What Makes a Decent Manager
Though relatively young in my professional journey, here are my observations from having worked with a handful of different managerial personalities in the academic, coffee, and tech industries. I have one basic learning as it relates to an individual’s role in relation to their manager’s role:
Simply put, your job is NOT to do your manager’s job and your manager’s job is NOT to do your job.
You are there because your manager does not know, or has not recently performed, the intricacies of your daily work. Contrary to popular perception, the role of a manager has less to do with the performance of a certain task and more to do with running a team of individuals performing said task. Of course it is helpful if the manager has former experience with performing the task as an individual contributor (IC), however, it is not mandatory. In fact, even managers with previous IC experience, will most likely have forgotten the details of the daily function.
On the flip side, as an IC, you are there to inform and involve him/her in the detailed workings of your role. Often the manager’s role is to take these insights and couple them with available resources to execute a bigger picture plan. Unfortunately, in many larger companies, the managerial role becomes an intermediary position in which, the manager is the messenger between the ICs and upper management/executive team. The latter situation can place the manager in a difficult position, regardless, I have seen the best managers transcend their situation and flourish in their role.
A good manager is somewhat knowledgeable, but mostly exemplifies the qualities of humility, teachability, and empathetic understanding. He/she can plan ahead and communicate emotionally and logically. A good manager knows how to read a room and relay the vision, objectives, and decisions of the upper levels and the lower level contributors to each other without throwing shade or extinguishing hope. This requires an ability to listen, and to convey to the IC or higher ups that they are being heard and their voices are being relayed to the other party. Human beings are extremely sensitive to deception, and it is our unconscious, primal concern to identify it. Because of this managers must toe the line of confidentiality and transparency without making the IC or higher ups feel that they were deceived, betrayed, or misrepresented.
Good management, in reality, looks like a partnership. The misconception of the working world is that those in IC positions can/should climb the ladder into management positions, but in actuality, most ICs would not make great managers. Promotions in salaries and titles are advisable as opposed to placing high performers in managerial roles. It could even be argued that the manager role is more similar to project/program management than a promotional role. The work of leading, developing, and influencing people requires a completely different skillset from the ICs of the world. In project management, the PM does not necessarily need to have all the hard skills in the areas, such as engineering (coding), to successfully manage a project. A baseline understanding of these skills and their utility along with the workflow of relevant roles/tools is most definitely helpful, but not required. Similarly, a manager doesn’t actually need to know how to do an IC’s work. It would definitely be a positive for them to have done the work previously, but purely from the standpoint of having the social respect of ICs and the ability to have empathy for their role-related frustrations and difficulties.
*I realize I summed up this opinion piece with the same way I started it, but thus is the spewing of a young man’s consciousness.