A missing image of a manager

You must have seen this meme. A group of people is pulling a stone. The first one, that is in the front of the group is labeled as a leader. There’s also another picture, showing a person sitting on the stone and doing nothing. This person is labeled as a boss. If you are a software engineer, this image probably resonates with you. In my opinion, this resonance, is a result of the confirmation bias kicking in, just proving that technical leadership is the only one that’s needed. In my opinion, there’s one more image that should have been added, but was omitted.

The missing picture came to my mind, when I was on my book reading quest, consuming First, Break All the Rules. The  book is based on a Gallup’s institute research, testing how people are being managed and how this changes the way they work. At the beginning, authors are dissecting the poll that they used for their tests. Also, they show a very important difference between the outward and the inward thinking. They describe a leader as a person that looks outward, pulling the line in a new direction, helping other to conquer new territories. It’s interesting that they don’t discuss the boss figure. They discuss the manager, looking inward.

The third picture that is missing is one showing a manager role. It’s not for looking outward, it’s for looking inward, at the people, at the team. Asking them about their goals, their needs and motivating them. I wrote manager role, as this is just a role. Maybe in your organization you’ll find people having two, or even three roles (startups, anyone?). Maybe, unfortunately for you, you’ll find none (complex organizations, gov related companies ruled by policies).

At the end, I’d like to ask you for one thing. Next time, when you see this extremely fitting or soothing presentation slide or meme, think again, why does it suit you? Maybe it’s just a confirmation kicking in? It’s popular to question authorities. Unfortunately for us, it’s still not popular to question self.

How leader should answer a (technical) question

Being a leader of a team means questions. Sometimes too many to answer. Questions means interruptions in your work, hence one can think about minimizing the time spent on answering. You can think of an easy solution: lets put a time limit, which exhausted one day, disallows any further questions. Yep it will limit the time spent on answering but will it help your team as a whole? So many unanswered questions which should have been answered yesterday… It’s wrong.
One can come up with an idea of limiting answer time, for instance you have no more than 5 minutes for a chat about your question. What if the meeting is ended just before the enlightenment moment? It’s wrong.
My preferred way of answering one’s question is to bring even-more-than-needed insight, to not simply answer how to do it, but why it should be done this way. It’s profitable to spend even ten minutes more allowing one to think about reasoning and follow the same path. After all, when the general knowledge about the ‘how-to’ solve the problem is passed, you will have two people in your team why can answer the same question in the future. It’s a lot of better to say ‘he knows how it works and can give you some information. You can analyze this together’ than ‘this was done before. Ask this copier-of-ideas, he will show you how to paste a snippet of code’. This will reduce the chance of you being the bottleneck in your team and increase chances of self-organization.