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Posted on: Saturday, 19 December 2009 by Rajiv Popat

An acquaintance from the real physical world; complements me on having a good 'management blog'.

I cringe.

To be honest; I cringe every time someone refers to what I do at work or on this blog as 'management'. The word 'manager' or as I like to call it - the m-word is the one word; that you; dear reader do not want to have anywhere in your secret title.

You might be okay with tolerating the m-word sitting quietly in a tiny little corner of your business card; but not on your secret title.

Steve Yegge; in his famous post on not-managing-programmers describes his frustration with the term 'management' and the whole idea of striving to become a 'manager'. He explains:

But I think the best managers don't want to manage: they want to lead. In fact most leaders probably don't think about it much, at least at first, because they're too busy leading: rushing headlong towards a goal and leading everyone around them in that direction, whether they're on the team or not. Leadership stems from having a clear vision, strong convictions, and enough drive and talent to get your ideas and goals across to a diverse group of people who can help you achieve them. If you have all that, you're close. Then you just need empathy so you don't work everyone to death. If you're a great leader, you can put the whip away; everyone will give you everything they've got.

Put in that light, management no longer seems so glamorous, does it? Ironically, "I want to be a manager" is just about the worst sentiment a would-be manager could possibly express, because the statement has absolutely nothing to do with leadership. A leader doesn't fixate on management, which is after all just a bureaucratic framework that attempts to simulate leadership through process and protocol. Great teams building great things don't worry about process. They just build whatever it is as fast as they can.

The more HR-oriented a tech organization becomes, with manager training and manager forms and manager evaluations and manager this and that, the harder it is for a real leader to get any work done. Often as not, the actual leaders in the organization (at all levels, from individual contributors up through senior VPs) tend to be very slightly unpopular with HR, because they're always bending the rules and not doing things strictly by the book.

The true leaders in an organization are seeing the world through a very different set of eyes: the eyes, almost, of someone reading a story unfolding, except they're the ones writing the story. They can see clear as day how the world should be different in some way, and they're doing whatever it takes to get from here to there. And they're enlisting all the help they can get along the way, because getting others on board with your ideas is one of the best ways to accomplish your goals. They'll align their own goals with yours if they agree with you strongly enough.

Great companies recognize that leadership is orthogonal to management, and that people can be highly influential leaders with or without direct reports. The management hierarchy isn't generally helping the leaders. If you're lucky enough to have truly great leaders in your org, the best thing you can do is get out of their way and let them lead.

Any time I hear someone say "I want to be a manager", I just want to smack them. But maybe it's just me. 

Unfortunately I cannot tell you that I have seen it all; but in the years of software development I have done and the countless companies I have consulted with or visited; if there is one thing I have seen; it is that the best managers in the teams are usually the one who do not talk about management.

In fact; the managers who manage developers the best are managers who do not manage developers at all. All they do is; hire the best; and then get the obstacles out their way.

The best of the managers I've worked with; often do not tend to use heavy words. They do not tend to bitch about process; they do not tend to feel the yearning urge to manage others; or obsess over project plans. To be honest; the best of the managers I've worked with often do not even think or see themselves as managers; and they definitely do not use the m-word as frequently as their traditional-mediocre-counterparts. 

Remember; the best management is management that you cannot see; and the best managers are managers who do not need to manage people or things. True management is all using inspiration; dreams; story-telling or passion to mentor and align smart human beings towards remarkable goals which result in genuine win-win situations.

So; if you see me as a manager; or this blog as a management blog; maybe that's probably just because this blog is my journey away from the m-word and towards something more meaningful; and I may not be quite there yet.

The very fact that you see me as a manager probably tells me that I am not the best of the managers out there; but then: I'm learning.

Every single day of my life; and so should you.

Can we please stop using the m-word now and focus on common sense; empathy; cutting the crap; ethics and (as the title of this blog reads) simple 'logical thoughts'?

The best managers in the world do not use the m-word very frequently; they don't obsess over management either and neither should you.