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How To Be A Bad Manager

Published 9/11/2019

In today's episode, we're talking about bad managers but instead of outlining the things to avoid as a manager, we are looking at the things we want to do in order to become a bad manager and uncover the "why" behind bad manager's behaviors.

This episode is sponsored by Barclays.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
One of the techniques that we talk about using on the show on a regular basis is reframing. And what reframing allows us to do is ask a different type of question. We're looking at the same kind of situation or assumption, but from a different angle. This is kind of similar to calling a glass half full rather than half empty, but often there's more than just one alternative frame to consider. For example, often on this show, I give you advice about things that you should do. But here's the interesting shift that I want to make for today's episode. Often, when we're talking about equality or a characteristic that we don't want to have, for example, if we want to fail as a manager, we think about things that we want to avoid doing. Making particular behaviors in order to not become that bad manager. In today's episode, I want to look at exactly the opposite of that. What things would we want to do in order to become the bad manager? This subtle shift allows us to focus on the why. Why are we talking about these particular behaviors as things that are associated with bad managers, rather than simply saying to avoid them? We can find some better instruction by changing our frame of reference. My name is Jonathan Cutrell. You're listening to Developer Tea and my goal on this show is to help different developers like you find clarity, perspective, and purpose in your careers. Many of you either currently are or one day will become some kind of manager, whether you continue to write code and lead people in some other way or if you're totally all in on management, it's very possible that as you progress in your career, that's a future path for you. As a side note, this isn't the only path that's available for progressing in your career. If you want to hear more about that, go listen to the interview that we did with Matt Klein about becoming a lifelong individual contributor. For the sake of today's episode, I want to talk about ways that you might behave if you wanted to be known as a bad engineering manager. What are the things that bad engineering managers do? But before we do that, I want to take a moment to talk about a book that was written in 1942 by CS Lewis. CS Lewis is mostly known for the Chronicles of Narnia, but Lewis also wrote a book called The Screw Tape Letters. Lewis dedicated the book to J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings books. In The Screw Tape Letters, the book is actually a series of fake letters that are sent from the main character, Screw Tape, who is a special kind of mentor. He is a demon in hell, actually, and he's writing these letters to his new protégé, Wormwood. In the letters, he details all of the tricks that he's learned to tempt humans to do horrible things. And regardless of your religious affiliations or background or lack thereof, this is an interesting thought experiment to imagine that your goal is chaos and failure, rather than order and success. And it's an interesting thought experiment because we often have a clearer picture of why those behaviors lead to the failure when we imagine them through the lens, even if it's artificial, of motivation. So let's talk about a few things that you might do if you wanted to fail as an engineering manager. The first behavior that you probably want to participate in if you want to fail as an engineering manager is to manage without collaborating with your direct report. For example, instead of asking that person what they imagine for their future, just tell them what you imagine for their future. It's even trickier and more insidious if you choose to adopt the facade that you care deeply about this person's future, but you don't want to give them the opportunity to help you shape it. Instead, they need to see you as someone who believes in their own vision more than they believe in collaboration. The next thing that you need to do if you want to fail as an engineering manager is play favorites. The direct reports on your team are going to have a variety of backgrounds, a variety of experience. Some of them are going to have natural talents in areas that others don't. And the best thing that you can do to ensure that you fail as an engineering manager is to bring up those inconsistencies amongst the team. If you have a junior developer who is concerned or maybe they have some fear that they don't understand parts of what they're working on. Instead of trying to understand that person always point to someone who is clearly doing a better job. Explain to them that you're not getting any complaints from the other developers and that perhaps they should spend more time investing in their own learning outside of work. We're going to talk about more ways that you can invest in your own failure as an engineering manager right after we talk about today's sponsor, Barclays. Even like the terrible engineering manager persona that we're talking about in today's episode, Barclays is interested in investing in developers. There's lots of opportunity to learn and grow. They always have resources available on projects and plenty of ambition. That means Barclays developers are always developing and they're hiring right now. So if you want to join an innovative award-winning team that is changing FinTech, go and check out their openings. Home.Barclays slash developers. That's home.bask.com. B-A-R-C-L-A-Y-S slash developers. They've got campuses in New Jersey and all over the UK and they are hiring for positions with tons of languages that you probably are working in. Go and check it out. Once again, Home.Barclays slash developers. Thanks again to Barclays for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. If you want to fail as an engineering manager, then one thing you want to do is make sure that your engineers are not feeling safe, that they're not feeling comfortable, or that there's any dependability in their work. In order to do this, make sure that you ask them to meet in a moment's notice and do this on a regular basis, but not too regular. They shouldn't get used to any particular schedule and they shouldn't be able to plan their calendars with confidence. During these meetings, be sure to provide vague feedback. Now sometimes this feedback may be positive. Giving someone positive feedback, especially about bad behaviors that are going to burn them out over the long run, is the best way to make sure that that person leaves the company. It's even more effective if you praise people for these unhealthy behaviors in public ways. For example, you might praise someone for getting work out the door even though they cut corners. Or the best version of this is to thank someone profusely for spending their weekend working for the company over time. By creating this invisible reward system, you encourage your direct reports to guess at what will make you and the rest of the leadership happy and what will receive praise. Additionally, when you give your negative feedback, make sure that you refer to the standard that's not being met, even though you don't have concrete evidence of that standard not being met. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, make sure that the direct reports that you have are moved away from you and to other bad engineering managers along the way on a regular basis. This way, they never really build a relationship with those engineering managers and therefore they can't really find a path of growth for themselves. Following these pieces of advice will almost certainly lead you to becoming a bad engineering manager. And this applies to leadership in general. If you are in some leadership position where you are responsible for creating clarity or for making someone feel safe and giving them a regular and dependable channel of feedback. And if you make them feel heard and you avoid praising bad behaviors that you don't really want your company, all of these are instructional things that we can take away from this obviously satirical set of recommendations. I encourage you to shift your frame like this on a regular basis when you're doing your own self-reflection, perhaps if you write in a journal or if you feel stuck, if you're trying to make a decision and you're feeling stuck, try to shift the frame in one way or another similar to the way we did in today's episode. I encourage those of you who are thinking about becoming managers to really understand the responsibility and the weight of that role. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. Thank you again to today's sponsor, Barkley's. Go and check out the roles that Barkley's has available by heading over to home.barclays slash developers at Barkley's developers are always developing. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. If you enjoyed the episode, go ahead and subscribe in whatever podcasting app you currently use so you don't miss out on future episodes. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and until next time, enjoy your tea.