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Being in a position of something approximating authority, I am constantly terrified that everyone I “lead” is losing their will to live.

Granted, that statement is somewhat hyperbolic, but the concern is real and is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently.

I really don’t like the term manager, because it conjures shades of the pointy-haired boss, and I don’t want to perpetuate that clueless middle-manager archetype. I mean, I’d have to grow some hair first, but I really don’t think that the hair is the main requirement to exhibit the destructive and soul-destroying behaviour that he embodies. In the end though, being in a traditional management role, there are certain connotations that come with the territory.

What might have previously been easily identifiable as an animated discussion about a potential solution to a problem between two engineers, might be construed as a direct order not to be questioned or disobeyed.

I don’t want to control every tiny thing like a tyrannical dictator, squeezing the life out of my colleagues with an iron grip.

I just have a lot of opinions about everything.

Whatever Happened To Rick Moranis Anyway?

Micromanagement is a term that gets thrown around a lot in the workplace, especially in software development.

It has these huge negative connotations attached to it, evoking images of an overbearing overlord to whom his or her employees are merely cogs in a great machine of their design. This sort of person ensures that their “cogs” activities are planned out in great detail, making sure that their purely mechanical work is being done in the right area and at the right time. I mean, how else would the overlord be able to make sure that everything is going to get done?

I think at its core the desire to actively micromanage comes from a lack of trust in the people you work with, or perhaps even a fear that without your input, they won’t do what needs to be done.

For some industries maybe this is true. In software development though, you’ve probably gone out of your way to higher smart, educated people who have a proven track record of solving problems and delivering value, so you really should trust them.

Now, the idea of being an all powerful overlord controlling a swathe of minions might be attractive to some, but I want nothing to do with it.

Consciously anyway.

I Hope He’s Happy Now

I have been accused of many things in my life, but being indirect is not one of them. I would say that it is more common to describe me as “direct”, “to the point” and even “brutal”.

This has both upsides and downsides, but there is one specific downside that is relevant to the current topic.

I have strong opinions and I speak about them with authority. Now, whether or not that authority is warranted is a different question, but I definitely project a certain amount of passion into what I say. Internally, my goal is to hold my strong opinions weakly, in that I am willing to listen to new information and change my viewpoint appropriately, but I also know that I am stubborn, so I don’t think I accomplish that consistently. Its definitely an area for personal growth.

Anyway, all of these prefacing statements are really just trying to provide context to the fear that I’ve accidentally engineered an environment where people feel like they have to rely on me for answers, decisions and so on.

Isn’t that what a good leader does though? Provide a strong decision making point and decisive direction?

That’s true in the general, but not in the specific. You should be presenting your people with problems and then giving them the freedom to solve them. If you’re the one making all the decisions, then you’re micromanaging them, whether you realise it or not, and you’re taking away what little fun exists in the work.

In my case, I think that my willingness to offer an opinion combined with the way that I present said opinion has given the illusion of command, rather than collaboration.

And that makes me sad.

The Entertainment Industry Seems Like Such A Hellhole

The solution to the problem is incredibly difficult, for me anyway.

It requires letting go of the minutia, holding back opinions and potential solutions, and leaving your people to make their own decisions and their own mistakes and missteps. In the end, as long as the desired outcomes are met, how the outcomes were met doesn’t really matter except to the people who lived it.

At the point where you let go, the leadership role becomes more about identifying and communicating the destination and figuring out how to measure whether or not it has been reached. Once you’ve done that, get out of the way of your smart people and let them do their stuff.

One thing to keep in mind though is that any successes that your people have should be their own. You don’t get to take credit, except to acknowledge that it was all their doing.

The mistakes they make though? You own those. Your goal is to protect your people from external interference and ramifications, while supporting them through the learning process that comes with a mistake.

A good leader serves first and commands second.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, what I really want is to foster a collaborative environment where ideas are shared openly, defended, tested and mutated such that they become greater than the sum of their parts.

An important part of that is for everyone to feel like they can contribute safely. The set describing “everyone” includes me though, so I need to adapt myself so that I can participate in that space without unintentionally quashing or otherwise negatively affecting the collaboration.

Honestly, it might be easier if I just stopped having opinions about things and constantly sharing them to anyone who will listen.

I think it would probably be easier to stop breathing though.

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