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Dan Donahue

Musician. Traveler. Programmer.

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I recently read an article on management styles that I thought made a great point. Take a look here.

The jist of the article is that there are managers who are "bosses" in that they micro-manage and take a heavy hand with their subordinates. On the other side of the coin, bosses who are "leaders" share their vision and show a passion that naturally their subordinates want to get behind. I've definitely seen both sides of that, but I think the article doesn't go far enough. I don't think this is solely a tale of different management styles. I think this can be applied to the case of whether management is even really necessary.

What I mean is - are managers really necessary if your office is filled with leaders, regardless of their job title? I think not.

I find it much easier to consider ideas on their merits rather than on WHO is delivering them. Leaders seem to get this. They want to show you their vision, they have absolutely no problem telling you why they find their idea valuable and even moreso, they have no problem admitting when you've poked a hole in their idea. These are people I find it easy to get behind.

On the otherhand, when you have a very one directional flow of information, my natural tendency is to resist. No thought working professional wants to be marginalized or treated as though they're incapable of having good ideas or that another's ideas have more weight to them simply because of who they are. And that's typically what you get from a manager.

Even if you consider the best managers in the world, there is still an implicit hierarchy which can affect your dealings with that person. It's much easier to debate an idea on merit with someone of equal footing.

The same can be said for problem solving. The fondest memories I have of effective problem solving were just getting a bunch of really intelligent people in a room to hash out a problem. The solutions were usually the cleanest, easiest and most likely to succeed because they'd been considered from all angles. Conversely, a solution delivered from above with no input or chance to counter from below is automatically received with distrust.

What I've come to conclude from both this analysis and also from my professional experience is that MOST managers prefer the boss approach. And it's because they've been unsuccessful with the leader approach. They've been ineffective at being visionary, gathering support or taking feedback, but they still crave influence so they go the opposite route. It's unfortunate. Because what they end up doing is drowning out and eventually disengaging the true leaders in the office.

I've been thinking a lot about this lately as my work is transitioning from what was a very flat organization where developers were empowered to make decisions to a more structured organization. By the end of this year, we'll have a manager for every 4-5 developers whereas there were two for the entire office when I was hired. And all this while there are still developer teams without a dedicated QA person(s) or product owner. And I can't for the life of me see what was going so poorly that these changes needed to take place.