The Transition, Or How To Be A Good Leader

A passion in software usually starts with a job at the bottom of an organization, slaving over lines or code or mocks in Photoshop. Yet many of us long for moving up in an organization — we want to be leaders. We’re hungry for more responsibility. We want to make an impact. There will come a time when many of us at the bottom move up to the top. I’ll call this the transition. And success is gated by letting go.

Most leaders tell people what to do. They believe they’re right (smart leaders often are) and expect others to listen to them and follow their every command. I think I speak for everyone when I say that working for a micromanager is terrible. There’s basically nothing fun about it at all.  Working for a micromanager forces you to not think, to not do my best work, to not be excited about working, and to ultimately be unhappy with your job.  I’ve never met anyone that actually enjoyed working for a micromanager.

I don’t blame smart leaders for micromanaging. They’re in a leadership role because they’re smart. They probably know the right answers, which they then dictate to the rest of the team.  What I’ve explained is a completely natural tendency, which is why so many leaders are micromanagers.

Micromanaging makes a team only as smart as the leaders, and no more. Actually, it makes the team less smart than the leader. We all think differently, and when we’re forced to think like someone else we’re worse. Furthermore, micromanaging makes people unhappy because their responsibility and impact potential is completely removed from their job.

When someone smart makes the transition, they need to let go of their belief that they’re always right and challenge their team to do their best thinking. If a leader thinks they have all the answers and hopes for everyone to do as they’re told, people will be unhappy and far less productive. Let go of your intelligence and give your team the opportunity to be smart, to try things, to fail.  People do their best work when they’re given an opportunity to fail.

Letting go is no easy task. You think you’re smart and you’re probably right. But if you want to be a leader for the long run, where your employees are challenged everyday and absolutely happy because of it, you need to let go and pass the responsibility onto others. You need to build on debates with “yes, and” responses instead of “no, but” responses. And you need to trust your team.

The transition isn’t easy. But think back to the times when you were unhappy with your boss, where you wanted to be more responsible and impacting. Remember how you felt. And treat your employees how you wish you were treated then. If you fail at this your team will only be as smart as you (or probably less smart) and they won’t be excited to come to work every day.

  • “I think I speak for everyone when I say that working for a micromanager is terrible.”

    I would include in this managers who want to you solve a problem using a technical approach they specify.  When that happens, instead of having one problem to solve, now you have two.

  • Couldn’t agree more.  Thanks for sharing :).

  • Ken Brush

    I knew a lot more about how to manage people, until I became a manager. Then you quickly realize that all your ideas are myopic.  I don’t believe that most managers want to micromanage, I believe they are essentially forced to, for various reasons. (lack of quality work, time crunch, etc..). Some managers are micromanagers, because they are nervous and insecure people, but I think that’s a minority position.  

    Best thing I ever learned was to manage your manager.  Essentially, if you do your job in a way that gives him what he needs, he/she won’t spend any time worrying about you and he/she can invest all their time bothering your co-workers who aren’t performing.

  • Ken, I agree that sometimes people are forced to micromanager.  But with good, passionate people, micromanagers only limits them and make them unhappy.

    I agree that learning to manage your manager is important.  But man, it sucks.

    Regardless, thanks for sharing.

  • Ken Brush

    Yes, if you have a good, passionate group. Then you don’t even need a manager.

  • It’s really difficult transitioning to a manager role and I think being a micromanager is the default, easy way to manage.

    But as a newly-minted manager, you can’t forget about your own opportunties: by allowing your team to fail, it gives you a bit more time and freedom to do the job you were hired to do / want to do.

    Great post.

  • Couldn’t agree more.  Thanks for sharing!

  • A good leader is everything for a company, nowadays. He must be very responsible, to take the right decisions, to listen and communicate a lot with the team members. It’s not that easy to lead someone or a business, because not everyone have the same opinion about some things like you!