On being a bad manager
Jason Fried
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I am mostly retired now. I was an actuary but was promoted to management, and for over 20 years I managed in a big four accounting firm I managed teams on several large projects, teams composed of my staff and people drawn from my client’s staff their attorneys and occasionally other accounting and consulting firms. That may sound like a lot of experience that should have made me an expert, but even 20 years is a minute sample and woefully insufficient for drawing anything more than a few conclusions.

I must say, however, I found your comments to be spot on. I would only add that, in my experience, successfully outcomes and a feeling by all involved that a project was well managed was never even mostly the result of my efforts. Good teams make good managers. From my experience I would add this advice:

1. Focus early on assembling a good team. Technical proficiency for the work at hand is important but not necessarily sufficient. You may also need people who are not the best at the skill required but are good plodders who get along well with others and have a knack for just getting things done and helping others to be efficient. I can remember an occasion when I gave a young lady mathematician, a recent graduate and college cheerleader, of very little experience, the task of monitoring progress and helping to keep everyone on task. In the end everyone agreed that was a necessary and crucial ingredient in the success of that project. Yes, a lot of deep expertise was needed for the final result, but it would not have got there in a timely and cost effective way without her guidance and advocacy.

2. Be firm, but be kind. If something is wrong say so quickly and with conviction, no matter how embarrassing. A splinter will fester if not removed quickly. But be kind. They are humans. So are you. We are not necessarily the right person for every job. We all make mistakes. Help them to correct the error, or help them as gently as possible to the door and encourage them to move on to something else.

3. Listen to them. You may know more than them, but you don’t know everything. They are the knife edge that is on the grinder, they may at important times have a much better feel about what is going right and what is going wrong.

4. Give them authority over their piece of the action. Let them begin as best they know how. They may surprise you, but more likely, as you watch them or listen to their solutions you will see gaps in their knowledge and/or process. Don’t make the mistake I often made of jumping in too quickly to correct them. Observe and listen well. When you try to fill that gap, you will have to start from the edges where they are. You need to have a good feel of where to begin filling in.

5. Invest in them. To succeed your team has to be invested in the success of the team and, because you are the owner of the project, they have to be invested in you. That will be hard if they don’t feel that you are invested in their success. Go back and practice more on steps 3 and 4. Then spend time and money on broadening and deepening their skills. Even a temporary or contract worker will feel invested in a project if they believe they will be able to take away some new knowledge, understanding, resume credentials, or good recommendation from the experience.

I apologize for saying so much more than I intended for a short comment, and I thank you for indulging in what my sons affectionately refer to as “wise old ranting”.