Thursday, September 25, 2008

You Are How You Manage

You know the slogan "You are what you eat"? Well, I think a lot of who you are is how you manage other people. There are lots of different styles, but my own encourages dissent. I don't want to foster competition, but I think that without dissent, without disagreement, you don't get the best solutions. I want the people who work for me to be better than me, at least at something. A few cases in point:

One time, I had an awesome tester working for me, one of the best testers I've ever worked with. A lot of people disliked him because he was a thorn in their side. But I loved him and encouraged him. When I really wanted to know the state of the world, I could ask him and he would give it to me straight. He made my job of managing the team easier. Years later, I happened to be called in as the "fix it guy" on a large project. He happened to be one of the testers on the project. He wasn't the test manager or even the lead, but he was the first guy I talked to and, in 10 minutes, I got a better lay of the land than I could have gotten in an entire day worth of interviewing other people. He made my job easier.

I've also managed a number of tech writers over the years, but I'm thinking of one particular guy who was a former writer. Now, I'm not a bad writer (one of my original majors in college was English, and I'm married to a former English teacher). But, I would regularly run important things I've written by this guy and he would almost always make it better. I made it clear that I didn't want him to pull punches and he didn't. I remember one occasion when I took him a two-page memo I'd written and the post-edit version turned out to be one paragraph. He made me a better communicator.
I once asked a guy who worked for me for an idea to present at an upcoming brainstorming session to make a particular decision. He had one suggestion that I thought was stupid, and I told him so. He argued with me, told me why it was a good idea. I stood my ground. At the brainstorming session, I presented his idea anway. After all, he was very confident that he was right. I also presented some of my own ideas. His idea won and, in the end, deservedly so. He did get the credit, but he made me look good.
In all these cases, and many others, if I hadn't encouraged dissent, I wouldn't have gotten the benefits. For me, this really works, though I'll admit that when I get new employees, they don't always believe me at first. It take some time. It doesn't work for everybody, but it works for me.

But I sure like it when I read a quote like this from Barack Obama on why he picked Joe Biden as his running mate:
"... if I'm in the room making the kinds of tough decisions that the next president's gonna have to make, both on domestic policy and on international policy, then I want the counsel and advice of somebody who's not gonna agree with me a 100 percent of [the] time. In fact, somebody who's independent enough that can push back and give me different perspectives and make sure that I'm catching any blind spots that I have. And Joe Biden doesn't bite his tongue."


Mike Koss said...

Lincoln also agreed with you and Obama: