Short post today. I really worry sometimes about (some) people in tech. I see people putting themselves under so much pressure to be the perfect manager or leader. They nobly shield their team from dysfunction. They attempt superhuman feats of managing up. They filter every word—juggling the dual demands of caring for their teams, and doing the company’s bidding. They bottle their emotions to keep a veneer of being professional. They try to be the best coaches and mentors they can be.
This feels a bit like you’re blaming managers for trying to work out a psychologically safe way to work in a dysfunctional workplace? Apologies if I’ve missed the point.
Sometimes you don’t get to choose if your workplace is fun or dysfunctional or (what usually happens) both simultaneously.
FWIW I used to be a “shielding” manager but I’ve come to find that approach paternalistic and potentially deceptive - you’re really lying to your team about what the workplace is really like, and grooming them for disappointment. Not to mention that shielding puts unnecessary psychological weight on managers (as you talk about), and assumes that your managees are helpless to deal with dysfunction.
Now I feel it’s better to build up your team’s resilience and ability to battle structural dysfunction, rather than shielding them from it. And remembering that your managees’ approach to work might be different from your own.
100% agree with you but you have to take in account, that we have a major shift in the meaning of work and how we work. It started a long time ago but remote work and covid changed the perspective rapidly.
It goes under the same umbrella of "I had success with this the last 30+ years, why change?" and "Thats the way I learned it, why change?".
It is the old working world vs. the new work world. I think this will go on for some time, at least as long as the newer generations reach the high positions and leading positions.
I feel like, in my organization at least, there is a paradox whereby the company leadership does not have the confidence to lead and therefore passes the burden of deciding direction to their staff. This is rationalized as "inclusion", in that "we trust the staff to know which direction to go" rather than what they are actually thinking, which is "we have no idea which direction to go." The staff, on the other hand, are just looking for direction and purpose, and are waiting for the leadership to tell them what to do. The managers are often caught in the middle of the dilemma.
I generally consider the idea of shielding/protection (aka hiding context) as a common leadership mistake. Transparency, helping people deal with the reality of the situation is a more effective framing.
The fact that "perfect leaders" try to shield "BS" from their direct reports might also cause "BS" to be considered normal. If you look from the eyes of the ones who are causing "BS", they don't see people suffering from their "BS". They only see a "strong" leader being OK with any unhealthy but important topic/approach.
So, how might we make this better systemically without expecting leaders to be "strong"?
One example comparison of mobility in two different countries: The Netherlands and the US.
- US has a car-dominant mobility system.
- NL has a bike dominant mobility system.
If a kid wants to go to school safely;
- In the US, she would need a big, safe car, and a safety seat. A strong leader(parents) who can bring her to school in a safe way. Maybe that strong leader sometimes needs to deal with stress in the traffic, he has to "yell" to get his way, etc. The experience is so bad that both the kid and the parent want this ride to be over.
- In the NL, she can just get her bike and use the safe bike network from her house to the school seamlessly. She doesn't need someone to bring her to school. But it's so fun, I also want to join my daughter's ride to school. She gets social with her friends, and we talk about many different topics(maybe not possible otherwise). It's an experience in which we connect(a different leadership experience maybe?).
How might we provide a safe and fun environment at work so that we are not dependent on "strong" people to protect others all the time?
I think the "BS" from above might be because most companies are trying to grow faster than they can learn. So they are always fumbling their way to success. Fake it till you make it. That is then seen as BS from below. Always changing their minds. No stability. Etc.
I think we need to raise the bar and completely reframe how to think about work in technology. I think we need to hold a higher standard for the people and companies around us. I think we need to believe in each other more that we can figure things out together, live, and work harmoniously through more intentional design.
I've been studying this during my time at Lynda, LinkedIn, InVision, Facebook, and now in the personal development space.
I appreciate the discussion and think we can improve this situation together.
I think we need to talk more about our needs and goals more as individuals, then for the companies around us, and start to understand that this is all a big system. You can work towards your goals and dreams to change the environment. I've seen it happen, and I've also seen the dysfunctional teams and environments.
These problems might not be able to be solved overnight, however we are responsible for how we use our 24 hours everyday. People are responsible for speaking up when there is nonsense. People are responsible for sharing their thinking and intentions. People are responsible to coach, model and teach healthy habits and practices.
I'm striving to work on this problem and support people better with Next Level UX.
I love having fun at work! and totally believe that when people “want” to work they work more efficiently. It all comes down to “inspiring” the team (and the stakeholders) in the goal, and being able to communicate with and understand where and why they might be struggling, realize individual strengths and motivations, in order to pave the way for a “success together”. It’s still not easy -but doesn’t have to be stressful.
I think managers and leaders should try to achieve all those impossible things and put some level of pressure on themselves but not beat themselves too hard when they fail. It's a matter of trying more than achieving (to some level).
What I think is really important to change is the idea that whenever a team or a company fails to meet a goal, becomes a little dysfunctional or just not as fun that there needs to be a drastic change. You don't always have to implement new measures or replace people or try to make things fun forcefully.
Work is stressfull, not fun and chaotic sometimes. Sometimes people just loose their groove. Use mature communication, give people time to reorder their shit continue trying to improve.
Not everything has to be perfect all the time, but you should still try.
I'd evaluate why you feel the need for all the misdirections and protections. Employees are adults and deserve to know the full context they're working in. I manage from the idea of advancing a shared understanding between all parties. Any sort of deviation from the absolute truth would be very stressful to keep track of.