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What Does a Good IT Manager Look Like? - page 2

Ethics and Trust

  • January 26, 2011
  • By Carla Schroder

In many cases our immediate managers have their own bosses to answer to. My dream manager is one who makes smooth the way-- who gets me the tools I need to do my job, fends off silly and impractical whims from the suit suites, and who respects my time. That last one is huge, because wage and hour abuse is institutionalized in tech. Many workers are classified as "exempt", meaning they are salaried slaves who can legally be required put in all kinds of unpaid overtime. (Compliance Assistance - Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) covers the details.) The other side of this is exempt workers are supposed to draw full salary during slack times. Like that ever happens.

Many shops are on chronic "death march": always in crisis, all hands always on deck. That is terrible management. Good management takes the long view and keeps the work flowing on a sane schedule, and doesn't make impossible commitments. Even if the bosses don't care about the health and well-being of employees there is a big cost associated with chronic overwork, an exponential ratio between fatigue and productivity. A task that takes an hour when you're refreshed and well-rested can take a whole day when you're tired and burned out, and chances are it will have to be redone anyway. It costs a lot to replace fed-up burned-out staff.

I like a boss that doesn't waste my time with useless interruptions. A lot of managers think that busywork is productivity, like running around having meetings, filling out reports, and taking phone calls. Every interruption to a task that requires concentration and focus sets it back, sometimes a lot. Very few people can multi-task, though they think that juggling a dozen tasks while giving a couple of percents of attention to each one is being productive. It's not; it's doing a lot of tasks poorly. Most of us do better focusing on one task at a time, giving it all of our attention until it is completed or we come to a good stopping point.

I like a manager that understands the business and where my little part of it fits in. It's rather amazing to me how many managers have no clue what real productivity is, what the business goals are, how to advance them, or how to set priorities. It's demoralizing to work on something and then see it scrapped, all that work thrown away, or to get stuck wheel-spinning and keep doing the same things over and over for new managers who don't bother to learn recent history, or old ones who don't understand why they're getting the same bad results from doing the same things. I expect my boss to have a clear direction and strategy, and to keep us workers bees on track.

Appreciation, for many people, is bigger than money. Some recognition for coming in to work every day, being dependable, and doing good work. We become invested in our jobs; we develop skills and special knowledge and become experts in our own little realms. A smart manager gives genuine recognition and treats people like skilled professionals who know their stuff. I don't know about you, but I'm not an interchangeable nameless cog and I'm sure as heck not a pesky line-item on an expense sheet. I tend to resent freshly-minted MBA weenies stomping all over my turf like they know everything, without ever asking a single question, or any decision-maker who doesn't really know what's going on down here where the actual work gets done.

Though money is definitely a big deal. Show appreciation in a manner that spends.

A smart manager is competent in the technology. I'm not sure how tech-ignorant bosses came to proliferate, but it's crazy. How can a tech-ignorant boss know who is doing great work and who is slacking? How can any manager make intelligent decisions of any kind when they don't know anything? (My theory is that is the foundation of Microsoft's dominance. Bypass the tech people and target the non-tech decision-makers; spread around a few tickets to hooter bars, some free software, some electronic toys, and poof! Profit.)

I had great managers at Nike and Tektronix; they were fun, focused, and supportive of their employees acquiring new skills and moving into more challenging jobs. I think we can stretch this series to one more chapter, if you fine readers send me your own ideas and experiences with good managers. editor@linuxtoday.com

Carla Schroder is the author of the Linux Cookbook and the Linux Networking Cookbook (O'Reilly Media), the upcoming "Book of Audacity" (NoStarch Press), a lifelong book lover, and the managing editor of Linux Planet and Linux Today.

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