Let Them Own It!

Umer Mansoor Umer Mansoor Follow Apr 12, 2016 · 2 mins read

Managing people is an extremely difficult task and I’m sad to say that most managers get it dead wrong without even realizing it.

What is management?

To me, management is hiring the right people, telling them what needs to get done and why, giving them the tools they need and getting out of their way.

The problem is that almost all organizational structures put managers at the top of the hierarchy implying that they are the ones responsible for all decision making. And most managers behave that way… they do not get out of the way. DeMarco and Lister provide details of their encounter with one such “manager”:

one senior manager we encountered at a professional society meeting in London. He summed up his entire view of the subject with this statement: “Management is kicking ass.” This equates to the view that managers provide all the thinking and the people underneath them just carry out their bidding. Again, that might be workable for cheeseburger production, but not for any effort for which people do the work with their heads rather than their hands. Everyone in such an environment has got to have the brain in gear. You may be able to kick people to make them active, but not to make them creative, inventive, and thoughtful.

Management is not about making technical decisions. It is about getting the right people on the bus and allowing them to take full ownership. It is about taking care of people, removing barriers, having room for mistakes and moving heaven and earth to give their team anything they need to succeed. If you have incompetent people, I’m sorry to break it to you but you will fail.

Bad managers who believe their job is to “be an intimidating alpha male and to crack the whip” will see the productivity and quality go down in any job that requires people to use their imagination and brain power. Then they become defensive and start putting “processes” and “measurements” in place. The slow decline begins. People abandon ownership and adopt the “Meh. Why should I care?” attitude. Good people leave (physically or mentally) and they end up with yes men. The project is doomed. If it doesn’t fail, it will be of mediocre quality.

In Peopleware, DeMarco and Lister make a great point:

You take no steps to defend yourself from the people you’ve put into positions of trust. And all the people under you are in positions of trust. A person you can’t trust with any autonomy is of no use to you.

Sounds radical and confusing? Take comfort in the fact that it is. Managing people is extremely difficult and there is no elixir. I’m by no means suggesting that managers should disappear from the scene. Just have some faith in your team and let smart people take ownership. Great managers bring the best of out everyone in their team, they create other leaders, they create gelled teams. That’s the stuff legends are made of.

This article was written by Umer Mansoor. Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Umer Mansoor
Written by Umer Mansoor Follow
Hi, I am Umer. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and it is where I work. Since 2011, I have worked at startups, mobile gaming and internet companies. If you have any questions, feel free to message me.

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