Re: manager credibility

Subject: Re: manager credibility
From: Dick Margulis <margulis -at- fiam -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 28 Mar 2004 13:28:32 -0500

Edwin Dahlquist wrote:

In your opinion, what factors would establish, maintain, or diminish the credicility of a manager in a virtual team environment?


[I've snipped your interesting presentation of your question only for the sake of avoiding the wrath of bot and trust others will refer back to your original post as needed.]

You've observed that most managers "seem stuck on the idea of authoritarian techniques"; I agree with that, but I'd like to point out what I believe is the principle reason. Companies are organized hierarchically, with few exceptions. The vast majority of companies reward people for climbing the managerial hierarchy. Only a small fraction of companies have instituted an effective dual-ladder system, where employees are rewarded for advancing in their technical skills and are allowed to stay within their craft rather than becoming managers. In these dual-ladder systems, people who aren't interested in being managers have a way to meet their goals. In a one-ladder system, they're round pegs in a square hole, trying to be managers because that's the only way to advance their careers.

Even in a one-ladder system, the people who define themselves in terms of ambitions, goals, and monetary success, rather than in terms of doing their jobs well--people who tend toward the authoritarian side of the personality spectrum, in other words--are the ones who start scrambling up the managerial ladder.

Once people are sucked into that scramble, the Peter Principle most definitely applies. They rise to their level of incompetence and remain there, making their subordinates miserable until somebody wises up and right-sizes them onto the pavement.

Beyond that, managers--who are imperfect human beings like the rest of us--often find themselves stuck in a situation where the demands placed on them from above are in conflict with what they believe is the right way to manage the people who report to them. Faced with that dilemma, they often do things that are illogical from the point of view of an outside observer but that make sense to them, in the midst of a dysfunctional organization as they find themselves. So I have a hard time assigning blame to managers--especially first-level supervisors--for the stupid-seeming things they do. That is, I would not use the word incompetent, as you did, to describe them. Instead I'd say they are in untenable situations.

Given the right environment, I'm sure most of them would do fine at managing virtual teams. The problem is designing that environment within the confines of a hierarchy. That means a radical restructuring of an entrenched system of incentives, an acknowledgment of the role of authoritarianism in corporate culture, and a host of other social changes. So we are unlikely to see much change in our lifetimes. Still, I think it's always worthwhile to talk about the problem in terms of root causes.

My approach, with managers I encounter who behave badly, is to train them to behave better. (I'm speaking about the people I've found myself reporting to, not people I have any authority over.) I do this, first and foremost, by speaking truth to power. The fact that I report to someone for the purposes of corporate bureaucracy does not mean that I recognize their authority to demean, belittle, or disrespect me; and if they try, I confront them on it. I also do all those things people mean when they say you should "manage your manager." That is, I take every opportunity to show them how they can get better results from subordinates through more enlightened attitudes and behaviors. This has been relatively effective, in that it affords me a more pleasant working environment. But I don't delude myself into thinking it has made any real difference in the way companies operate over the long term.


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manager credibility: From: Edwin Dahlquist

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