Management Myth #8: I Can Still Do Significant Technical Work


The temptation can be incredibly strong for managers—especially new ones—to step in when a technical problem arises. But, that isn’t a very good show of faith in one’s team members. Johanna Rothman writes that as a manager, you have to delegate a problem and leave it delegated.

“You know, if you want something done, you just have to do it yourself,” Clive muttered as he strode down to his office.

Susan looked up from her desk and sighed. She stood, followed Clive down the hall, and knocked on his office door.

“What? I’m a little busy right now!” he replied and turned back to his computer. Then, he turned to Susan and said, “Explain this part of the framework to me.”


He looked at her, raised an eyebrow, and said, “No? I’m your boss.”

“That’s right. You’re the manager, but you’re not asking me as my manager. You’re asking me someone who’s going to go in and do some damage, as opposed to some help. I’m the technical lead. If you have a problem with what’s going on technically, you’re supposed to talk to me. You’re supposed to talk to the team. Why are you not talking to me? Why are you not talking to the team? Why are you messing with the code?”

“Did you see what Todd did?”


“You can stand there calmly and say yes? You’re not freaking out?”

“No, I’m not freaking out, because the team and I solved this problem this morning, which is more than you have done. Whose problem is this to solve?”

“Uh, yours and the team’s.”

“Thank you. And did you ask me or the team how we were solving the problem?”

“Uh, no.”

“So, you missed that Todd and Cindy are pairing on the fix for this problem, that we already have a patch on the production server, and that Dick and Samara are pairing on performance test development so we catch this in the future. You missed all of that, right? Oh, and that we will be reviewing the code and the tests, right? You missed that?”

“Uh, yes.”

“You were going to put on your Superman coder cape and do it all yourself?”

“Uh, yes.”

“Look, Clive, you were the Superman developer back in the day, but your day was more than five years ago. Even if it had been a year ago, you wouldn’t know what we’ve done with the code. You cannot possibly be current with what we are doing. We have thirty people in the code, what with the automated tests and the updated frameworks. You don’t know what we have anymore. You are no longer current. You cannot do significant technical work anymore without doing real damage. Stop thinking you can.”

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