Good Manager/Bad Manager
In the spirit of Ben Horowitz’s Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager, here’s my attempt at Good Manager/Bad Manager, summarizing lessons from my ten years trying to get this right.
Good managers are all about their teams. They measure themselves through the successes of their teams. They are tirelessly driving to create environments where the team members are fully engaged and doing great work. Good managers remove obstacles and create room. Good managers work to understand and develop each worker as individuals. Good managers build trust and transparency.
Bad managers are about themselves. They think it’s their job to tell their teams what to do; and it’s the teams’ job to do them ASAP. Bad managers think people are replaceable parts. Bad managers are frustrated when teams do not achieve their goals, but they don’t bother to understand why. They wrongly conclude that the teams are either lazy or incompetent, so they replace the teams and expect better results.
Good managers say “we”. Bad managers say “I”. If a team stumbles and fails, good managers hold themselves responsible. Bad managers blame the team.
Good managers are great prioritizers. They recognize that there is always more work than what a team can focus on. So they create systems to organize work by importance and urgency. They accept those that have the biggest impacts as each team’s WIP (Work In Progress). Because they’re in tune with their teams they know just how much to accept. Then they say “no” to everything else. (Or at least “not yet”.) This way, they create team focus and a cadence of successful results.
Bad managers just throw work onto their teams. They think every work item is top priority. They defocus their teams, thus creating chaos and lost productivity. This way, bad managers set up their teams for failure.
Good managers are coaches. They care about their team members and their personal and professional growths. They interact with their team members frequently, to better understand their workflows and challenges. They ask pointed questions and they listen actively. They provide candid feedback and guidance based on unbiased observations and experience.
Bad managers think it’s not their job to grow their people. They think their good people will learn and improve on their own. They may be vindicated when some do, but they’re surprised when those people find other managers to work for.
Good managers do not play favoritism. Bad managers do, and create political environments full of mistrust and gossip. Good managers are transparent on how their people are impacting the team and the business, and drive towards the ideal of meritocracy.
Good managers are not afraid to recognize and reward their star performers exceptionally. They are confident they’ve created an environment where their people’s contributions are assessed objectively. In recognizing and rewarding the stars, they do not create jealous reactions. Instead, they create a sense of fairness and inspire others to make greater contributions.
Bad managers are typically blind to who their true star performers are. They apply superficial and subjective metrics because they do not put in the time to understand their people’s work. And if their star performers’ contributions are obvious, they find excuses to play these down. Bad managers think their job is to keep their stars working hard without having to recognize or reward them.
And perhaps most importantly, good managers are leaders. They embody the mission and the values of the company and demonstrate these through their own actions. They enroll their people in the mission and make sure that they are all aligned. They motivate and inspire their people to higher standards. Bad managers are bullies. They push their people to higher standards than what they hold themselves to.
I wrote this down in the hope of reaching those working hard to be good managers. It’s not always easy to do the right things, and I hope some of these words help.
And if you happen to find yourself working for a bad manager, you owe it to yourself to look around. Life is too short to be working for one.