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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

Hey Manager, Nothing Depends On You

Trust

So you managed to get your managerial position. You killed all those monsters along the way with you RPG. You solved extraordinarily difficult logical puzzles. You sneaked through all deadly traps set by the most evil characters the world has ever seen. And now you’re here – a manager. The manager I should say.

Now you can raise your sword and yell: “By the power of Grayskull… I have the power!”

You will use your power to tell people what to do or how things should be organized. And your words will change into money. Oh yes, that’s an optimistic scenario. In the worst case, by the sole power of your word, everyone around will do what you want. You will make every project a success, turn your company into the most successful organization on planet Earth, become the wealthiest man in the galactic and then spend the rest of your life enjoying drinks on a lovely beach with gorgeous companions, while donating billions to charities. You’ll be a hero.

Well, sort of.

The trick is when you became a manager your role changed. You don’t do the real work anymore. You don’t help to build projects with your own hands. Suddenly nothing depends directly on you.

Now, the bad news: the power of your word is um… shoddy. People will misinterpret, alter, misunderstand, adjust and ignore what you’re saying. Unless they want to listen to you and trust you, that is.

If people don’t trust you as their manager they will follow your will on occasions but you will likely have to check whether they really do what you want and do it the way you want. Heck, you’ll have to check whether they do anything at all. That’s how managerial power works. Have I already mentioned it is shoddy?

Of course you can roll your sleeves and get back to the real work to show them what you expect, but wait, is that something a manager really should do? Isn’t it micromanagement?

Is there a different way? Yes and no. No, you won’t get things being directly dependent on you again, unless you’re abdicating. But yes, you can make your new power less shoddy. Build a trust relationship with your people. Show them you trust them. Show them you are trustworthy so they may eventually trust you. And no, I’m not trying to use the word “trust” in each and every sentence from this point to the end of the post. Or am I?

There’s a small issue here. You show your trust by sharing your power among the team; by letting people to make their calls instead of using your Grayskull. This is a simplification (feel free to crucify me in comments), but generally the less you enforce your power on people the more they trust you, which means the less you need to enforce your power. Kind of positive loop if you ask me.

But then if you don’t do real work hands-on and you don’t use your newly gained superpower is there something which still depends directly on you? Not so much.

Get used to it.

Hint: if you trust your people it will be easier. See? We’re on trust again.

in: personal development, team management

7 comments… add one

  • Sridhar December 10, 2010, 2:48 pm

    Pawel

    You are spot on. From my experience, as you go up in your career, you start seeing a trust deficit between people. Part of this blame should be on the current corporate cultures, which rewards “results-oriented” managers than people who build long-term relationships.

    It is increasingly rare to see the “clan” – a group of people who have worked for years together, built trust and move across projects together. The Age of the individual man is upon us and the first elf that has crossed the sea is Trustimir (I am a LOTR fan, so…)

  • Pawel Brodzinski December 10, 2010, 3:03 pm

    That’s true that the higher you are the biggest trust deficit you see. And it isn’t without a reason. Building trust takes time. It’s much easier to build trust in small group, say 4 people plus their manager, than in a department with a hundred people.

    And then we see a lot managers around who don’t give a damn about all that trust thing. They don’t consider it as necessary to perform their jobs. After all they can execute their power and then control whether everything goes as they planned.

  • Agile Scout December 12, 2010, 10:55 am

    What a terrible realization this is. It sucks, but then again, it’s so true. It’s interesting how a Sr. Developer with a couple years on a team can then move to development manager and suddenly they aren’t as trusted anymore by the team.

    Sometimes, just proving you can still do the work is enough. Get your hands dirty in the code…?

  • Pawel Brodzinski December 12, 2010, 2:59 pm

    That’s something I find hard to agree. I mean showing your technical expertise can earn you respect, that’s for sure. However I wouldn’t bet this is something team expects from their leader.

    And then, do you have enough time to be both, excellent engineer and excellent manager? I don’t think so.

  • jfbauer December 13, 2010, 10:46 am

    Agile Scout, “Sometimes, just proving you can still do the work is enough. Get your hands dirty in the code…?”, I am going to have to side with Pawel on this one. Leadership through technical superiority might seem to work initially, but you won’t be able to sustain that model over time. You will need to interact with other managers as a manager, not a technical lead. You will need to develop new management-speak that helps you clear barriers for your team and promote your team’s accomplishments, in business terms, to other non-technical managers to be respected … trusted as a peer manager.

  • Mark Phillips December 15, 2010, 1:07 pm

    Pawel,

    It sounds like you’ve had some pretty bad managers in your career :)

    For sure, there are bad managers. Doesn’t mean all managers are bad or that its a bad thing to be a manager.

    Management is a combination of skill and art, like many technical disciplines. Learning how to be a great manager is one of the most valuable skills to learn in a 21st century economy.

    Management can be a powerful role that leads and brings people of disparate skills together to accomplish something that no single individual or even loosely-bound team of individuals could accomplish on their own.

    -Mark

  • Pawel Brodzinski December 16, 2010, 5:32 am

    Mark,

    Actually I consider myself pretty lucky as most of the time I had good or very good managers. This of course, doesn’t mean I haven’t met those who are bad or very bad.

    I’m a manager myself. I never said it’s a bad thing to be one. And the post definitely wasn’t about depreciating the role of a manager.

    Yes, the role of manager is a very important one. But it doesn’t change the point: very little depends directly on managers. It’s more about influencing, but this relation isn’t direct. And it seems many managers aren’t aware of that.

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