Autonomous Workers

10 Nov 2015 8:00 AM | Anonymous

I was cruising the Internet yesterday and noticed a number of articles with an interesting theme. The titles of the posts were essentially 'Hire the Right People and Let Them Do Their Thing,' or some similar variant. It seemed odd to me that someone would have to point this out. After all, isn't the key to building a good team rooted in hiring people that are better than you at the tasks you need completed?

Rather than dwell on why someone needs to read these articles, though, I instead thought about the managers I've had where that message was either not received or ignored. What I came up with is by no means scientific or even statistically significant. Rather, it's more of my 'slice of life' perspective; your mileage may well be very different (and, I hope, for the better!).

The Boss - The classic 'Command and Control' manager, where "it's my way or the highway." I don't perform well in this setting. Most people I know don't flourish here, either. This sort of know-it-all manager is focused only on maintaining their spot at the top of the food chain. Productivity, innovation and engagement be damned, he (or she) is the big cheese and you had best recognize them as such. Teams under such individuals languish and the members likely find themselves as candidates for job cuts, given their undervalued contributions and poor performance. This manager would do better with a fleet of automatons, since they'll squander and squash any talent that comes their way.

The Micromanager - This person is practically a step-sibling to The Boss. While they might have experienced a brief glimmer in recognizing your talent, they sure aren't going to let you run off the leash to use it. Does your manager hound you for updates at multiple intervals during the day? Do they hover over you and behind you when they work? Do they need to have every detail of every task you intend to perform? Then you have found yourself under the microscope, unable to move or even consider a different approach to your work. It makes me wonder if these are the same managers that cannot seem to accomplish anything, because they find themselves too busy managing the details to perform their own work? When I find myself working for one of these people, I ask myself if someone in a past role really screwed up and caused the rest of us to be punished as a result?

The Absent Manager - While this initially sounds like a wonderful situation, this approach can lead to confusion and wasted productivity. The Absent Manager is never around to provide direction or communicate expectations. The team has no way of knowing what to do, unless one of them happens to be an accomplished mind reader. Deadlines are missed and high priority items are set aside in the void. Whatever the manager is expecting to accomplish, it's not happening here. The team is hired for talent, but left to fend for themselves. This 'lack of management' can lead team members to the chopping block, as they are unable to deliver or manage their work in a timely fashion.

The Absent-Minded Manager - I see this person as a mash-up between The Micromanager and The Absent Manager. They either aren't around, because they're spinning off in dozens of directions, or they're asking about the same details for the umpteenth time because they've forgotten or misplaced their notes. As a result, team members have to channel their talents toward managing this manager, to keep them on track and the project a-float. Time is wasted in re-work and lost priorities because the manager cannot be bothered to follow the plan (or establish one). As a result, everyone on the team has to become a mini-manager (for better or worse), which risks the emergence of any type described above. While this may showcase the strength of the team, too often it ends up being a train wreck of poor chemistry and delivery.

I'll wager there are even more management types that fail to appreciate their team members. I dare not think on it too much longer, lest I come off as a pessimist (I prefer to think of myself as a realist, to be honest). But I am curious to know what I missed, or if there's another type of manager that we should all try to avoid. Post your thoughts here and let's continue the conversation.
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Tricia Simo Kush is a certified Professional Engineering Manager with a background in Information Technology and a goal to take her career to a higher level through Engineering Management. She graduated from the MEM program at St. Cloud State University in 2010. To her, Engineering Management is a fascinating mix of technology and business, people and process. She is constantly seeing the ways that Engineering Management spans industries and helps everyone to become effective leaders. Follow her on Twitter (@TSimoKush) or check out her profile on LinkedIn.

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