Your Job is NOT Telling People What To Do
This post is part of my series on Managing Developers – How not to suck
I’ve had many people tell me they would like to be a manager. The first question I ask is ‘why’? The absolute worst answer is any variant of ‘Because I want to tell people what to do’. Any thing remotely like this is the wrong answer. These people are not ready to be managers – they are far from ready. Organizations that make people like this managers are making a huge mistake.
Much of your job as a manager is to enable your team. You are paying them to think, solve problems and get stuff done on time. Let them do it. Your job is not telling people what to do.
Enabling your team means setting them up for success, making sure they do their best work with good continuity over time, not just at crunch time, or ‘when it counts’. If you are thinking, "Yes! A managers job is to make people do their best work." Then you are not understanding this advice.
Merriam Webster defines enable like this:
- to render able as in enable a person to
- give power, strength, or competency to
- to make possible, practical, or easy
- to give the opportunity to
The term make is defined like this:
- to cause to act in a certain way. To compel
Making people do things is telling them what to do. Enabling them is an entirely different thing. There are lots of ways to do this. I cover some of them in this series of posts. Here are a few in no particular order
- Don’t forget what its like to be an individual contributor (post)
- All developers shall have good equipment (post)
- Don’t treat people fungibly (post)
- Know when to shut up and just listen.
- Depending on Heroics is "Epic Fail"
- Praise in public, criticize in private
- Make sure people know what to accomplish, by when and what ‘done’ looks like
- Be your team’s champion, not their defender
This may not sound too hard. But let me make it harder – you can’t do this sometimes, like just at crunch time, or just when the bug count is high, or when the requirements change. Your job is to help your people deliver their best work all the time. It sounds impossible, but the closer you come, the better it is for everyone.
Now, this doesn’t mean you can avoid making decisions. Part of your job is defining constraints, specifying requirements, setting expectations and defining direction.
You will also sometimes need to be directive or proscriptive. Yes, you will sometimes need to tell people what to do. But remember, there is a big difference between reluctantly doing this when necessary, and with good reason and explanation – and being a tin pot dictator.
Here is what I’d like you to remember. If you feel your role is to help your team, you are on the right track. If you feel a visceral need to order people about, then you will suck as a manager – not matter how good you are at everything else.