level Program Management would almost be unnecessary.

But the ironic thing is that almost everywhere I have worked has a strong need to have someone coordinating the work of others.  Not just other individual contributors, other managers.  But why is that?  My thought is that managers have not actually learned how to be managers.  Most managers are just thrown into the job because they were very strong individual contributors.  This of course is the exact wrong way to pick who should become a manager.  We have a work society where your next promotion is almost exclusively determined if you did your current job well.  But that is a little silly if you think about it.  Just because I write solid code does not mean I have the people skills to be a good manager.  In fact, it might almost exclude me from it :)

But in all seriousness, I think it is astonishing how much time and effort is wasted in managing managers.  Perhaps if they were just given a little more training on how to be effective in this area it would not be such a problem.  At the very least, their bosses need to be very clear what a manager is expected to do and what they are expected not to do.  This is what I do.  I give my managers tremendous freedom on how they need to accomplish their job but at the same time I make it very clear that their main concern is the proper functioning of their team and responsibilities.  They should not rely on others, either myself or my Program Manager, to constantly remind them to do the things that are core to their job.

What have your experiences been like?  Have you worked with a lot of mangers that need managing?  Have you done anything to try and address this issue?


  1. This is a good topic. I used to work for a data recovery company in NY right under the middle manager. However, I found myself constantly reminding him of things that need to be done and even in some cases, when he habitually forgot, I would just take the initiative and do it. Of course, this never received recognition from the higher ups, sigh.

    I think companies should look at who is doing the actual good managing instead of who the best salespeople, coders, or any other job function is. Seems that good organization, memory, communications, and soft people-skills are what are most important in a manager, rather than what hard skills they know.

    This may be my theory, but maybe you can manage a successful software company without knowing anything about coding at all?

  2. I think you did the right thing by just taking the initiative and doing whatever it was that needs to get done. It actually usually does get recognized, so long as you have a good manager. I always try to make sure the people under me get as much credit as possible. All the more likely they are going to make me look good later :)

    I think you have do have some sense of technology to run a software company, but I definitely do not think you have to be the best coder. I am definitely not the best coder around, but I'm certain I am the best person to be Director.

  3. I have had a number of managers. I can't say any one was a born leader, but I know they try. I agree with you that most managers are not trained to be managers, but rather were promoted for doing a good job at what they had done before becoming managers.