Just because you have a fancy job title doesn't mean you can manage your team members by bossing them around. Servant leadership is an important skill for managers, as the best managers are those who serve the people who work for them.
Belinda, the VP of engineering, gathered her thoughts. I am not looking forward to this conversation, but I need to have it. Again.
Dan, the director of development, arrived on time for his one-on-one. “Hey, Belinda. Do you think we need all of our time? I have another meeting in ten minutes.”
“Let’s see what happens. I have a number of things on my list.” Belinda stood, picked up her notes and notebook, and met Dan at her visitor’s table. “What’s been going on this week with you and your teams?”
They discussed the problems that Dan’s teams had solved and what was still remaining.
Dan then said, “I have to tell you, I’m really enjoying this new role.”
“Oh? Tell me more.”
“Well, I get to tell people what to do. I really get to boss people around.”
“Do you find that effective?” Belinda asked. “Can you provide me some examples of how that works for you?”
“Sure,” Dan replied. “In the Alpha project, I told that team, you know, the one with Vijay, Susie, and those two other people whose names I can’t remember? Well, I told them to get off their tushes and get down to business. We can’t wait all day for them to “spike” their work. We need results. And what did they do? They finished their work. I sure told them.” Dan preened.
Belinda paused for a minute. “Dan, do you remember anything about developing software?”
“Sure, but my needs are so much more valuable now. You asked me for an estimate. I gave you an estimate, right?”
“Yes, but what you gave me was meaningless,” Belinda said. “You intimidated the team. You threw your weight around and acted like a bully. You can’t even remember the names of people who work for you.
“I don’t want a single-point estimate. That’s not useful. I want something I can work with, but that’s not the point here.
“When you disregard the fact that people are working hard to provide you good data, you are belittling their work. You might not like the way these people work, but that’s not up to you. They have chosen to work that way, and as long as they produce results, they can choose to work that way.
“When you don’t know the names of the people working for you, you act as if you are more valuable than the people in your group.
“You are not acting as a servant leader, which is what I need from my managers. Great managers serve the people who work for them. Yes, they also serve their managers. Middle managers are stuck in the middle. I serve my managers and I serve you, which is why I’m providing you this feedback.
“When you tell people to stop spiking, what do you think will happen?”
Dan looked confused. “They’ll just get on with the work, right?”
“Well, they might. If they do, they have no idea how long something will take. If you then ask for an estimate, it will serve you right if they answer, “Christmas,” and don’t tell you which Christmas. I bet these smart people will ignore you and continue doing whatever they were doing before. You will marginalize yourself.
“The problem is that managers are not more valuable than technical people. You can’t believe your own press. Managers provide different value.
“You can tell people what to do. You can tell them how big the estimate should be. You can tell them any number of things, and that might even work for a short time. However, they will eventually flip the bozo bit on you.