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Friday Philosophy – Being the Best Manager February 19, 2016

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

I’d like you to spend a minute thinking back on your career and decide who your best manager has been.

Surely your best manager ever deserves a good cup of tea

Surely your best manager ever deserves a good cup of tea

I don’t mean the manager who you personally got on best with or was most popular with the team – though being one (or even both!) of those does not rule them out as being the best manager you had.

It does not have to be in IT – or even work, actually, cast the net wide to include people who have managed teams and groups outside of work that you have been in.

What was it about them that made them such a good manager?

I know what I think made my best manager the best manager I’ve had: She was utterly focused on making her team a success.

The two or three managers I’ve had who are close seconds to the top spot also had that as a high priority. But managers I’ve had who put delivery of whatever their boss wanted above getting the best out of the team just fell short – and, in my opinion, actually delivered less than they could. Because, if delivery of the current objectives comes before the team, you start working on the next objectives with a team less capable than they could have been.

Making your team a success does not actually mean being nice to the team, at least not all the time and not to all of them. Sometimes you have to reprimand a team member for doing something wrong, like doing a shoddy job of a task you know they can do better – not doing so is condoning bad behaviour and they will do a shoddy job again, only now it’s harder to call them out for it. You also will have to at times get them do something they don’t want to do, like be on call at a particular time as no one else can or it is their turn. But if you can’t explain why they need to do this thing they don’t want to do, that is not going to help you get the best out of them.

I’m sure some of you will disagree with me about what makes the best manager you ever had so good, but in some ways it does not matter. Because what I feel is most interesting about that question is, if you manage, or ever have managed, a team (be it in work, in sport or whatever) – do you try and emulate whatever it was that made that best manager so good?

If not, why?



(By the way, if your response to the question about your best manager made you think “the least worst” or “I’ve never had a good manager” then either you have been monumentally unlucky – or else maybe the problem lies not with those managers… )


1. Peter Scott - February 19, 2016

So right, success is about getting teams to perform, developing skills and building trust. Something that is hard to achieve when the only metric to be measured against is completing tasks on a JIRA board.

A few companies back I managed some support teams. Other managers in the company asked why did I line manage a team of “impossible to manage people” and how come my teams always won team of the year? However I suspect team of year was about bringing in revenue and getting renewals

2. richard harrison - February 22, 2016

Hi Martin,
Good managers are few and far between – it’s a difficult balance between the needs of the business and the needs of the team you are looking after. It’s also very easy to criticise managers when you haven’t actually done that role yourself – it’s not easy.

It’s a difficult skill to manage a team of very differing people – some can be left to just get on with it others need constant micro managing. It’s amazing how just one bad person in a team can drag down everyone else – and managing that is very difficult.

The other thing is that ‘IT people’ don’t necessarily make the best managers…. there something about the IT mindset (and I’m generalising here) that doesn’t make for good people managers.

Management also needs training as much as technical skills do.

Personally I’ve worked with maybe half a dozen people who i would really consider excellent managers, a few appealing but everyone else is just trying to do the best they can in a difficult position.

mwidlake - February 22, 2016

Thanks Rich,
Yes, I agree with almost everything you say. As you say (generalising!) I think there is a correlation between working in IT and not being very people-oriented – which I think leads to a more-common-than-average number of bad managers.

You can certainly be taught how to be a better manager. I was very lucky that when I had to do the most management I’ve had to do within my role, I was sent on several management courses to help me (I was kind-of sent on them to check them out, too, but that is another story). A couple were poor but most were very helpful.

That last point you make is also interesting. It’s the only part I don’t fully agree with. Though some poor managers are just trying to cope in a bad situation without the skills they need, I think there are a fair few of managers who are not trying to do the best they can. They are “managing” as they see it as a way to get more cash, more power and more kudos. They don’t actually care about the managing part. I have little love for them.

3. amitzil - February 25, 2016

Martin, this is a great topic. I actually have one great manager in mind, and he wasn’t mine, he was managing a group that I belonged to as a consultant.
I think that managing is a balance between taking care of the people, but making sure that the work is done as well, and it’s definitely not easy. This manager I’m talking about is brilliant, so every time we sat he knew exactly what to ask and how to find the issues that can help the progress of work. He is also very caring for the people (but can be strict when needed), so he simply has perfect combination.

I think the problem with IT people, is that sometimes companies promote people to IT management, but don’t give them the management tools to do that. Management is a role, and people need to understand that you need certain abilities for this role and you also need training. A good IT person won’t necessarily be a good IT manager.

I’ll also take this opportunity to talk about a podcast that I heard about management called “Manager Tools”, and it’s excellent. They have a set of episodes for “basic” management tools and I recommend every manager to listen (https://www.manager-tools.com/manager-tools-basics). They also have many many more about management and career, just browse their site and look for anything that interests you.

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