Managing is a practice, not an outcome

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, June 18, 2024, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

Someone recently asked me what I would tell new managers as far as advice goes. This was specifically in the context of software engineering, but I imagine it could be broadly applied. Honestly, I've though about codifying my "philosophy" for a long time, but often fail to write anything down, or even know where to start. So much of what I know is what not to do, which seems negative, but I think it's valuable. But there is one thing that occurred to me when I was recently asked about what my style is. I gave the usual answer, that servant leadership is important, but the more I think about it, the more I realize there's an underlying principle to consider.

Management is about reaching certain outcomes. It is not about managing. I think a lot of people enter these kinds of jobs believing that if they're not constantly making decisions and telling people what to do and creating policies and processes, they're not doing the job. But while those things are important, they're only valuable if they're serving outcomes. I would argue that a lot of managers spend time "managing" without serving outcomes. And if you're not serving outcomes, you're mostly wasting time.

If I go way back to my post-college retail job, I had a boss that was a first-time manager. Our work was straight-forward enough: Sell computers. Despite the desired outcome, selling more stuff, he came up with all kinds of things to do that served little purpose other than to show he was "managing." I remember that we had some kind of checklist for openers, for things you would naturally do in a retail job. The staff rebelled and never used the list, but the work was always done.

That situation really stuck with me. I guess I've always looked at management differently, in part because managers don't directly add value, they can only facilitate and influence it. That's all the more reason to be outcome oriented, because outcomes can be defined and measured. Everything you do should enable outcomes, and I can guarantee that creating processes and setting policy without being aware of its impact is just creating overhead.

So if you find yourself leading other humans, ask yourself if what you're doing is moving toward outcomes, or just doing things that you think you should do because that's what managers do. They're not the same thing.


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