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?

Comments

  1. I think the hardest part is making sure that the original vision of the people you’re managing comes through. Everyone is a part of the organization for a reason, their vision and unique contributions. Losing that is fatal. Robert, thanks for the entertaining and inspiring 3 AM posts, it’s people like yourself that keep me going everyday.

    -JLB

  2. I think the hardest part is making sure that the original vision of the people you’re managing comes through. Everyone is a part of the organization for a reason, their vision and unique contributions. Losing that is fatal. Robert, thanks for the entertaining and inspiring 3 AM posts, it’s people like yourself that keep me going everyday.

    -JLB

  3. I very much doubt that you’ll make the most common mistake in new managers: not realising that you’re there to *enable* your team to do their jobs. I imagine that with “creatives” this is likely to be pretty much a given.

    Back when I was still stressing in management I found that one of my main functions had evolved into that of filtering and controlling the information flow up and down the line. Not censoring, you understand (hmm – there may have been some of that too) but ensuring that everyone knew what they needed/wanted to know and weren’t swamped with unnecessary and output-reducing superfluity. (If that last word isn’t real, then I claim ownership, by the way. Oh, Google says it is a word. Dang.)

    Toby’s first point (admitting mistakes) is a good one. I’ve found that good managers aren’t afraid to ‘fess up when they realise they goofed: good news about today, not bad news about yesterday, that sort of thing. Bad ones will go to extraordinary lengths to show that it Wasn’t Their Fault, to the ultimate detriment of their employer, team and own selves.

    If your people have the potential to be stars, let them be stars. There are some personal risks of a political nature, particularly in larger organisations, but if you really are good then the risks are worth taking. Come to think of it, it’s good to have something of a risk-taking mentality. But I think you’re OK on that one…

  4. I very much doubt that you’ll make the most common mistake in new managers: not realising that you’re there to *enable* your team to do their jobs. I imagine that with “creatives” this is likely to be pretty much a given.

    Back when I was still stressing in management I found that one of my main functions had evolved into that of filtering and controlling the information flow up and down the line. Not censoring, you understand (hmm – there may have been some of that too) but ensuring that everyone knew what they needed/wanted to know and weren’t swamped with unnecessary and output-reducing superfluity. (If that last word isn’t real, then I claim ownership, by the way. Oh, Google says it is a word. Dang.)

    Toby’s first point (admitting mistakes) is a good one. I’ve found that good managers aren’t afraid to ‘fess up when they realise they goofed: good news about today, not bad news about yesterday, that sort of thing. Bad ones will go to extraordinary lengths to show that it Wasn’t Their Fault, to the ultimate detriment of their employer, team and own selves.

    If your people have the potential to be stars, let them be stars. There are some personal risks of a political nature, particularly in larger organisations, but if you really are good then the risks are worth taking. Come to think of it, it’s good to have something of a risk-taking mentality. But I think you’re OK on that one…

  5. But how does it feels when the stars made by you leave?.. Is it a kind of betrayal? What did Jeff (your creator?) said to you as you leaved?

  6. But how does it feels when the stars made by you leave?.. Is it a kind of betrayal? What did Jeff (your creator?) said to you as you leaved?

  7. Konstantin: when they leave you’ve done your job. He congratulated me on a job well done and wished me well. Then he turned right around and started working on making the next star that he could graduate up.

  8. Konstantin: when they leave you’ve done your job. He congratulated me on a job well done and wished me well. Then he turned right around and started working on making the next star that he could graduate up.

  9. Well – I’ve been working in statups for 7 years, and I was a manager for a small internet startup for a couple of years. Here’s an excerpt of some of the things i learned. I’ll see if I can get the message across in English, it’s not my primary language, so this can be a bit diffcult.

    Most important of all is empathy – you have to struggle to see things form your employees perspective. Eevery time you deal with your employees think about what you think they want, and how you can make sure, you know what they want.

    If your wishes and theirs differ and you have to enforce your wishes make sure everybody understand, that you know about the difference, and that you know you’re enforcing a decision. In other words, make sure you take responsibility when needed.

    Allways be sincere when asked about the state of the company, and how well or bad you are doing. If there are any risks involved, let people decide for themselves what to do.

    There are a lot of other more practical advise, but in my experience they are as important as the things i mentioned here.

    Good luck.

  10. Well – I’ve been working in statups for 7 years, and I was a manager for a small internet startup for a couple of years. Here’s an excerpt of some of the things i learned. I’ll see if I can get the message across in English, it’s not my primary language, so this can be a bit diffcult.

    Most important of all is empathy – you have to struggle to see things form your employees perspective. Eevery time you deal with your employees think about what you think they want, and how you can make sure, you know what they want.

    If your wishes and theirs differ and you have to enforce your wishes make sure everybody understand, that you know about the difference, and that you know you’re enforcing a decision. In other words, make sure you take responsibility when needed.

    Allways be sincere when asked about the state of the company, and how well or bad you are doing. If there are any risks involved, let people decide for themselves what to do.

    There are a lot of other more practical advise, but in my experience they are as important as the things i mentioned here.

    Good luck.

  11. Visit http://landof.opportunitv.com to learn how a TV sitcom and complementary online content can give rise to the most liquid online market for the advertisement spaces on single-creator media (e.g., blogs, podcasts), how this market can give rise to the most liquid online market for customized education and career services, how the latter market can give rise to millions of good jobs for U.S. residents, and how these job-holders can dramatically increase educational and economic opportunity for all.

    Best of luck,

  12. Visit http://landof.opportunitv.com to learn how a TV sitcom and complementary online content can give rise to the most liquid online market for the advertisement spaces on single-creator media (e.g., blogs, podcasts), how this market can give rise to the most liquid online market for customized education and career services, how the latter market can give rise to millions of good jobs for U.S. residents, and how these job-holders can dramatically increase educational and economic opportunity for all.

    Best of luck,

  13. One of the sayings that has always stuck with me is: “Eat hamburger while feeding your people steak.”
    What it all boils down to is you handle the difficult tasks, and pave the way for them to succeed. They will appreciate that and will work to lighten your load, if they are worth having, and everyone improves. I believe in leadership by example. The way you work and carry yourself will be instrumental in building your team. Be yourself.
    You’ll do fine, you seem to be well balanced with a strong work ethic. I enjoy your blog and wish you well.

  14. One of the sayings that has always stuck with me is: “Eat hamburger while feeding your people steak.”
    What it all boils down to is you handle the difficult tasks, and pave the way for them to succeed. They will appreciate that and will work to lighten your load, if they are worth having, and everyone improves. I believe in leadership by example. The way you work and carry yourself will be instrumental in building your team. Be yourself.
    You’ll do fine, you seem to be well balanced with a strong work ethic. I enjoy your blog and wish you well.

  15. I don’t know if you are much of a sports fan, but you always hear about how the great coaches know how to motivate each athlete. For some that means kicking them in the ass, yet if you take the same approach to another it could crush them. I’ve always found the hardest part about managing a team is really understanding each individual and know how to motivate them.

    The other advice I’d give you’ve already discussed. Knowing that you are serving your employees is a big step that most managers miss. A lot of managers are out there because of the power trip and they usually fail.

    Know your employees
    Be straight
    motivate

  16. I don’t know if you are much of a sports fan, but you always hear about how the great coaches know how to motivate each athlete. For some that means kicking them in the ass, yet if you take the same approach to another it could crush them. I’ve always found the hardest part about managing a team is really understanding each individual and know how to motivate them.

    The other advice I’d give you’ve already discussed. Knowing that you are serving your employees is a big step that most managers miss. A lot of managers are out there because of the power trip and they usually fail.

    Know your employees
    Be straight
    motivate

  17. Hi Robert:
    Didn’t realize you are managing a team: congrats! My advice (cobbled from great managers I’ve had over the years like Jim F and from own experiences)

    1) Hire people who are smarter than you are
    2) Push decisions and visibility and responsibility/accolades down
    3) Be selfless in giving credit to your team
    4) Sing your team’s praises early and often
    5) When its time for someone to move up/on, help put them in the right next job so it helps spread the word about how great you/your company is so you can help recruit the next rock star
    6) Make sure everyone has fun, passion, sense of urgency about the mission at hand

    Good luck!
    Matt

  18. Hi Robert:
    Didn’t realize you are managing a team: congrats! My advice (cobbled from great managers I’ve had over the years like Jim F and from own experiences)

    1) Hire people who are smarter than you are
    2) Push decisions and visibility and responsibility/accolades down
    3) Be selfless in giving credit to your team
    4) Sing your team’s praises early and often
    5) When its time for someone to move up/on, help put them in the right next job so it helps spread the word about how great you/your company is so you can help recruit the next rock star
    6) Make sure everyone has fun, passion, sense of urgency about the mission at hand

    Good luck!
    Matt

  19. Don’t hire anyone ONLY known to bloggers, geeks and the web. Look to real content creators, and learn SAG rules.

    And read this book: Management of the Absurd: Paradoxes in Leadership by Richard Farson

    http://www.shearonforschools.com/Management%20of%20the%20Absurd%20Paradoxes%20in%20Leadership%20by%20Richard%20Farson/

    Once You Find a Management Technique that Works, Give it Up
    As a corrollary to the suggestion that skill is not what matters in an important relationship, the author suggests that a manager who finds a technique that works, rather than “using” it to “manage” people, should abandon it as a conscious effort. Otherwise, the “managees” will sense that they are “being managed”, resent it, and the technique will therefore no longer work. In some sense, it is the same as suggesting that a great artist “transcends” technique.

  20. Don’t hire anyone ONLY known to bloggers, geeks and the web. Look to real content creators, and learn SAG rules.

    And read this book: Management of the Absurd: Paradoxes in Leadership by Richard Farson

    http://www.shearonforschools.com/Management%20of%20the%20Absurd%20Paradoxes%20in%20Leadership%20by%20Richard%20Farson/

    Once You Find a Management Technique that Works, Give it Up
    As a corrollary to the suggestion that skill is not what matters in an important relationship, the author suggests that a manager who finds a technique that works, rather than “using” it to “manage” people, should abandon it as a conscious effort. Otherwise, the “managees” will sense that they are “being managed”, resent it, and the technique will therefore no longer work. In some sense, it is the same as suggesting that a great artist “transcends” technique.

  21. Robert,

    You and I have never met, but I spent a LONG five years at Microsoft. I have also been the CEO of three very successful startups.

    What you may have learned at Microsoft is likely not management as it is defined in the ‘real world’.

    My best advice is to go purchase all five books written by Patrick M. Lencioni and read them each twice. This will take you about one day to do, they are fast reads and very interesting.

    Follow the books to the letter.

    1. Listen, do not pontificate. You are not necessarily the smartest person in the room.

    2. Remember that when you render your opinion in a meeting as the ‘manager’, you are dictating. This will lead to many wrong decisions as your team blindly follows in an attempt to make you happy.

    3. Learn to ask questions, not render opinions.

    Good luck.

  22. Robert,

    You and I have never met, but I spent a LONG five years at Microsoft. I have also been the CEO of three very successful startups.

    What you may have learned at Microsoft is likely not management as it is defined in the ‘real world’.

    My best advice is to go purchase all five books written by Patrick M. Lencioni and read them each twice. This will take you about one day to do, they are fast reads and very interesting.

    Follow the books to the letter.

    1. Listen, do not pontificate. You are not necessarily the smartest person in the room.

    2. Remember that when you render your opinion in a meeting as the ‘manager’, you are dictating. This will lead to many wrong decisions as your team blindly follows in an attempt to make you happy.

    3. Learn to ask questions, not render opinions.

    Good luck.

  23. I think that most of the ideal philosophies and topics have been covered. Now here is a perspective from someone who has trained himself through education to be a manager but is still in a position of an employee (not because I am incompetent, there are multiple reasons I am still here but the biggest is simply timing.)

    Along with enabling the people that work “with” you (not for you) to be that star you will need to act as a sort of buffer. Make sure that when someone at the top decides to have a bad day and spout off about something your team did “wrong” or didn’t do it how they envisioned things, that you funnel it through you. I have worked for various kinds of managers and it is the ones that were able to take the heat and relay the messages in a civilized manner that always scored points with us “employees”.

    Then, I don’t think you will have a problem relaying the messages in a productive manner.

    Everything else on here is great, I just wanted to throw this idea in the mix.

  24. I think that most of the ideal philosophies and topics have been covered. Now here is a perspective from someone who has trained himself through education to be a manager but is still in a position of an employee (not because I am incompetent, there are multiple reasons I am still here but the biggest is simply timing.)

    Along with enabling the people that work “with” you (not for you) to be that star you will need to act as a sort of buffer. Make sure that when someone at the top decides to have a bad day and spout off about something your team did “wrong” or didn’t do it how they envisioned things, that you funnel it through you. I have worked for various kinds of managers and it is the ones that were able to take the heat and relay the messages in a civilized manner that always scored points with us “employees”.

    Then, I don’t think you will have a problem relaying the messages in a productive manner.

    Everything else on here is great, I just wanted to throw this idea in the mix.

  25. It’s not about you, it’s about them. Protect them, remove all the obstacles to letting them be successful, and then get out of the way. Tell the world that all the success is due to them, and any problems or failures are your fault. Give positive feedback publicly, negative feedback in private. Don’t do it on email. Let ‘em be creative, but with limits.

    Oh, and if you have an opportunity to hire a wild card do it. There have been times that I should have, and didn’t..

    I could go on.. You’ll have fun with it. Meet me at Barbara’s Fish Trap for fish’n’chips this fall if you want to vent…

  26. It’s not about you, it’s about them. Protect them, remove all the obstacles to letting them be successful, and then get out of the way. Tell the world that all the success is due to them, and any problems or failures are your fault. Give positive feedback publicly, negative feedback in private. Don’t do it on email. Let ‘em be creative, but with limits.

    Oh, and if you have an opportunity to hire a wild card do it. There have been times that I should have, and didn’t..

    I could go on.. You’ll have fun with it. Meet me at Barbara’s Fish Trap for fish’n’chips this fall if you want to vent…

  27. Hi Robert,

    No authority on the subject but one thought really intrigues me. Your PodTech role has been the talk of the town (or the world, I should say) and Great Expectations are always monitored under microscope.

    Self-appointed analysts and observers would be all set “evaluating” your performance vis-a-vis the MS stint and that could get annoying at times. I just hope nothing of that sort happens.

    As regards managing people, I do not think there is a silver bullet. People are more unpredictable than Business or Technology. The challenge is more of dismantling teams rather building them – you know what I mean!

  28. Hi Robert,

    No authority on the subject but one thought really intrigues me. Your PodTech role has been the talk of the town (or the world, I should say) and Great Expectations are always monitored under microscope.

    Self-appointed analysts and observers would be all set “evaluating” your performance vis-a-vis the MS stint and that could get annoying at times. I just hope nothing of that sort happens.

    As regards managing people, I do not think there is a silver bullet. People are more unpredictable than Business or Technology. The challenge is more of dismantling teams rather building them – you know what I mean!

  29. I’m self-employed and gloriously alone now as Writer-in-chief of my own copywriting agency (Articulate Marketing) but I used to run a 65-person software company.

    Looking back, the number one thing I wish I had done was to spend less time dealing with the employees who had problems, needed performance management, didn’t get on with colleagues etc. And more time with the really excellent people who did all the good work.

    In fact, the bad guys took up about 90% of my time and the good guys about 10%. The proportions should have been reversed and I feel like an idiot for not making it happen. I guess the squeaky hinge gets the oil.

  30. I’m self-employed and gloriously alone now as Writer-in-chief of my own copywriting agency (Articulate Marketing) but I used to run a 65-person software company.

    Looking back, the number one thing I wish I had done was to spend less time dealing with the employees who had problems, needed performance management, didn’t get on with colleagues etc. And more time with the really excellent people who did all the good work.

    In fact, the bad guys took up about 90% of my time and the good guys about 10%. The proportions should have been reversed and I feel like an idiot for not making it happen. I guess the squeaky hinge gets the oil.

  31. Robert,

    Never ask those that report to you to do something you would not be willing to do, or have done, yourself.

    Never set them up to fail.

    Believe in them, support them, protect them.

    Do not forget that respect is earned.

    Absorb the other comments on this post. Good Luck!

  32. Robert,

    Never ask those that report to you to do something you would not be willing to do, or have done, yourself.

    Never set them up to fail.

    Believe in them, support them, protect them.

    Do not forget that respect is earned.

    Absorb the other comments on this post. Good Luck!

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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.

  36. 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.

  37. Startups are you listening!!…

    I was reading David Armano this morning and he did a fabulous post on retaining talent and also referred to another blogger’s (Jason Calacanis) post of the same subject.
    David makes a good point by using the current red hot gossip regarding the &…

  38. “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 : )

  39. “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 : )

  40. 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.

  41. 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.