June 14, 2010
"My job is to hold the umbrella so the shit from above doesn't hit you.
Your job is to keep me from having to use it."
That may be the best quote I've ever read on the manager/grunt relationship. It distills reams of MBA and other theory into two sentences. Even with the minor profanity, it is almost a koan. It is simple and clear, and of course, 90% of people reading it will think "It can't be that simple". Well, it is and it is not.
There, cleared that up for you?
Heh. There are days that I find myself deeply missing the Air Force. Not for any patriotic reason, or similar, but because they got so much of that right. As a leader, my job was simple. Ensure my people had the things they needed, physical and otherwise to get the job done. I was there to keep people from fucking with them.
In return, their job was to make sure I didn't have to play human shit shield a lot. Because if I did, especially if they'd been stupid, they knew that once I got done dealing with SMsgt AssReamer, i was going to calmly call them into an office, close the door, and, bluntly explain why we needed to ensure that i never got reamed out for them bein' stupid again. Because there was a limit to how many times I was jumping in front of the cock for them, indeed, there was a limit to how many times I could jump in front of the cock for them, and at some point, if the stupid didn't stop, they was a-gonna get fucked. I'd get fucked too, but for a change, I'd have someone to kvetch with while it happened.
This is something that the military understands, in my experience, far better than the civilian world. As a civilian, you realize that with rare exception, you're not going to have too many bosses that will stick their ass in the woodchipper, so you don't have to. Oh, it's couched in all kinds of proper language, but you realize that unfortunately, most bosses will let you get nailed, so they don't. That's bullshit, but it's pretty common. It sucks, because it kills any chance at esprit de corps, another concept sadly lacking in the civilian world. (No, morale is not the same as esprit de corps. They complement each other, but they are in fact, different.) As I've told a few people, I'll trade petulant, whiny superstars for a team full of ruthlessly competent players who work well together. Give me that, and I'll kick the shit out of anyone.
But to get that, you have to give. To get trust, you have to give trust. To get people who will go all-out for you, you have to make sure that when they fuck up, and they will, that the total amount of blamestorming is "yeah, that was pretty fuckin' epic dude. Now, let's figure out how to not be epic like that again." If you want people to be honest with you, you have to be honest with them. Even when they don't like it. Even when it's bad news. Especially when it's bad news. Like I tell my minion, "If there's bad news coming down, you don't have to worry about me being all subtle about it. I'll tell you shit's going to be fucked up, and that we're going to be swimming in it." (or something similar. I have the memory of an IT guy for anything not in email. Like a fucking sieve it is.) Being in charge is both far harder than it seems, and easier than most people make it.
Oh: "leader" not "manager". You manage things, you lead people. I find that the civilian world fucks that all to hell and gone. It explains a lot of why "Dilbert" is so representative of corporate life. Here's a tip: if at any time, while talking about your people, you find you could replace <person's name> with "desk", you're doing it wrong.
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