the twinge of managing

I try to clean out my feed reader on Tuesdays while I work at the Ref Desk, and today I clicked through to this one from Rands in Repose.  I’m not an engineer, and I do not manage engineers, but his commentary and analysis ring true across specialties.

As a manager, you manage both yourself and your team, and the simple fact is there will always be more of them than of you. Unless you’re the guy managing a single person (weird), you’ve got multiple folks with all their varied work and quirky personalities to manage.

Rookie managers approach this situation with enviable gusto. They believe their job is to be aware of and responsible for their team’s every single thought and act. I like to watch these freshman managers. I like to watch them sweat and scurry about the building as they attempt to complete this impossible task.

It’s not that I enjoy watching them prepare to fail. In fact, as they zip by, I explicitly warn them: “There is no way you’re doing it all. You need to trust and you need to delegate.” But even with this explanation most of these managers are back in my office in three weeks saying the same thing: “I have no idea how you keep track of it all”.

I don’t.

In addition to trusting those who work for you by delegating work that you may truly believe only you can do, management is also the art of listening to a spartan set of data, extracting the truth, and trusting your Twinges. When you do this well, you look like a magician, but when you screw up, the consequences can be far ranging and damage the project as well as your reputation with those involved.

and, in conclusion:

one of your jobs is to listen to the stories, map them against your experience, and when there’s a Twinge, you ask questions and you need to believe the asking of these questions is a form of building.

As a manager, when the story doesn’t quite feel right, you demand specifics. You ask for the details of the story to prove that it is true. If the story can’t stand up to the first three questions that pop your mind, there’s an issue.

You don’t run a team or a company on a Twinge. The ability to listen to random stories and quickly tease out a flaw in the logic or the absence of a critical dependency is just one of the skills you need to develop as a manager. Like building, both the discovery and the asking of these questions is an art; it’s just another nail you need to figure out how to hammer.

Yep, what he said.  Some days, all I have is two sentences from a staff member and instinct, and I have to make a decision.  Some days I have a whole lot more to work with.  I have to be prepared for both.

Read some of his other stuff (here’s a good place to start); it’s great.  You’ll like it.  Or, if you don’t… maybe don’t go into management?  🙂

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