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The Silent Manager

"Sometimes I feel like a fraud", he said.

My friend and I were talking about our jobs when he made this revelation. I assumed he, like many others I know, was about to talk about Imposter Syndrome. But I was wrong. He felt he was a fraud because he would go to a lot of meetings where he had nothing to add. His team would get together, he would join, sit there, watch the action, and the meeting would get over. Time for the next meeting. And he felt was he was being overpaid to do this.

Was he getting overpaid? Or was he doing what he was expected to do, and it's the vocal, take charge, participatory managers that are wrong?

Managers get paid for opinions and for decisions. At the lowest level of management those decisions and opinions relate to execution and delivery. At the highest level of management they are about bets and investments. But thats what managers do. And thats what they get paid for. To make decisions, express opinions, and set up incentives and controls that makes things happen. And they cannot do it well without understanding the situation.

One of the biggest thing I feel managers must do is to build such context. With context, their decisions will be informed, their opinions will be better. And in tech environment where things change fast, managers should be building context all the time. For me, it means going to the meetings where the teams are discussing the challenges they are facing. It also means reading emails and updates, and all the documents that cross my inbox. Of course, I am far from perfect in my execution, but deep context building is the goal.

Most of the time when you are building context, there is limited reason to respond. There is no reason to speak in a meeting and offer a solution to a problem being discussed. There is no reason to chime in on an email thread, where others are discussing how to solve something. And there is no reason to comment on a document where your team is collaborating. There are two times when it is worth speaking up as a manager: when you have a question that will improve your own understanding ("What does the term TPS stand for?"), or, when you actually need to give direction ("We should consider option [b] over option [a]").

The problem is, mostly due to our desire to appear to add value and not take away value, that managers tend to keep quiet when they feel the question they have in their mind is dumb. And they speak more quickly, when they have direction to provide, even though it should be something their team should decide by itself.

So, my advice: lower the threshold of questions you ask, and increase threshold of directives your provide. But all this while, play close attention to what your team is talking about... build your context, that is what you are getting overpaid for :)

Hands off, but eyes on!


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