Tuesday, October 5, 2010

About me and my Managerial Positions (er, Thoughts)

I have had managers that:

1) Faked a brain tumor
2) Required a summary email for every conversation lest he ask me, at 5 pm, what I had been doing all day, after meeting with me at 9 am to determine what I was doing all day.
3) Taught me so much about managing up I actually think of his face when I'm working out how to manage another situation up
4) Swore at customers and got them to thank him for the privilege
5) Committed a murder suicide
6) Required me to break in after 10 minutes to find out if I still had a job or not, as he was rambling and all but two people in my dept had been laid off while I was on vacation
7) Entered a new company and brought flying monkeys for EVERYONE
8) Tried to grow my skills and succeeded
9) ...and many, many more.

I have been a manager that:

1) Saved a man's job at Christmas, on the day his dad died, not just because it was cruel to lay him off then, but because he had a lot to offer and we both needed him to be able to offer it
2) Terrified an entire team of new project managers by calling an emergency meeting and starting that email with "No one's in trouble..."
3) Got productive work out of a know-it-all developer who was brilliant but shy some social skills; he turned my team around (in a good way)
4) Wrote up a 9 page sexual harassment document with dates and times for five different people (2 of them male) regarding someone I was not managing
5) Did not run over the sexual harasser in #4 with my car despite ample desire to do so
6) Learned and utilized the fact that lots of caffeine will do when a good employee forgets his/her Attention Deficit Disorder medication for the day
7) Co-managed a bi-coastal effort where the other manager (and team) were literally undoing the work my team had done overnight...and I still finished on time and on budget
8) Failed spectacularly, and took what was coming to me rather than let it fall on my team
9) ...and many, many other things.

I think that, no matter what the job description reads, your first and primary job is to make sure the people beneath you succeed.

Being a manager is like being forced into those high school group projects, where if someone screws up, everyone gets hit for it. Sure, you can claim to the teacher that Billy played Nintendo rather than actually do his part of the project, but I have never met a teacher that would buy that. Thus, in my opinion, group projects are designed to fail because one person who wasn't going to do the work was assigned to each group. If you knew by the time of the first group project this was going to happen, you passed, and if you didn't, life sucked and you failed.

In my case, I grasped early that our version of Billy did not play well with others, and I worked with the rest of the team and we did not come up short despite "Billy." It was hard. It was annoying. And I had to share the credit. But I got an A, and I got to see a look on the faces of my teammates that I find addictive to this day: pride.

Being a manager means taking the blame for individual screw ups and letting the group accept the praise, confident that you are a member of that group. Being a manager means you are secure in the fact that you might not be the smartest person in the room, and that's a good thing. Being a manager means knowing when to shut the hell up and let your team run. Being a manager means making noise in the awkward pause, to get everything going again. Being a manager means trusting your instincts, but it also means trusting your people. Being a manager means you tell it like it is, all the hard edges and the occasional soft corner. Being a manager also means the hard decisions: who stays and who goes, keeping silent when you really don't want to, being noisy because its the right thing at that time, even if it doesn't seem so.

I love being a manager.

That's what this blog is about.


  1. Would that everyone had managers so on-target!


  2. Thanks for posting this. I'd like to read more about managing up -- everyone who's been a frontline worker has at least some idea of what managing down looks like from the other end (though I suspect it's very different from the big chair), but managing up is a new world for a lot of new managers.

  3. I definitely remember some of those events you are talking about. But you left off the creative and effective use of the word "Beer".... you know what I am talking about :). Love to see the next one.

  4. I'm thrilled that you're a manager! Your manifesto echos so much of what I try to do as a manager:

    - Hire people smarter than you are.
    - Let them know that the only thing that can get them fired is lying to you.
    - Feel free to let them screw up (if you're not making mistakes you're not growing)but try not to screw up the same way more than once.
    - Facilitate people with the training, tools and political backing needed.
    - Accept the failures alone and give credit for success to the team.
    - Use fun and a sense of humor (and beer) because a negative attitude is more contagious than the flu.

    I've subscribed to your blog and look forward to future entries!

  5. I got the following through Live Journal and thought I'd repost here so it would be easier to reference in future posts.

    It's not just your journal, it looks like Blogger won't let me use my google password at all. Thus, my questions go here:

    My position as a manager is somewhat limited by the fact that I must hire part-time student assistants who work on an average of one year for me. The people who work for me are working to support their school-- studies come first. They work between classes for me, an average of 3-5 hours a day.

    1. How can I inspire people who work part-time, for a finite period, and don't expect to advance, to nonetheless do their best for me in the time that they spend with me? This is crucial, because even if they don't give their job their all, ultimately I, the full-time worker, am responsible for what they do.

    2. Our college philosophy is on-the-job-training, even for student admin assistants. What are some techniques I can use to teach my student admin assistants how to be ready for the work force? Some of my assistants are engineering students who have never worked customer service, some have had a job or two (light admin, retail, cashiering).