Lately I failed as a manager
I´m talking about managing in the sense of showing people a direction and provide them with helpful informations. I´m pretty sure that many managers have stepped into the same trap at some point: multi-tasking.
As someone who soaked up every single piece of Merlin Mann’s writings I considered myself to be well prepared by just knowing of the problem’s existence. And then it eventually creeped into my life.
I never intended to become a manager. I became a »temporary manager« by accident. Not because I was best suited for a manager function in general but because there was just no one around who was better suited and could shift some work load. I had been around from the beginning and built up quite a lot of background knowledge by contributing to the concept. In other words: It was more that kind of one-eyed guy amongst the blind thing.
Managers are the counterpart of the producing folks. Which means by implication that managers don´t produce anything. They´re supposed to smooth the way for those who are producing stuff. They are politicians, catalysts, mediators, visionaries.
When »managing« the teams I considered my work more in enabling people to work, ironing out problems than in perpetuating the project´s vision.
And by doing so it happened quickly that I lost track of the important things.
I found that this fact is much easier to spot than to realize.
All of the sudden, I found myself answering a huge amount of questions every day, moving emails and tasks from A to B.
This kind of work is exhausting. After a whole day of »managing« I sometimes wasn´t even able to make the silliest decisions (one day I was literally standing in the supermarket for about 2 minutes and couldn´t decide whether to buy chocolate muesli or the one with honey instead).
When I started in the morning with a bottom-up approach, answering the oldest emails first and working through them to the top, I immediately lost my sense for what is important and what is not.
It´s in the nature of things that more important issues are more thought-intensive. And suddenly when someone raised an important question I´ve answered something like »I won´t tell you between noon and midday. I need to think about it first.«
The thing is that I rarely had the time to think about the important stuff because I was shoveling emails. Instead, most of the time I postponed important issues.
It´s much easier to find satisfaction in having dealt with 200 problems a day than having solved one important one.
The first one is easier to achieve and seems more measureable, so I instinctively choose this over solving real problems. Just because the danger of beeing unsuccessful is much higher when dealing with one complex issue.
I realized what a bad »manager« I was when I switched back to what I was supposed to work on: Design of interfaces. Going back to this kind of job gives me a hard time. A designer
needs to honor details much more than a manager has to. In fact, design lives from details. Management mostly lives from a bigger picture.
I lost my vision over dealing with too many details.
At that point I was more or less useless as a manager. I´ve told the navigator to turn right without beeing clear about the destination.
So what did I learn from this?
- I can´t be a designer and a manager in one person. The first requires an eye on the details and a lot of fiddling while the other requires mostly the opposite.
- I learned to respect good managers for isolating themselves from too many details. It´s the right thing to do and since they´re good managers, they perceive good ideas and trust their experts to work them out
- I will pay more attention to my spider senses trying to notice when a manager spends 100% of his/her time beeing a catalyst. If they do it´s not a good idea to rely on their ability to judge and I would try to do a better job in convincing them of what I think is right. Just in order to make them rely more on me as an expert.
- Good management is a form of art. I really wonder if students learn as much about creativity at The Business School of Blabla’s Management Master course than they do about using management tools. I´m afraid they´re not teached about the multi-tasking trap. Just like no-one ever teached them how to write proper emails, how to evaluate informations they google and so forth.
So, sadly I have the same bad feeling about young managers than I have about young doctors. There are things they have to learn by doing. And the most precious amongst all learnings come from failing.
At least, by this logic, beeing a manager for a while was a precious learning for me.