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Friday Philisophy – To Manage or to Not Manage March 26, 2010

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Management, Uncategorized.
Tags: ,

Recently a friend of mine Graham Oaks blogged about his decision to step back from management and return to the Technical Coal Face.

I made a similar decision 3 or 4 years back, so I have a lot of empathy for his position and his decision. I found that to do the job of a manager takes up a lot more time, effort, patience and emotional effort than I had realised. Team leading is bad enough, having to coordinate the efforts of a half dozen people and sorting out the myriad issued they throw your way. Being in charge of multiple teams, responsible for strategy, dealing with staff development and moral, being a buffer against HR and having to deal with the politics created by people who WANT to be managers and wield power is more than a full-time job. Trying to hold onto a technical element as well, I found I could only manage it by doing the technical job as a “hobby”, in my own time. It was just too much to keep going year after year.

I had to chose. Give up the technical to give me enough personal resource to remain a manager and get better at it, or stop being a manager and start re-gaining my technical skills. I chose the latter.

Since I made my decision 3 years ago, I have met several people who have made the same conscious decision to step away from management and return to a more technical role. You may stand to earn more as a manager {which is something I objected to before being a manager and I still object to having been one – it should be possible to earn the same doing either} but for some of us it is not enough to make losing the hands-on work a sacrifice worth making.

One of the points Graham makes in his blog is that his spell as a manager has given him an appreciation of the challenges of management and the particular hells and stresses of the role. I think this is something that people who have never been managers have trouble really understanding.

I was working with a guy a couple of years ago and he was telling me how much of “a Moron” his boss was. In fact, he felt his current boss was even more of a moron than his previous boss. He then confessed that all of his bosses had been morons. “What, every single one of them?” I asked. Yes, absolutely all of them. That struck me as incredibly unfortunate, that every single one of these managers (and he’d had a lot as he moved between teams and positions on a regular basis), most of whom had come up through the technical ranks, were all Morons. I pointed out this unfortunate coincidence and wondered if there might actually be a common factor with all of these managers. He told me there was; They were all Morons.

He himself had never been a manager. He said he was too smart. Not smart enough to get what I was hinting at with the common factor suggestion though.

Obviously, some managers are poor at what they do; there are poor people in every job. But something I took away from my time being a manager is a lack of empathy for anyone saying all managers are a waste of time when they have never done the job themselves.

After all, I doubt there is any job where just doing it means you are an idiot.

Except Sys Admins – They are all idiots πŸ™‚ (ducks behind server).


1. oakesgr - March 26, 2010

a common factor… They were all Morons. >> ROFLMAO πŸ™‚

mwidlake - March 26, 2010

I have to say, at the time I thought that answer was the smartest {and Smartest} thing he ever came up with. Made me laugh like a drain.

So did you turn away from the mgmnt true path because you are NOT a Mor….?

oakesgr - March 29, 2010

LOL – I wish. I make no claims to being a moron or otherwise! I’ll leave that to others to decide.

2. dombrooks - March 26, 2010

Trouble is that, over 13 years, I can still count the number of good managers I’ve had with one hand. And I don’t need all my fingers.

Part of the problem is just the career path and expectation of the career path of the average IT worker.

dombrooks - March 26, 2010

But I don’t doubt that it’s a difficult job. It must be for there to be so few good ones πŸ™‚

Then again I’ve blogged before about an abundance of managers but a chronic lack of leadership.

mwidlake - March 26, 2010

Therein lies what I thought would be my next FF blog post Dom. Being a good manager and being a good leader.

I won’t spoil my own proto-post by saying much now, but I once had a boss who was a Leader. He did inspire the project, he gave the workers (well, certainly me at least) a good feeling about doing the job and he could lift moral. He could also rip a strip off you but he only did so when you deserved it, and always left you a way to reclaim your standing. He was rubbish at managing things.
So he had an assistant. His assistant was none of the above. In fact,the assistant looked like yoda dyed grey and with all the gravitas removed. The man was annoying at times and utterly lacking in impact. But he could whip a project plan into shape and he could prioritise and he could predict issues. He was very good at his job.

15 years later, I still think I was lucky to witness that and what it said about the difference between managing and leading.

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