Part 1 of the Diagnosis Manager series contemplating common management ailments suffered by teams. No teams or managers were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

I have been thinking quite a lot recently about how managers can become impediments to progress, not to mention improvement. The discussion about this is increasing exponentially by the day in Agile and Lean circles, if not others. I am a manager of a development team and have 8 people that I value and whom I want to see do great things while being happy doing them. So, the concept that I might unknowingly be getting in the way of that is troubling and very nearly led to some sort of crisis of purpose for me. I started some conversations in the community and did a good bit of reflection – though still not nearly enough. What I noticed as I started writing down my initial thoughts on managers as impediments is that those thoughts came back to one or two root concepts.

Making superficial diagnoses
People that are performing as both individual contributors and managers will, presumably, have a more detailed understanding of the day-to-day activities of an individual contributor and the issues facing them because they experience those issues personally. However, many managers have a very superficial view of the actual proceedings in their team as their day-to-day activities are not the same nor are they closely coupled with the day-to-day activities of their team. Instead of developing, they might be working on strategy, being in meetings all day, or a thousand other things that are not what their team is doing.

Add on the fact that, like me, many managers want to be Johnny on the spot and help their team blast away impediments to keep work flowing and to keep their team members engaged and less frustrated. Then, cap it off with the pressure on a manager to keep your team on a trajectory of improved or high performance and you could have a recipe for something slightly less than awesome. This less-than-awesome situation can manifest in many ways such as managers “flipping the bit” on team members based on biased or limited information and throwing in mandatory processes that don’t fix the problem. If this happens too often, they’ll flip the bit on you and you’ll see your team slowly distancing themselves away from you.

Being a crutch
One thing that I espouse is the idea of servant leadership, with a primary outtake from that philosophy being a focus on taking care of impediments faced by my team. After this self-reflection, I’ve come to realize that, as with anything I imagine, this can have a significant negative impact over time if not handled thoughtfully. I will go back to the Chinese proverb “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” There are going to be things that can be delegated off to a manager to handle without any downside. However, you’re doing your team no favors if you’re handling everything that takes them slightly outside of their comfort zone and doesn’t grow their ability to adapt to unexpected situations. Team members need to be able to relay negative feedback to others, especially their peers, for instance. Managers often serve as a messenger, actually receiving and then relaying the information personally rather than serving as a telephone operator, facilitating communication directly between parties.

My own personal discovery and growth as a manager is really just beginning. The above ailments just scratch the surface of this topic. As I further experience, study and converse, I will have – hopefully – more information and insights to ponder and illuminate my path forward. In the future, if I don’t agree with something I’ve said in the past then I’m certainly not doing it right. I’ll chronicle my journey here not only as a method of sharing and helping others on their parallel journeys, but because writing helps me on mine as well.