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.
Empathy. Presence. Charisma. Gravitas. Serving. Caring. Acts of vulnerability. The patience of an ox, and the fire of a lion. The Will to Lead.
They try to do it all because they believe that other people have figured out how to do it all. That “it is supposed to be hard”. That they “signed up for the job”. That “this is the leader’s burden”. That “you can build grit” and “the buck always stops with you”. “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!”
In a discussion about stress on managers, someone wrote recently:
“If someone cannot shield their direct reports from BS above them, or they cannot manage up for the wellbeing of their team they shouldn’t be a manager.”
And it hit me.
Really? Why is BS the norm?
What are we doing to people?
I meet with lots of companies. And I can say this. It is absolutely possible to have a healthy company. Not perfect, and not without the occasional acute issue, but mostly healthy. Some people/teams actually have FUN at work. It is joyful, not institutionalized professional masochism. People laugh. Most weeks go by without a clusterfuck. Most weeks go by without mind-numbing incoherence.
There’s no requirement for managers and leaders to absorb the full weight of the world.
But in other companies, it really feels like people NEED the chaos to feel helpful. That unless people are pushing to their absolute limit, something must be wrong.
I just don’t buy into this. I actually think teams do better work when things are fun, and (mostly) healthy. It IS possible.
What do you think?
Or perhaps another question: how do we encourage more sanity and self-care?
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.