Management Myth 30: I Am More Valuable than Other People

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“Managers are valuable when they serve their teams. Managers are valuable when they create an environment in which people can solve problems. Managers are not valuable when they puff out their chests and say, ‘Look at me, I’m the manager.’ When you put your needs first, you are not helping anyone.”

Dan sat there, stunned. “But you gave me all these responsibilities. I have to accomplish them.”

“Yes, you do. You accomplish those responsibilities through your teams. You don’t do them yourself. That’s why you have people who do the work. You ask people how long the work might take, right? You decide on the project portfolio, along with the other directors and me, because we make decisions as a management team. You help your teams problem-solve. You provide meta-feedback and meta-coaching. If people ask you to remove management obstacles, you do so. That’s how you can manage the fifty to sixty people you have in your group—through your managers. How else could you manage that many people?

“You serve the teams. You serve the people. They don’t serve you. Just because you have a title with director in it does not make you “more equal” than anyone else. Your title means your decisions are more strategic for the organization. Other people make strategic product decisions. You might help with those, too, but you are not more equal than them.

“Would you like to talk some more about what management is?”

Middle Managers Have a Difficult Balancing Act
Many middle managers find themselves in a tricky situation. They have a senior manager who says, “Gimme this project,” or “Deliver that report,” or “Do this with half the time/budget/people,” and they are too far from the technical work to understand the details of it. They resort to mandates, demands, or blaming the project teams, because they don’t understand what it takes to deliver a product.

We have all seen the demands roll downhill and the environment that creates. It’s not pretty.

Great Management Is Servant Leadership
It takes much more work, but instead of demands rolling downhill, when managers understand what their managers want (i.e., the problem) and then provide solutions, organizations run better. Things may not be perfect, but they are better.

To do that, managers need to lead problem solving and to be servant leaders. Managers need to create environments in which everyone can contribute.

It’s not about managers being more or less valuable than the rest of the team; all team members contribute in their own way. What is important is how managers contribute. If managers don’t provide servant leadership, they are not providing the leverage for everyone else. They are not creating an environment in which people can do their best work.

Bossing people around doesn’t sound like valuable management to me. Does it sound that way to you?

Read more of Johanna's management myth columns here:

User Comments

3 comments
Violet Weed's picture

Too black and white. I don't know anyone like that 'director' (frankly I don't know any Directors who only have 50-60 people to direct). The point is that BELINDA is not MENTORING that 'director', is she? No. She is not. Servant leadership is good to bandy about, but before one does that, one should know what it really means.

June 3, 2014 - 12:05pm
Violet Weed's picture

Interesting! I just remembered who the author is, so now I am even more nonplussed about the article. It's too simplistic for Ms. Rothman to have written. I think she needs to get back to her roots, err, better yet: hire a content-editor.

June 3, 2014 - 12:07pm
Johanna Rothman's picture

Hi Violet, No, I really did write that article. Dan does have managers working with him. He doesn't manage 50-60 people directly.

Belinda is giving Dan feedback. Dan is not working in a way that is helpful. Do we at least agree on that?

 

June 3, 2014 - 12:38pm

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 Stickyminds.com and projectmanagementcom and blogs on her website, jrothman.com, as well on createadaptablelife.com.

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