The toughest job of management

Now that I soon will be a manager for the first time in my life I am about to face the toughest job I’ve ever faced:

Making other people stars.

This has been on my thoughts for months. What Jeff Sandquist did so well was let me be the star.

This is counterintuitive, so listen closely.

What happened when he did that? Other people wanted to join his team.

He let them be stars too. Adam Kinney and Charles Torre are two of the most talented developers I’ve ever watched. I’d hire them in a nano-second, if they were on the market (they aren’t, cause Jeff treats them right).

How did he get Laura and Tina? Cause he understood his role: let his stars be stars and make sure they have everything they need to succeed.

It’s interesting but Jeff’s leadership helped with Channel 9 too. I learned from him that it’s better to turn the spotlight away from you and onto other people. That led to my decision to rarely be on camera and always put the focus on my interview subject. What was interesting was that by doing that I got even more attention.

We’ll soon see if I’m a good manager, but a lot of what I’m writing lately is just reminders to myself as to what I want to do when I join PodTech.

I’ve learned that in between jobs is a powerful time to write. Remember my Corporate Weblog Manifesto? I wrote that to myself right before I started my Microsoft job to remind myself of what I needed to do.

Yeah, this was punctuated by Amanda Congdon’s leaving from Rocketboom. I don’t know what happened beyond the “he said, she said” stuff that’s going on on their blogs. I’d rather link to their mediator, Chuck Olsen.

What’s going on makes me remember my divorce. I remember wanting to lash out. I remember talking with Buzz Bruggeman. He told me “take the high road.” I didn’t always follow his advice, but I tried to. It paid off well for me (Maryam now gets along with Patrick’s mom, enough that all three of us spent an afternoon together recently — that was mighty weird for me, let me tell you!)

I guess what I’m trying to say is, yes, I’d love to have Amanda working for me work for Amanda, cause that’s really what a manager does. And, even more, Chuck (the world needs more mediators, not to mention a guy who is talented with a camera, even during stressful times).

It soon will be time for me to sit back and let other people become stars.

Oh, and if they do become stars and want to leave, help them negotiate the best possible deal. Although, if I’m honest, I’ll tell you to see Maryam whenever it’s time to negotiate anything. I’m very happy she’s on my side.

What do you think the toughest job of management is? Any advice as I head into PodTech?

59 thoughts on “The toughest job of management

  1. Robert – I’ve been managing technical resources for 20 years. As fast as technology changes, I would say one of the biggest challenges is to separate what “you know” from what “you think you know” and not get those two things confused.

  2. Robert – I’ve been managing technical resources for 20 years. As fast as technology changes, I would say one of the biggest challenges is to separate what “you know” from what “you think you know” and not get those two things confused.

  3. “What do you think the toughest job in management is?” That’s easy. Hiring. Get the right people in the right job, and you’re at least half way there. Start by writing a really lucid job description: if you can’t write it down, you don’t really understand what you are looking for and won’t hire effectively. Yes, with “talent” there are many intangibles you cannot put into words, but there are other parts of the role that can be easily described.

    The last company I ran had around 300 employees and was in Japan. Cross-cultural hiring not in my native language taught me a lot. For example, never hire someone just because they can speak your language (literally or figuratively.) Yes, it’s important that they can function as part of a team (including you), but much more important that they are excellent at what they do. Reference check assiduously and for really important hires, meet the referee in person if you can (as it’s easier for someone to lie/avoid the tough questions on the phone.) Schedule monthly one-to-one meetings with your direct reports and make sure you never have too many reports (my preferred number 6-8). Build a relationship, listen to them, offer to help and provide constructive feedback preferably based on concrete metrics. Did they get done what they said they would, how well (or poorly?) are they doing, what can you measure? Set expectations clearly and measure if they are being met. Invite the same level of feedback about yourself. Course correct early, and honestly. It’s always harder later, when the delta between ambition and actual performance is wide. With creatives, managing is sometimes even harder and you need to nurture and support perhaps more than with other types. Their ego is on the line because part of their success or failure is not just their work, but THEM. Their hair, their face, their voice (not just their work) and it can be harder to hear “well, the interview was great but the research says you don’t appeal to the 16-39s …” I’ve run startups, mid-sized tech companies, worked in TV and by profession I am an MD. Weird, I know, but learned a lot about people mainly through the many mistakes I made over the years : )

  4. “What do you think the toughest job in management is?” That’s easy. Hiring. Get the right people in the right job, and you’re at least half way there. Start by writing a really lucid job description: if you can’t write it down, you don’t really understand what you are looking for and won’t hire effectively. Yes, with “talent” there are many intangibles you cannot put into words, but there are other parts of the role that can be easily described.

    The last company I ran had around 300 employees and was in Japan. Cross-cultural hiring not in my native language taught me a lot. For example, never hire someone just because they can speak your language (literally or figuratively.) Yes, it’s important that they can function as part of a team (including you), but much more important that they are excellent at what they do. Reference check assiduously and for really important hires, meet the referee in person if you can (as it’s easier for someone to lie/avoid the tough questions on the phone.) Schedule monthly one-to-one meetings with your direct reports and make sure you never have too many reports (my preferred number 6-8). Build a relationship, listen to them, offer to help and provide constructive feedback preferably based on concrete metrics. Did they get done what they said they would, how well (or poorly?) are they doing, what can you measure? Set expectations clearly and measure if they are being met. Invite the same level of feedback about yourself. Course correct early, and honestly. It’s always harder later, when the delta between ambition and actual performance is wide. With creatives, managing is sometimes even harder and you need to nurture and support perhaps more than with other types. Their ego is on the line because part of their success or failure is not just their work, but THEM. Their hair, their face, their voice (not just their work) and it can be harder to hear “well, the interview was great but the research says you don’t appeal to the 16-39s …” I’ve run startups, mid-sized tech companies, worked in TV and by profession I am an MD. Weird, I know, but learned a lot about people mainly through the many mistakes I made over the years : )

  5. You’ll do great.

    The best managers are those who’ve been mentored by great managers and have had the range to roam in their own way.

    I’ve never met Jeff, but I had a mentor/manager just like him at a previous company and it was the learning experience of a lifetime.

    I’m going to bet that Jeff thanked his stars that he’d been given the chance to work with you, because he likely learned more by watching how you dealt with your own level of fame than he would of had he been in your shoes.

    Congratulations on your move, your new career, and your own chance to help others shine.

  6. You’ll do great.

    The best managers are those who’ve been mentored by great managers and have had the range to roam in their own way.

    I’ve never met Jeff, but I had a mentor/manager just like him at a previous company and it was the learning experience of a lifetime.

    I’m going to bet that Jeff thanked his stars that he’d been given the chance to work with you, because he likely learned more by watching how you dealt with your own level of fame than he would of had he been in your shoes.

    Congratulations on your move, your new career, and your own chance to help others shine.

  7. Credit for success goes to the people you manage and failures are your responsibility.

    As in life, in management, its all about pull, push almost never works.

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