Qualities of a Manager

The trend on the Sysadmin Subreddit this week has been talking about the struggles of management, what the lowly team members might not realize their team lead or manager is having to deal with, and resenting them accordingly.

Coming off this, combined with some recent personal experiences, I was thinking about what I value the most in a manager or a lead, of “Management” in general. And I came up with three things: Communication, Decisiveness, and Respect.

Communication

Communication is the key to just about everything. If you want to clap, you need co-ordination between the left hand, the right hand, and when appropriate, the rhythm section of the brain. If you want to onboard an employee, you need to be able to notify the appropriate people of the critical details. When are they starting? What are they going to be doing? Where will they be working? Do they need a laptop or workstation set up? Software? An Email address? And it’s not just questions for the IT department, do they need a desk? Is there one there, or do we need to order/build one? Do they need a parking permit? Does HR have someone available to do their basic onboarding class?

A good manager needs to be able to communicate in multiple directions. Passing messages from upper management down to the employees. Passing messages from the employees to upper management. Sending and receiving messages from other teams. Putting team members in contact with the right people in other departments in order to streamline processes.

A manager with good communication skills will have employees who feel that their voices are heard, and feel like they’re up to speed on team goals and company goals. A manager with poor communication skills will have employees who feel they don’t know what is going on, feel they don’t know who to talk to or who to ask for help, and who will ultimately find other places to be.

Decisiveness

The worst thing you can do to me is constantly change your mind, back and forth, without reason. I say that because I fully understand that sometimes changes must be made, decisions are found to be wrong, data is found to be erroneous, etc. But to constantly back-and-forth forever on who we should choose to replace our broken phone system is ridiculous, time-consuming, frustrating, demoralizing. and expensive. It’s difficult to quantify that cost, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

My job is generally not to make decisions, not when it comes to spending money. It is to provide valid data and opinion, your job as manager is to either make the choice yourself or pass it up the chain. I reasonably expect that process to consume some time, but when you come back with a decision, I expect we should be able to stick with that decision unless new data comes to light.

This isn’t just imagined, either. It may be a little misperception (see the last post), but it isn’t imagined. The company I work for has been trying to replace its poorly implemented Asterisk PBX solution. So far it has taken about 9 months. We trialed five companies, recommended a decision to management who sat on it for three months, then told us the company was merging, we should try this other vendor that the other company uses. No problem, trial, recommend, move on. The decision sits around for another six months while the merger completes, we learn more information about their preferred vendor, decide it won’t fit. Start reaching out to other vendors, oh, wait, they will fit, never mind. All the while we were instructed to spend as little time as absolutely necessary to maintain or resolve issues with the existing system, so the number of bugs and issues keeps rising.

I’m fairly certain this also drives other departments to believe that we’re just sitting on our hands.

A good manager will take the data at hand, and make an informed decision as quickly as possible. Progress will be made, and poor choices will have opportunity for correction. A poor manager will sit on a difficult choice for hours, days, weeks or even months or years. Issues will languish and decay. The biggest risk of procrastination is that when decisions finally are made, the data that backed them has changed and what would have been a good choice yesterday is now a terrible one. And of course, when you take so long to make decsisions in the first place, the time it takes to correct your poor choices is lengthened as well.

Respect

This seems to be the hardest to come by, at least, if social media is to be believed. “They don’t care about you, they care about your ability to make them profitable.” It may be true at a corporate level, but a good manager recognizes the talent of his employees and treats them appropriately. For one, firing staff and hiring new people is time consuming, expensive, and results in the rest of the team being unproductive while they pick up the slack and help in training the new person.

What is often struggled with is that you must show respect not just to the employee, but also to their family and loved ones. Most specifically for me, I have a wife and young daughter. This fact is not new to any of my recent managers, and it doesn’t impact my day-to-day. It does, however, impact my ability to travel. My wife has a job with slightly odd hours, and my daughter attends a daycare. With our regular schedules we have no issues dropping off and picking up, and providing adequate care. But I also can’t just decide I’m going on a business trip for three days next week — that needs to be coordinated and planned at least a couple of weeks in advance. And then I can’t just stay an extra day because you felt like it. Two years ago that would be showing disrespect to me, and I would suck it up and deal with it. Today, that’s showing disrespect to me and to my family, and holds the potential to impact our overall livelihood if my wife gets fired as a result of it.

A good manager will know and understand his employee’s talents and utilize them to the best of his ability. He will recognize that employees have home lives, and work to serve the needs of the business as the primary goal, while working around the unique personal needs of his staff. We may realize it’s not always possible, but we should at least be able to see that you tried. A bad manager will consider employees as a commodity, to be hired and fired as needed, and to be manipulated in order to avoid said firing. A bad manager will leave employees entirely out of the loop on changes to their schedules until the minute they’re implemented, and will point to contractual terms and company policies when questioned about it.

Review

A good manager will listen to his staff, make decisions as quickly as possible, and communicate those decisions back out to the team as required. A good manager will have respect for employees and their families, at least up until the employee gives reason to negate that respect.

A poor manager will consistently fail to communicate, will take forever to make decisions or flip-flop on those choices. A poor manager will show contempt or otherwise disrespect his staff or their families.

Ultimately bad managers find the door one way or another. But even then, a good manager of managers will recognize the good and the bad beneath them. After all, good managers tend to hold on to employees much longer, and get much better reviews when surveyed. Bad managers drive people away quickly.

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