Management Myth 23: You Can Manage Any Number of People as a Manager


People Want to Learn
I meet many people looking for new jobs, many of them young in their careers. Quite a few say, “I’m ready for more responsibility. I want more challenge. But there’s nowhere to go. My manager won’t let me learn. My manager keeps my under his thumb.”

Maybe one of the problems with managers learning to delegate is that their managers think they must manage a gazillion people and still maintain their technical skills.

Whether you manage three people or thirty-three people, remember this: People deserve a chance to grow and learn. One of your jobs as a manager is to facilitate their learning.

You Are Not the Sole Source of Knowledge
Many first-line managers see themselves as the expert, as the sole source of knowledge for their group. You may have started as the expert. However, as soon as you become a manager, you want to start moving out of that expert’s seat—and you don’t want to move anyone else into it.

Spread the expertise love. Ask people to work together. This is easy on an agile team, where people are likely to pair or swarm on features. If you don’t have an agile team, ask who is interested in acquiring new knowledge. Remember, unless you have a toxic environment, people want to learn new skills. If no one wants to learn what you know, that is information for you. Maybe your expertise is outdated, or the workplace is hostile, or people are already looking for other jobs. Use your one-on-ones to determine what’s going on.

Build Trusting Relationships With Your Team
Your management position, first-line or not, is about building trusting relationships. If you start managing more than nine people, you are in danger of not being able to build those relationships.

While this affects first-line managers more than it affects more senior managers, it’s a management problem. It requires problem solving and leadership. And that’s what management is for, right?

Read more of Johanna's management myth columns here:

About the author

Johanna Rothman's picture Johanna Rothman

Johanna Rothman, known as the “Pragmatic Manager,” helps organizational leaders see problems and risks in their product development. She helps them recognize potential “gotchas,” seize opportunities, and remove impediments. Johanna was the Agile 2009 conference chair. She is the technical editor for Agile Connection and the author of these books:

  • Manage Your Job Search
  • Hiring Geeks That Fit
  • Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects
  • The 2008 Jolt Productivity award-winning Manage It! Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management
  • Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management
  • Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds: The Secrets and Science of Hiring Technical People

Johanna is working on a book about agile program management. She writes columns for and projectmanagementcom and blogs on her website,, as well on

AgileConnection is one of the growing communities of the TechWell network.

Featuring fresh, insightful stories, is the place to go for what is happening in software development and delivery.  Join the conversation now!