Just don’t do it

Let’s face it. Technical people rarely make great managers. For most of us, Mr. Scott’s quote above rings very true. We love solving problems, and we love making or building things. But being in charge, being responsible for other people, having to talk to people in tense situations just isn’t our cup of tea. Actually, it isn’t for most people, and for those of us “on the spectrum”, it’s doubly challenging. Yet every day, lots of really talented people make the decision to go from just making the things they love making to being the one in charge. We do it for all sorts of reasons. We think it’s the only career path forward. We want to be able to tell people what to do because we know the One True Way ™. Or we simply think it is the best way to have a seat and/or a voice at the table. But are those the right reasons?

Twelve years ago, I became a manager for all of the reasons above. Over the years I’ve learned that some (all) of those reasons are bad. Some are very bad (go figure). However, I’ve also learned that I really enjoy managing people. That usually the hardest problems professionally aren’t technical at all. That crafting the perfect bit of code, building the perfect circuit, designing the perfect system, or making a beautiful piece of art is amazing, but your team needs more than that – much, much more. They need a voice, they need direction, they need support, they need autonomy. Turns out I really love solving those kinds of problems as well. My goal with this blog is to talk about the tools and techniques that I’ve discovered and honed over the years to help people become better managers. In my experience a well managed team is way happier and more productive. And who doesn’t want happy, productive people working for them? Assholes. That’s who. 😉

For this first post, I’m going to tell you to not do it. Don’t become a lead. Don’t be the person in charge. Your reasons are probably all wrong. Plus you’re probably going to hate it. No more writing code, no more making art, no more doing the thing you love to do. Which you likely do really well, ’cause hopefully they’re not offering you the position because you suck at your job. Though if they are, your team has bigger issues. 😉 Instead it’s going to be meetings, writing lots of emails, having conversations you don’t want to have, and a million other things that aren’t about doing the thing you love. Just don’t take the job.

(Seriously. There are dragons there. They’re going to eat you. Alive. Which is really painful.)

Still want to do it? Then do this one thing for me. Think long and hard about your reasons. Write them down. Be very honest with yourself.

Have your reasons? Do they look like any of these?

  • It’s a career decision.
  • There are better ways for my team members to do X.
  • I want to tell people how to do their job.
  • I want to make more money.
  • Me, me, me, me!

If so, then see above. You are probably not going to be happy being a manager. The additional money or the title or the authority or the whatever are not going to offset your reduced happiness of doing less of the things you enjoy doing. Don’t sacrifice your current happiness for some intangible “better”. I can tell you right now that it likely won’t be better, and will likely be worse unless you approach it with the right attitude. Still really want the position? Then accept that you’re going to have to work hard at it to be good at it. Don’t be the Peter Principal in action.

Conversely, do your reasons look more like these?

  • I want to be an advocate for the team.
  • I want to help people do their jobs.
  • I want to help people communicate better.
  • I want fairy blossoms and moon beams to shoot out people’s butts.

If so, you should probably still say no. Seriously. Look at that list. It sounds like you’re volunteering to be the group counselor or something. And that’s the key in my opinion. Good managers have to be willing to give up some of the things they love doing to help others do the things they love doing. And in the process, hopefully discover that they enjoy that as much if not more.

If you do say yes, you should do so with the full understanding that it’s going to be hard work. That you are going to have to make sacrifices for others. And first and foremost, this isn’t about you. It’s about the team. If you’re not ok with that, you will be a bad manager (best case) and an asshole (worst case). Don’t be those things.

Over the coming weeks and months, I’m going to talk about what I’ve learned over the years. About the books I’ve read, and the techniques and processes I’ve used that work, as well as the ones that don’t. About what a healthy work culture looks like and how to make yours healthy. My goal is to help people skip the mistakes I’ve made and get to the good parts of being a manager sooner rather than later. As always, your mileage may vary, what works for one person, etc, etc. So let’s get the conversation started. Agree or disagree with anything I’ve said? Have a suggestion for a topic? Let me know in the comments below or via Twitter, Facebook or email contact at captainbyrank dot com.

Cheers,
Shaun

8 thoughts on “Just don’t do it

  1. Looking forward to this series. We should chat about leadership and management sometime. I was very curious about my ability to be a leader, but I found that I regularly built teams that were highly productive, high performers, and they mostly really loved working with me. So it is possible to make the transition well.

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  2. Iam currently starting my sophomore year in uni studying media technology with a focus on game development. To have something to show off after our bachelor we decided to start a project together until the summer and I decided to take the role as a producer/ (manager I guess). with the rest of the team consisting of two programmers and two artists.

    I have no prior knowledge before this managing a group other than high school projects. I do however have the philosophy that my job is to break roadblocks, adapt to new situations and be a stable pillar for them to lean on hopefully being able to help them do their jobs better.

    I hope this will be a good resource for me going foward.
    regards.

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      1. Actually i already have one!

        As a software developer I guess agile management is the way to go, is this the case for game development aswell or is it dependend on the project? Is this something you was planning to write about in the future or du you have any tips for me right away?

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      2. Excellent! Yes I will be getting in to agile management and methodologies. Though likely not for a while. However yes agile is incredibly useful in game development. Given how iterative and creative the process is not using agile is crazy talk. 😉

        My favorite book for Agile is Agile & Iterative Development: A Manager’s Guide by Craig Larman. Try different methodologies with your team and figure out what sticks.

        http://www.amazon.com/Agile-Iterative-Development-Managers-Guide/dp/0131111558/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

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