Friday, August 09, 2013

A Message To Managers Everywhere, Especially Those In IT

Anthony Guerra, Editor-in-Chief, penned the following piece over at It should be required reading for everyone who manages anyone, and particularly for those in IT...

Balancing The Elements Of Leadership

“So he just sat there?"


“And you didn’t know he was coming?”


“And he didn’t say anything at all?”


“And then he just left?”


My friend Sally had recently taken on a new role in her company during which the boss of the division was temporarily reassigned. Everything had been going just fine, with Sally settling in, learning the ropes and establishing a schedule that fell within the parameters established by the company (two days a week working from home). But when it was time for Bill the boss to return, he seemed less interested in getting to know his new team than establishing his authority and control.

To start, he made creepy unannounced and silent visits to team meetings, preferring to act as fly on the wall rather than a leader looking to inspire the troops. Then, when he decided to speak, it was all negative, negative, negative — questioning what each employee had been doing, criticizing much of the work, and laughing at the schedules which had been established.

“What would you have done?” she asked me.

“Well, I would have let people know I was coming and then worked to get acquainted or reacquainted with everyone to find out how they’ve been, what they’ve been working on, and how I could help them be more efficient. I would have looked to see where my priorities dovetailed with theirs and where they parted, and worked to close the gap on the latter as smoothly as possible. It sounds like Bill is more interested in proving to his superiors that he can get his team in line than proving to his team that he’s on their side.”

“What are you going to do?” I asked.

“Well, if things keep going in this direction, I’m going to work on getting a transfer out of here as soon as possible, either within the company or out of it.”

And that’s the truth of it folks. Good people just will not stick around to be bullied by management that cares more about its own future than theirs. Can’t you just tell when a manager is more concerned with moving up on the backs of its team than backing them up? Ironically, it’s the managers best able to motivate their teams who get the best results, and thus move up the quickest. Why is this so often missed?

In leadership, there is a timeless element and a temporal one. The above represents the timeless — good leaders have always been focused on the happiness of their troops. The temporal changes with the times, and requires a deep understating of one’s environment. In our business at — publishing — this last week has seen a slate of stories about such temporal change:

What I can see from the above articles is that we are very well positioned, with no print product pulling resources away from what matters, and no futile attempt to make our readers pay for content. In fact, we don’t even require you to register. I mean, how annoying is it to remember your username and password for a particular site?

To be a great leader, you need both. You need to practice and preach the timeless tenants of management while being firmly embedded in the changing dynamics of your times. Only if you employ them in tandem will you have the right team — inspired and enlivened — moving in the right direction. Tina Brown couldn’t do it, maybe Jeff Bezos can.
I've always wondered why IT departments, the folks that manage computers, the wonders of the modern world, can be so, well, backward and intransigent. In my travels around the world as a self-declared expert on such things, I keep finding the same story. The front-line IT folks are often (not always, but often) quite willing to be bold, to do what it takes to make something work and work right, to innovate and use the power of their charges the computers to improve life for all. But these bleeding-edgers are held back, if not thwarted altogether, by their managers, who often haven't a clue as to how any of it works, but don't want that fact known. The have risen to the level of their incompetence, ala the Peter Principle, and rather than encourage and nurture those under them who might flourish in the right environment, they choose instead to quash any spark of innovation which might expose their deficiencies. I've even encountered a situation where an IT manager quite literally terrorized his/her charges; one would be chosen each day for "special" treatment. 

How much progress have we lost to this toadying, self-serving, even Luddite behavior? Too much.

But how to solve the problem? The underlings (for lack of a better word) fear for their jobs, and won't blow the whistle. So, I guess I must appeal to the problem-children themselves. You know EXACTLY who you are, and you are probably sneaking furtive glances over your shoulder as you read this, because you don't want your superior to see you reading my blog or anything like it. But take heed. Those under you have your number, and while they can't do anything about your restrictive policies, they can, in most cases, go somewhere else. As you keep losing them to other departments, your superiors will start to take notice, and it's quite possible that some of them actually do know what they are doing and what you are supposed to be doing.

So here's my advice.

Talk to those under you. Admit that you don't know everything about what they are doing, and learn from them. Let them show you what they know and what they can do. Become their advocate rather than their nemesis. I PROMISE this will work well for you and everyone on the entire team, and indeed, it will accelerate progress throughout the enterprise. And for Heaven's sake STOP with the namby-pamby feel-good office-speak that I outlined in a prior post. It sucks, it bores people, it turns them off, and it doesn't work. It just makes you look like a fool with a stick up your backside, and it accomplishes exactly nothing.

I'm not holding my breath, but if I can change the environment in even one IT department, then I've done my good deed for the day.


Anonymous said...

As an IT healthcare person, all I have to say is...
:) further comment is necessary!

Anonymous said...

As a fellow radiologist, there's nothing more frustrating than having a mission critical work force like IT on their own timetable. And unlike us, after five and weekends are extra charge, doc.I wrote a post about it a while back , one day in frustration trying to get a VPN bandwidth issue chased down for a remote site.
Your post was timely, well written and to the point....

M.A.Hanley said...

I think most people who would make smart leaders are smart enough to not take the jobs because they are too stressful.