Ed: Day #3 of the Deconstructing Managers week. If you haven’t a clue what is going, I’d suggest starting with Day #1.
How are they compensating for their blind spots?
Now we’re going to pick on your favorite manager. Tell me about him. Probably a great communicator, funny guy, charismatic, you say? He probably inspired you. You can probably quote a few of his more infamous sayings. “Better is the enemy of done.” The question is, what were his blind spots?
Each manager, good or bad, is going to have a glaring deficiency. Maybe he did escape from QA and now he’s the Director of Engineering. Perhaps he’s a stunning technologist with absolutely no sense of humor. The question is, does he recognize they have a blind spot?
I ask the same question in every interview I have: “Where do you need help?” Whether it’s an individual contributor, a manager, or my new boss, I’m always curious where a person sees their weaknesses. A flippant “I’m solid across the board” response is a terrifying red flag. I’m a fan of pride; I want you to sell yourself in a interview, but if you suggest that you’re flawless, all I’m thinking is that your flaws are so big that you can’t talk about them or you have no clue what they are.
A manager’s job is to take what skills they have, the ones that got them promoted, and figure out how to make them scale. They do this by building a team that accentuates their strengths and, more importantly, reinforces where they are weak. Dry technologists need team members who are phenomenal communicators, folks who can tell a joke and socially glue the organization together. Those vision guys with zero technology chops need you, the strong technologist, to tell them what is technically possible.
A manager’s job is to transform their glaring deficiency into a strength by finding the best person to fill it and trusting him to do the job.
Does your manager speak the language?
Ok, so, you’re in a square room. There are two clear windows in this room, one on each side. In front of each window is a microphone which, when turned on, pipes whatever you say to whomever is on the other side of the window. Now, your manager is on the other side of one window and your best work friend is behind the other. It’s Friday and I want you to give your weekly status report to your friend. Something like:
“Monday was a disaster. I got in late because I whooped it on Sunday night. Took a stab at the spec… but left a little early because I was hung over. Tuesday and Wednesday were pretty good. Finished the spec, closed some bugs, went to the cross-functional review, got some good feedback. You should read the current version. Thursday was meeting hell. Got nothing done. Three useless hours. Friday, well, I had a beer at lunch and I’m leaving early.”
Now, spin around and give your status to your boss.
I do not care if you work for the worlds best manager. I do not care if he was the best man in your wedding. You are going to give a vastly different sequence of events because you are not talking to a person when you talk with your manager; you are talking to the organization. You instinctively know that telling your boss that you had a beer at lunch is a bad idea, not because he’d know it, because the organization would.
The language you are speaking when you talk to your manager is a flavor of managementese. Yeah, the language that Scott Adams has made millions of dollars exploiting. It is a carefully constructed language which is designed to convey information across the organization. Managementese allows managers from very different parts of the organization to communicate even though their respective jobs are chock full of different acronyms and proper names. And yeah, managementese sounds funny.
“Our key objective for this project is the schedule. We need to keep our teams focused on the respective goals, but also keep them cross-pollinating so they can error correct on their own.”
When you hear that, you think, “Why can’t he talk like a human?” He’s not talking to you. He’s talking to other managers and he’s saying some very Rands-like-things like, “Commitments matter!” and “The team is smarter than the individual!” It’d be great if managers could speak with a little more art, but the job at hand is to spread information across the organization as efficiently as possible. And a local dialect of managementese is the best way.
Besides, they still need to talk you, which leads us to…
Next: Measuring hot air, relevance, and non-factors.