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How to be a Manager – A step-by-step guide to leading a team (getweeklyupdate.com)
1631 points by voska on June 5, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 224 comments

A better title would be "How Management Works in 2018."

Half of being a manager is managing other's behaviors to produce a great product. The other half is managing your own behaviors -- i.e. being consistent with your communications and consistent in your behaviors.

Both of those topics have been left out of this piece.

Spot on. I usually summarize it with clients as "you have to show people you can lead yourself before you can lead others" and that usually gets the idea across. If you wouldn't follow yourself as a leader, then you have some personal work to do.

To your second point, one definition of leadership is "getting people to want to do what you want them to do." That's also a pretty reasonable definition, and the way to do that is by providing context.

I always ask 3 questions in my discussions:

What is the company's mission?

How is your team contributing to the mission?

How does the work you're doing today contribute to the mission?

If a leader, and everyone on their team, knows the answers to all three of those questions, at all times, then they will probably be very effective.


I tend to agree. This piece reads more like, how to be a director or VP. Setting the culture is not a front line manager's job any moreso than individual contributors. A manager just needs to keep his folks productive in a way that's aligned with the company goals.

Thanks for the feedback -- definitely a fair point. I think the piece can be beneficial in different ways for different people. In the first section I noted that CEOs/Founders might use it as a template for their management structure, while department heads (i.e. Directors and VPs) may not care as much about the culture aspects, but the Objectives and Process sections may be most relevant for them.


ICs don't pay so much attention to the CEO of the company. An IC is CEO of themself. A manager is CEO of the team.

> needs to keep his folks productive in a way that's aligned with the company goals

How is that different from "Setting the culture" ?

Because you don't set the values of the company, you just align your team to the goals of your larger organization / company.

Yes and no.

My current company favors consensus over correctness. They don't realize they do this, but they do, largely because most of the decision makers deal with subjective things, where you can spend hours bikeshedding. When they then hear disagreement on objective things, technical things, they want agreement, and view arguments over technical things as being disagreeable.

As a manager I could take that value, consensus > correctness...but I choose not to. Instead, I create an environment where my team instead chooses correctness > consensus, hashing it out internally, hidden from the rest of the company (thereby specifically eschewing 'transparency' as a value, even though it is both one we value internally, and one the business claims is a corporate value), reaching out for more information as needed but not venturing or asking an opinion until we come up with the 'one true decision' that we will pitch to them, saying it has everyone on the team's backing. At that point, the pressure to achieve consensus usually leads to all the stakeholders agreeing, too.

This is, obviously, not ideal (to where I'm looking for a job elsewhere), but it's the best I could come up with given the realities of the values the business has taken hold of. But my team's values, both their declaration and their interpretation, are not the company's values.

Stated values are usually bullshit. If you want to understand a culture's real values, see which behaviours and traits are rewarded and which are punished. (Also applies to individuals.)

Real values are often unconscious, generated by the unconscious goals of the leaders.

This is not always a bad thing. Someone who has their shit together as a person can be a very effective and inspiring leader, and can even minimise the effects of dysfunction elsewhere in an org.

But any suggestion that you can have a "My/Our values are..." meeting or brainstorming session, and make it happen just by stating it and/or writing it down, is wildly naive and unrealistic.

Real values are often unconscious. Agreed. Good or bad.

Consciously deciding on values gives you something to point to, however. You say it's wildly naive and unrealistic, and if you mean the act of writing them down is sufficient I agree; the point being made is that defining a team's goals is -necessary- (but not in and of itself sufficient).

Without making it a point to say "This is what we want to achieve", you arm yourself, your team, etc, with nothing to actually bring about the values you want to see upheld. Sure, you can just try to do them yourselves, but is the team in alignment? Do they agree with them? When you deviate, will they call you out on it? When they deviate, will you have the rest of the team's backing to bring things back into line?

The answer is no, if you haven't stated them explicitly and gotten buy in. The answer is possibly yes if you have. It still takes effort, mindfulness, etc, but it moves from the impossible to the possible by taking the time to define them with your team.

Sure, it's possible you hire so well, so perfectly, based on unstated values, that everyone is in alignment, all the time, 100%. My experience hasn't been that. I doubt most people's has.

To break into heavy metaphor, it's important to define your 'guiding star', as it were, so you can reorient the ship when someone points out you're adrift. Because without it, you not only can't tell you're adrift, you also have no idea what to reorient yourself to.

I think you realize fighting your company culture may be short term effective but usually not sustainable.

Side note, correctness is generally a virtue, but consensus can be too. Fast and wrong decisions can be better than slow and right ones, if they can be corrected.

Oh, definitely. I alluded to that in my post; when dealing with subjective things, better to quickly reach consensus than spend time worrying about correctness. I.e., bikeshedding; better to just say "Yellow", and have everyone else agree, than to spend a lot of time on it. Sure, there -may- even be a 'right' answer to what color the bike shed should be, but it probably doesn't matter that much. Consensus is more valuable in that case than correctness.

Most such values are a sliding scale of which you prioritize, and different priorities are better in different situations. People's feelings vs transparency, for instance. Both are important, but where exactly you fall depends on a number of factors.

Emphasis on keeping folks productive. A director or C level shouldn't need to worry about an individual's progress completing tasks on a regular basis. But it's a core duty for most managers.

Half of being a manager is managing other's behaviors to produce a great product.

No! you are doing it wrong. Research shows that it's hard to change others behavior.

The other half is managing your own behaviors -- i.e. being consistent with your communications and consistent in your behaviors.

While this is in your hand but you are subject to the same limitation as your team members.

Furthermore, managing people is not about making them agree with you but to use a framework of short-term incentives to align long-term goals.

> Research shows that it's hard to change others behavior.

I said, "managing behaviors", not "changing behaviors".

> Furthermore, managing people is not about making them agree with you but to use a framework of short-term incentives to align long-term goals.

Isn't that a part of managing behaviors? E.g. I pay my employees money, I tell them what to do, and then they do it. That seems to me I'm managing their behaviors.

I guess I don't understand why you're arguing with me on this, since you seem to agree with that point.

> Half of being a manager is managing other's behaviors to produce a great product

This part has not been left out. All of the content about establishing culture, vision, expectations, responsibilities, and so on, is a direct part of managing others' behaviors to produce a great product. What am I missing?

> The other half is managing your own behaviors -- i.e. being consistent with your communications and consistent in your behaviors.

The article talks about this too, especially the importance of communication, consistency, discipline, and process:

> [Communication] Communication may be the most important word in this guide. It is the key to making your team operate effectively. Failure to communicate is the #1 cause of people problems (...)

> [Consistency] If you are using metrics properly, you’ll be analyzing performance on a daily or weekly basis by consistently reviewing your metrics and measuring if objectives are being achieved. This typically happens in your weekly meetings and written updates. To help facilitate your planning, there are a couple of formal analysis activities to do:

> Quarterly Summary. Reflection is a healthy and beneficial process. At the end of every quarter, each functional leader should compile a summary of the objectives achieved. The summary should include metrics and descriptive analysis on where the team succeeded vs. struggled.

If it was really as simple as the author has posited, then anyone can be a manager, but this just isn't the case. Many companies have this framework in place, yet the management and the culture is terrible. (Amazon, HP, Microsoft to name a few)

In a number of companies I worked at the number one reason people left was a conflict with their supervisor.

I think a much better introduction to management is the manager tools podcast. And after listening to about 10 or 20 episodes, you'll see how hard management really is, especially if you want to do it right.


This is really great advice, thank you.

I think it really crystalized the issues I had reading the article; you can do (or try to do...) all the ‘right things’ and still have a terrible result.

If it was easy to get right, things would be great... but its not. Its hard. ...and a slide deck of protips doesn’t cut it as a solution.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's a great resource, but it's not "How to be a manager."

Just an example of this, culture is hard to get right. You can't hire yourself to culture. It's something that has to be practiced by all your employees every day.

If you have 1000 managers in your corporation, you have 1000 micro-cultures. If a chunk of those managers figure out they can berate their directs on a daily basis without punishment, then those employees experience of your company will be terrible.

That's why Amazon employee reports vary wildly from great to horrible. That's because while some managers are truly great, some are truly horrid. The culture isn't enforced equally across the company.

Jeff Bezos might treat his corporate execs great on a day to day basis say, but the average employee is usually levels of management removed from this to be inspired. Instead they see coworkers sobbing at their desk because they were fired, or forced to resign. Other's might actually deeply enjoy their time at Amazon, but it's because they got lucky in the micro-culture lottery.

This is quite a fair comment, but I can’t tell if you’re agreeing, disagreeing or just making an unrelated point.

The point I was making is: this article isn’t practically useful, its just ‘how it would be nice if things were’ not ‘how to get there’.

Its got some good ideas, sure... but as you say, reality and ideals aren’t easily matched; so as a step by step guide, its somewhat trivialising what is actually a very hard, entirely unsolved set of problems.

having been at a small company that swore about manager tools all day long and actively recommended its staff to look into it to grasp some of the concepts and their approaches to things, it is equally as dreadful as any other resource out there. there are more than one way to do things and there are more than one different type of people that you'll have to manage. the reality is that it is a tough job that requires a lot of self awareness and a deep understanding of the risk of management drawing power hunger to really start to grasp how to leverage those tools to be effective.

It would be easier to learn from the comics at dilbert.com to avoid bad management.

I feel like it's pretty easy for proto-Pointy-Haired-Bosses to learn entirely wrong lessons from Dilbert strips, even if they get the joke.

Fan of the Marine Corps model:


Some of them are painfully obvious, but these are sometimes absent when they shouldn't be.

(I also suspect this is what Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr either draw from, or coincide with.)

Following the links, I stumbled upon this amazing seeming resource:


The military are really very very good at man-management ...

This seems to be the impression in the business world, which has what I can only describe as a fetish for stories about the military, but Marines in particular have a very tough time adapting to life and careers outside the military.

It's fun to think of our businesses as just like a Seal team and try to glean lessons from stories of heroism, but the reality is if the military were in the business of making a profit, retaining employees, or pleasing customers, it would fail miserably.

The reality of the U.S military is far different than the impression that the leadership papers give you.

The US military is efficient at what it does, generally speaking - it is the product of a can't fail fighting force, and all the implications that come out of that.

As an enlisted infantry Marine who transitioned very easily into software engineering, I find my leadership training in the Marine Corps a distinct advantage I have over my peers. I have been called the best manager other engineers have ever had by multiple people, as well as called the best engineer many have worked with.

The only thing I wish is more people understood what true leadership looked like, and that is one thing I generally have missed from my time in the Marine Corps. The principles are probably some of the best set of general leadership principles you can find out there and they prove their worth day in, day out.

What's a "can't fail fighting force"? Military can certainly fail.

It's a mantra that the military use. Train, train, train and fail in training because you can't fail in the real fight. If you read "can't fail" as "can't afford to fail" rather than "failure is an impossibility" you'll get the intent.

A can't fail fighting force is one that comes back from the dead and orders their adversaries to please stick to the plan instead of winning: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millennium_Challenge_2002

> A can't fail fighting force is one that comes back from the dead and orders their adversaries to please stick to the plan instead of winning: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millennium_Challenge_2002

To set the record straight, Van Riper exploited deficiencies in the nature of the simulation itself as opposed to finding actual deficiencies in Navy doctrine.

For example, the small boat armada armed with missiles could never, in real life, physically support the missile systems used or even power the necessary controls. He used messengers on motorcycles that would effectively teleport from Point A to Point B, again an impossibility.

So the Navy hit reset on the exercise and asked him to please stick to reality instead of attempting to exploit the rules of the simulation.

As a hacker I have to chuckle at his exploits. As a taxpayer I'm a bit pissed that he not only wasted time and money, but then went on a media campaign to malign the folks running the event because he was angry he didn't get away with his clever hack.

Please stop spreading this as some sort-of "Look at how pitiful the military is!" stories. It is absolute bullshit.

Ok, then please point me to an authoritative source where this is described, because I can't just take your word for it.

> Ok, then please point me to an authoritative source where this is described

There is a brief Reddit thread with sources available[0]. The initial post sources DoD transcripts of a post-exercise interview[1], and although this doesn't go into the missile weight issue it directly mentions that active air defense was turned off on the real-world ships in the simulation and they were unrealistically geographically constrained due to rules about shipping channels as they were operating in active, crowded seas.

Regarding the issue of unrealistic missile weights, please read the "rebuttal"[2] and subsequent discussions regarding why the missile setup was unrealistic.

Note: At the time of writing, I freely admit I am unable to source a reliable entry on the motorcycle teleportation bit, so I may be mislead on the matter. I have to get back to work, but will provide more additional sources if and when I can find the time.

[0] - https://www.reddit.com/r/CredibleDefense/comments/4qfoiw/mil...

[1] - http://archive.defense.gov/Transcripts/Transcript.aspx?Trans...

[2] - https://www.reddit.com/r/CredibleDefense/comments/4qfoiw/mil...

> because I can't just take your word for it.

I have to take a moment to point out that you have not provided an authoritative reference for your claims. The Wikipedia entry itself merely cites newspapers quoting Van Ripper, and doesn't even mention criticisms which seems rather suspect. In fact, there is a giant warning at the top of the article stating that the neutrality is suspect.

Thanks for the references.

The non-reddit reference you have provided points to a transcript from 1999, it looks like it's an incorrect link.

I couldn't examine the reference mentioned in the reddit post either, since the web page doesn't open, but there seems to be some disagreement on reddit regarding the topic itself.

Newspapers quoting van Ripper are one of the best sources we have access to, unless the military published an official account.

I'm not agreeing or disagreeing with you here (nor have I ever been military in any remote respect), but there are some overlapping truths in that page, e.g. "Employ your command in accordance with its capabilities", under "Develop", points 1, 3, & 4.

I've resigned over unrealistic expectations from leadership about deadlines, and what was to be asked of my team to complete said deadlines. I would do it again. I'm sure I've had many many many failings as a manager, but I will not death-march any team under me with zero chance of success. There are several others in the GP's post. You are correct, they don't all apply and many may be harmful in a corporate environment, but that's why you get paid to separate the wheat from the chaff, right? :)

>I've resigned over unrealistic expectations from leadership about deadlines, (...)

This sets great example. Thank you.

Do you know what the outcome was for a team you resigned from?

The project went several months over the proposed "schedule", which was inevitable, and I had told them as much.

The team was not asked to pull any overtime to complete it in the proposed time frame.

I took a 6 month sabbatical and then was asked to contract for them remotely as a developer (instead of manager) which I did for several years after that.

So, wins all around, I suppose.

Yeah but if making money was the same as charging a machine gun nest then the military model would be top notch.

Military leadership has the extra ace up its sleeve that all the people reporting to you are bound by law to do what you command.

Leading Civvies is like herding cats by comparison.

The sort of manager who fetishizes military leaders would gladly order their employees to charge a machine gun nest if it improved their own bonus

I remember hearing Stanley McCrystal or someone comment on the misconceptions between the Army and civilian world. The quote was along the lines of:

"In the civilian world, you think that in the Army you can just order someone to do what you want. In the Army, you think you can sack whoever you choose in the Civilian world."

> but Marines, in particular, have a very tough time adapting to life and careers outside the military.

I'm curious why you have that impression. I spent 6 years in the Marine Corps Infantry and I've found it super helpful now 6 years into my career as a software developer. Specifically, because of the leadership style you learn.

The only thing I'd say it made it more difficult to adapt to was college where I had to interact with a bunch of kids with no life experience and lots of strong opinions about how the world does and should work.

Curious, were you much older than the other students in college?

I served for 6 years so I was 24 when they were 18.

> the reality is if the military were in the business of making a profit, retaining employees, or pleasing customers, it would fail miserably.

Is that because of management issues or because of the intrinsic issues that come from being in the business of killing people to gain land, resources, power, or whatever?

As a former Marine, I can say it's a bit of both.

Obviously, the job is stressful all in itself. While I did not go to combat myself, I have lost friends, I've delivered flags to families of Marines who fell in combat, and have also just had a lot of beers with friends who could not cope with some of the actions that they had to endure in combat.

Secondly, management is certainly an issue like any other company. I won't go in lots of details here, but for half of my enlistment, I loved my leadership as they pushed me hard and helped me grow. They very clearly wanted to make me a better Marine and person. They were as close as family to me. They were very balanced. They knew when to be be hard, and when not to be. On the other hand, for the second half, It was the complete opposite and my time was miserable.

I experienced similar things in the private industry, only with much less physical labor. :)

They're linked. When you are managing people who can legally be put in jail or shot for not following orders, the dynamic is quite different.

Especially in the case of Marines, if you have a very well defined objective that requires brute force to solve, that's the ideal situation for them and they'll do amazing things. Anything that's a gray area, not covered by rules, or that requires creativity or questioning authority... It's not going to end in a good result.

I can't count the number of times Marine officers did ridiculously inefficient or plain stupid things because an authority figure or regulation said so. Usually the justification was, "the rules are there for a reason," or something similar. Whole that might be true, the idea that someone in authority can, in advance, create a set of rules that we can blindly follow to a successful outcome is insane for all but the most desperate situations.

Most of the military was like that to some extent.

> the idea that someone in authority can, in advance, create a set of rules that we can blindly follow to a successful outcome is insane for all but the most desperate situations.

I can think of two redeeming qualities for such sets of rules, if applied and understood correctly:

1. Eliminating indecision. If figuring out what to do is too difficult (or none of the options are better than others), you have a somewhat sane defaults to fall back to. Indecision has costs too.

2. Making things more predictable upstream. Authorities may make up some rules that may not be most effective when applied by the bottom line, but they normalize the entire bottom line, making it easier to manage. This is similar to what we do with frameworks in software - we trade efficiency and flexibility for consistency, in order to build an abstraction layer that's less complex to work with. Misapplied, this of course leads to tragic/comical examples, both in organizations and in software (e.g. Electron).

> the reality is if the military were in the business of making a profit, retaining employees, or pleasing customers, it would fail miserably

You could argue that this has in fact been the reality of late...

This is the version for UK Army Officers in book form: https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Serve_to_Lead.html?id...

The military, from my experience, is a big burocratic organisation with generally substandard management culture.

I believe the idea is more so to grasp at the underlying philosophies behind what is taught as an ideal to, say, infantry leadership, as opposed to merely copying bureaucratic institutions and styles. The US military is a first-rate logistics and fighting force with a lot of hard-won lessons, wisdom that is sometimes even written in blood.

At the end of the day, it's really just a good place to start thinking. You'll find great bits, and parts that are completely irrelevant to a civilian workplace. After all, it's not as if I can smoke my team when they fail to meet a deadline or engage in some "physical correction."

As opposed to most startups, which are tiny, unreliable organizations with a generally substandard management culture?

Bad management is everywhere.

Being able to do even a mediocre job at the scale of a major military is still not entirely unimpressive.

There may be tons of examples of substandard bureaucracy in the military, but that shouldn't detract from the smattering of great leaders within the ranks. Some of the best advice I've ever been given for surviving adult life was advice my father cribbed from officer training in the army.

Management is easy when your employees have to go to prison for not obeying you and you can exact non-judicial punishment any time ou want.

Not true. First, disobedience rarely results in jail. There are many intermediate forms of punishment. For example, losing rank, salary privileges, formal write ups, extra work responsibilities, etc.

Also leaders tend to keep each other in check and are constantly being reviewed. If you're a bad leader in the military it is typically immediately apparent and gets changed at some point. Additionally, leaders are also in turn managed by other leaders.

You're also not guaranteed promoted just because of your time-in-grade, especially not for higher ranks (e.g. E-5 and above). You also can't just transfer into the military with a high rank, meaning you have to work earn it and work your way up. It's not a full-proof system of course, but it does a great job. If you forced me to call out one exception, I would consider the officer path to be a shortcut to leadership, though they are typically required to go to college and extra training. But clearly, they don't have the military time-in-grade. But you're day-to-day is not really ran by officers, so it's not quite as relevant. (I'm speaking for the Marine Corps leadership as that's all I know first-hand.)

'Painfully obvious' can sometimes completely non-obvious when you're in an environment where bad habits, political bs, and other human weirdness dominate the patterns of interaction. This is true for most organizations.

Very true!

It is difficult to understand what Good looks like until you experience it first-hand.

Afterwards, Good is as obvious as water.

Unfortunately, Good requires infrastructure, both physical and cultural, that most organizations lack.

It is also exceedingly difficult to parachute into an organization and introduce Good, as that change threatens the balance of political power. People will strongly oppose Good because it means that their jobs will change, and change is -- very honestly speaking! -- scary as hell.

Absolutely all true.

> Afterwards, Good is as obvious as water.

I wish there were a magical way to give everyone a first job in a well-run org. I think the average corporate insanity quotient would noticeably drop if people knew what they were missing.

I found my first job at a well-run firm in my late 20s, and consider myself lucky. But I also spent a bunch of really crappy time putting up with things I didn't know I didn't have to put up with before that.

Along those lines, I highly recommend "Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win" by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. Especially the audiobook, as it is narrated by the authors.

In each chapter one of the authors tells a first person account of leadership on the battlefield, then they go on to relate that to business leadership with specific examples from their business consultations. Very engaging, and I think the leadership lessons they teach spot-on.


Military organizations have been studying how to lead people under a variety of conditions since effectively the dawn of time.

Many people make the mistake of fetishizing military leadership, but I absolutely thing there is a lot to be learned by studying the techniques of the organizations that have been building leadership skills the longest.

I talked a bit about this https://adamdrake.com/command-and-control.html and some of the misunderstandings that companies have when it comes to leading people.

You should really check out Simon Senik's new book [Leaders Eat Last](https://www.amazon.com/Leaders-Eat-Last-Together-Others/dp/1...).

It's essentially Marine Corp leadership philosophy distilled fitted to business scenarios.

Great for building a brand new team. Not so great for assuming leadership of an existing team/business.

Also, very American. I just stopped being CEO of a SE Asian business, and this just doesn't apply globally. There are culture differences that make enormous differences in leadership styles and outcomes.

I was only kinda interested in this article, because I have worked enough years at enough different American places to know what good management looks like, and what bad American management looks like. But, I would really like to read an article on what good (and bad) SE Asian business management looks like.

What were a few differences you ran into?

Asians have massive respect for authority. This, in effect, mean that they won't ever say no to, or disagree with, their boss. I had to learn to ask open questions, because if they could say yes they would. They would still guess at what I wanted to hear and tell me that. I got told different things than other members of the management team, not because anyone was trying to deceive, but purely as a show of respect.

My favoured leadership style is servant leadership, that my job is to enable everyone else to do their jobs properly. That didn't work. I had to teach myself how to do authoritarian leadership, which I hate with a passion, but it's the only style that works.

The language barrier is a huge thing. I would give an instruction, something else would happen, and the reason would be "I didn't understand you". They wouldn't ask for clarification, because of the respect thing. After training myself for years to not send emails, I had to get used to sending lots of emails again, because if it was written in plain English it had more chance of being understood and followed.

There's a ton of other, more subtle, stuff. I've been comparing notes with other western leaders here and it's a shared experience. Except for the douche bosses who are naturally authoritarian - they love it here.

Instead of calling this a 'respect' for authority, I'd call it a combination of submissiveness and deferring of all decision making, partly through a desire to avoid accountability. If you look at your situation where something 'else' happens due to a 'misunderstanding', I see this often with hierarchies: There is a rush to go off and do something, and no desire to ensure it's the _right_ thing.

Yeah that's a great way of putting it :)

It's expressed as "respect" if you talk to them about it, though, so I tend to use that term as it's non-prejudicial. Submissiveness is more accurate, but could be a problem in conversation hehe

Curious why the servant leadership style didn't work for you and why you think that is because this is the approach I prefer as well but I'm young in my career.

It doesn't work in Asia because of cultural reasons.

Independent thinking and enabling others is a very American way of thinking. People don't realize how much culture is derived off of core principles within major founding documents (declaration of independence, constitution).

In Asia, Confucian philosophy dominates the cultural landscape in terms of what values they have. One of the big principles of it is how to maintain order in society. A "perfectly ordered" society is one where the hierarchy is maintained and everyone functions in their proper place.

If it sounds like dystopia to you I'd encourage you to read more about it to understand what about it makes sense and what tradeoffs you get from a society like that.

Long story short, your leadership style needs to fit the people you're leading, not yourself. You can be the best servant leader but if everyone wants to be your servant, you're going to have a bad time.

This mirrors my experience in the MENA region (where a lot of staff are from asian cultures). It's hard to encourage people to work independently when they're coming from a "do what you're told" culture.

This, exactly. It was a huge surprise to find that asian people do not think of themselves as equals. Incidentally this is also one of the reasons democracy is struggling here, in my opinion.

Don't think it is an equality thing.

If I were to distill it into one central theme, it would be centered on how each culture views and values conflict.

The principles of the US has themes of "cooperation by conflict". Voting is the entire population fighting each other in a controlled setting. The 3 body system of checks and balances uses conflict as the central mean to prevent power accumulation.

Rationalism is the underlying reason for this acceptance of conflict. A dictionary definition: "Rationalism is the practice or principle of basing opinions and actions on reason and knowledge rather than on religious belief or emotional response."

From an emotional perspective, conflict is seen as detrimental, tearing down relationships, creating unresolvable discord and enmity, and the possibility to lose control over territory, position and power. However, from a rational perspective, conflict is positive. It puts the most logical, structural, or prevailing idea to the top.

The American revolutionists had gone through a lot. The history of western Europe was one where your lives were in the hands of emotional kings who could reward you one day and behead you the next without rhyme or reason. They were under the excessive, unchecked power of Britain, exhibited time and again through taxation without representation. They saw how much control the Bank of England had over the commonwealth. It was a time of rampant monopolies, major powers that had consolidated all control, and where conflict was an affront to power.

Because of all this, they baked conflict into the system.

As a narrative about how the US works, that's a great story.

As an east vs west philosophy debate, it completely fails to recognise that European cultures have also "baked conflict into the system".

It also fails to recognise that SE Asian cultures were also colonised by European powers.

A better explanation is that the American values were straight-up inherited from European ones because America (and Australia similarly) was wiped clean of indigenous culture during colonisation, while SE Asian countries were not. Better because it explains why all "western" cultures share these values, and why SE Asian cultures do not.

not sure how Europe got in this, was comparing American values versus Asian values. Conflict is the center of attention in American values (you could say western values, I don't know enough about modern European sentiment to say that). Conflict is indirect in Asian values.

Do you mean that American values aren't so anti-European that I depicted, or rather are derived from European values? I think I allude to it with rationalism, which originates from Europe. The history of European civilization is the foundation and backdrop for American ideals.

As much as America has tried to lay a foundation for a better western civilization, I think a mature modern America still has the problems that they were running away from in 18th century Europe - power eventually gets consolidated and individualism is compromised despite the checks and balances against it.

This: "The American revolutionists had gone through a lot. The history of western Europe was one where your lives were in the hands of emotional kings who could reward you one day and behead you the next without rhyme or reason. They were under the excessive, unchecked power of Britain, exhibited time and again through taxation without representation. They saw how much control the Bank of England had over the commonwealth. It was a time of rampant monopolies, major powers that had consolidated all control, and where conflict was an affront to power."

this ignores the fact that Britain has also "baked conflict into the system", and that Britain shares an idealogical framework with Europe, that America inherited, but SE Asia did not.

Because he was in southeast asia where people expect authority?

> After training myself for years to not send emails

Why would you do that? That's a recipe for miscommunication and mis-coordination in any country.

I'm a geek, I have a massive preference for written communication. Salesfolk, marketroids and other species of colleague prefer verbal communication. I had to train myself to call some people and email others, in other words to use their preferred communication method rather than mine. It worked a lot better.

In my (limited) experience email should be used for either:

* non-urgent

* not-that-important

* things you want (others) to remember

* communications you may want to point your finger later on (proof/contract details etc)

For everything else phone and in person communication are vastly superior and should be preferred.

I always wonder if this is a personality thing... I vastly prefer email (or slack/chat rooms) over phone / in person verbal, with some exceptions for certain types of brainstorming / planning.

I like to provide my thoughts on a topic in written form up front so people have a chance to think about it, and like the same in response.

Plus having a written record of decisions and even the thinking process is so helpful.

I also prefer emails... but this is not a personality thing. The email simply does not have enough dimension to replace normal talking.

You cannot express yourself because there is no body language and cannot talk things through because of the feedback loop. You cannot reflect to jokes or ask about the wellbeing on seeing someone coughing. You can ignore a pressed question by simply not answering - this is very hard to do in person. You cannot see from the eyes of the other person if he's really listening or just seems to be really tired.

It's great to have an email describing what I have to do and it is great for talking to someone you are familiar with. But it is a bad idea to use it for client communication or for doing business in general.

I'd love to read a blog post about this if you write one!

Much more politics.

Oh, there's plenty of politics in American companies as well. It's just culturally you have to pretend that you haven't even heard this word and are honestly acting in the best interests of the company/team/customers, while using the dirtiest tricks in the book when nobody's watching before your competitors do the same to you.

That's a very fair point. My leadership experience is in the U.S. so totally makes sense that it came out from that angle.

For assuming leadership of an existing team, I think it depends on the state of the team. Often the teams I have inherited needed a lot of work. There wasn't a defined culture or great communication processes, so I found a lot of it still applied.

In my last business, I needed to help re-build / re-calibrate several functional teams (including our leadership team), and a lot of this stuff definitely applied.

So, for instance, your section on hiring people. It talks about hiring for the culture you want. But if you have an existing team culture, do you hire for the "new" culture that you want, knowing that the new person is going to struggle to fit in, or do you hire for the existing culture, and hope to change it over time?

This isn't a guide on how to be a leader, this is a guide for building version 0 of a team and trivializes a great deal of the complexity that goes in to being an effective leader.

It's a great content marketing piece though, and at first glance, far outstrips the value of the tool they're marketing to - but this is still meant to drive people to a SaaS product.

Being a leader and being a (people) manager are very, very different things. So, of course this isn't a guide on how to be a leader.

A good manager is absolutely a good leader, and v/v. In my experience, there is no role that, if done properly, isn't equal measure both. They are sub-set skills of any position to which people report. Be it middle manager (important to execute, important to give meaning and direction within that area) or C-level (CEO can't afford to be a non-manager).

I would disagree here. In my opinion, a good leader has to be a good people person (and ergo likely a good manager - not always though), by definition. A good manager, or people person does not always make a good leader though. In my limited experience, I would think that a leader would demonstrate an ability to expand boundaries more so. My use of good can be substituted with effective.

I see what you are saying - and maybe someone can get by in either job without being strong in both skills, but I guess the point I'm trying to make is that all people-management roles ideally have both things happening. So to actually be good/great at roles that people assume are exclusive either to leadership (e.g., CEO) or to management (e.g., good ol' middle manager), both skills are necessary. And the big difference between the above examples is scope/scale, not how much leadership vs management is necessary.

People management is very, very different than leadership.

Take Steve Jobs, for example. A complete asshole if not a full-blown sociopath, but an impressive leader capable of creating a cult-like following.

Leadership is about inspiring and driving people towards a goal. People management is about recognizing the strengths and shortcomings of individuals and helping each one of them to improve and achieve their best, as well as selecting and assembling the right team where members complement each other.

Often enough, the two roles are at odds with each other.

(New-ish manager here.)

_Peopleware_ by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister is the best management resource I've encountered.


It also helped to keep careful track of things I really valued (and hated) about people I've worked for.

Just one example:

Depending on team size and culture it can concerning if your manager schedules a 1:1 meeting with you out of the blue and outside of your normal cadence. I had a manager that did this, on a Friday, with the meeting scheduled for Monday. Worrying about it would have bugged me over the weekend. Not a ton, but some. He followed the invite up with a Slack (team chat app) message explaining what the meeting was and what he wanted to talk about, turns out it was nothing to worry about. Him taking the time to clarify made a difference in my morale and it stuck with me.

Super small thing, but it matters.

While I'm at it, 2nd best: _Managing Humans_ by Michael Lopp (aka Rands).


I also recommend this Ask HN thread:

  Ask HN: I just got my first team lead. What should I do?
  89 points by endymi0n on Dec 30, 2011 | 50 comments

Hmmm. Older than I remembered. But a few of the recommendations in it have stuck with me and it's been as helpful as anything I've read on the topic.

Teammate to Team Lead is a topic that I run into a lot with the companies I advise. I have a small post on the topic, which I'm planning to expand:


There are quite a few things, some of them subtle, that really change once you're in a leadership role. The frequent example I see is that people don't realize that if they are in a leadership role, then there will be decisions they make which people on their team do not like. That's ok. It's not the job of the leader to win a popularity contest, but rather to try to do the best thing for the individual team members, the team, and the company itself. A lot of people have a tough time with the fact that others won't like their decisions, but that's a critical thing to digest for those who are going to be effective leaders.

Having read through the piece, I'm a little confused about why "leader" and "manager" are being conflated. They're very different roles. The former is a navigational role and the latter is a facilitating role.

Given the differing dominant archetypal personality traits required for those distinct modalities, it's unlikely they'd be strongly expressed in a singular person, and there's some reason to think they may be necessarily orthogonal. As their motivational biases are likely to be largely unrelated to each other.

"leader" == "manager" is a bright flashing warning light for a toxic work environment with self-important ladder-climbers.

Hey, this is interesting. Would you care to explain?

Not the original commenter, but real leadership should not rely on formal authority.

Exactly. The distinction is that leadership is something that people voluntarily choose to give to you because they respect you. A manager is a role/job-title.

Many managers are some of the least respected people in their company, and thus aren't effective leaders.

not sure I agree. almost all the time one should lead through guiding consensus and people should proceed based on the fact that they think its the best plan at the time. if thats all the time, then great - you hired very well.

however that process can break down either because there aren't very convincing arguments either way about A or B, or because someone is being unnecessarily stubborn. at that point its fair to step in and say 'we can't make progress until someone makes a decision, and since i'm in charge, thats me, and its going to be B'

if someone was being stubborn, then as a manger you have to work with them to either work supportively with them to get them to be more constructive, redefine their role so they don't get in other people's way, or if those don't work, tell them to fix it or find a new job.

if a manager is just to keep track of vacation time and have motivational retreats, they aren't providing very much value. as a technical leader if everyone feels free to completely ignore the direction you're trying set without even justifying why, it can be hard to get everyone moving in the same direction.

interested in counter positions

What are you disagreeing with? THe parent said "real leadership should NOT rely on formal authority".

That is, they should be relatively orthogonal (and they certainly have been in my experience; people with formal authority no one trusted, followed, etc, and devs, even on occasion junior devs, who effectively led teams to success)

Interesting. I see them as naturally linked. Many/most organizations combine the two functions. And I think there's a lot to be said for doing it.

If you try to lead, you will create activity that needs to be facilitated. The person who understands the goal naturally has information about what help the workers need in achieving it.

For example, suppose your main goal has three major pieces to it. As a leader, you define the goal and the pieces, and you inspire people to work toward that goal. But this naturally raises practical questions like the relative priorities of each piece at any given time. Nailing down actual the priorities is facilitation because it helps people be most effective at working toward the goal. And who can best understand those priorities? The person who has the vision of the goal in the first place.

> As a leader, you define the goal and the pieces, and you inspire people to work toward that goal

'Inspiration' should be added as a trigger for workplace swear-boxes.

People aren't in work to be inspired to work more. The vast majority just want to earn a wage with the minimum possible effort.

In my opinion a leader is someone who shows those people how to achieve the goals the company has set in the most personally-efficient manner. Like following a guide through the jungle, he knows the shortest path and how to avoid the dangers. It's not inspirational it's just rational.

You could appoint a manager in the same jungle but he would just assign resources. "Bob, you're the machete man. Mark, carry these bamboo poles.". The team would then proceed to wander around the jungle.

You can appoint a college graduate as a manager but leaders need both domain knowledge and soft-skills. The military knows this, which is why a green junior Lieutenant is paired with an experienced platoon sergeant.

Fair point. Coming from the perspective of an early stage team (i.e. a startup), often the founder is the leader, and by necessity, he/she needs to manage the early team. That means working to develop some of the traits needed to manage AND lead effectively. Ideally, that founder will grow and be able to continue to lead/manage the team as it grows.

At most organizations I've been in, we'd struggle if the person in charge of a team (whether the CEO or a functional leader of say Marketing) was unable to both navigate and facilitate.

Yeah, I can see that. There are about a million random reasons given for having co-founders for early-stage startups, but the only one that's ever made sense to me is to use two people to manage this split. Either co-founders or a single founder w/ the first IC hire.

I’m a bit guilty of confusing the two, as well.

Could you describe the differences in personality?

Leadership is outward facing, attracting followers by sharing a vision, inspiration, goal and working with the team to achieve that goal.

Management is inward facing, paying attention to the people you are responsible for, and knowing the right thing that's needed at the right time.

"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea." - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Leadership is building the boat, management is making sure the boat gets built, on time, on budget, with the proper permits and inspections, training and safety gear, along with bi-weekly status reports to customers.

Some people confuse one with the other, but to me they're distinct and this is a rough sketch of how I see them as different.

This is an interesting idea and it certainly seems to make sense to me to see it described this way. I am curious, though, can leader be a manager, and vice versa? Or, are these roles so distinct from each other that they should be separate? Maybe these roles can't co-exist at that level because it's exactly the problem that leads to so many of the problems we discuss on this site?

I think that leadership skills naturally require a sharper focus than management skills (not to downplay the value of either).

There reaches a point where leadership requires you to take the manager gloves off and get your hands dirty. For small teams or small problems, a good leader/manager can be both one and the same.

However as the size of the team or problems grows, it becomes more difficult (think n^2) to tackle both issues at the same time with the same person.

Management issues (firing, hiring, expenses, budgets) and Leadership issues (decisions, progress, advocacy, examples) on a team of 5 may be doable by one person, but may be stretched with one person servicing a team of 15 or 150.

Or if there is a ton more problems in one area vs. others, the challenge of dealing with that problematic area can leave a gap on the "less problematic" areas, which eventually turn them into actual problems. That's my guess as to what people complain about the most.

This is a very abbreviated form as I'm heading out the door, but typically a "leader" is more likely to be lower on agreeableness than a "manager". It's a component of pushing boundaries or navigating challenges/obstacles. A "manager" biases higher on conscientiousness than a "leader" because their role as a facilitator is in no small part to make sure all the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed.

Likewise a good "manager" is probably motivated by community-building and completion. A good "leader" is probably motivated by the challenge and the path itself in addressing it.

Now, to the airport!

Great article IMHO especially suitable for new teams, new managers, and top down understanding. Kudos!

For people who are stepping into existing teams, I suggest writing ground rules.

Ground rules are clear explanations of team expectations. Ground rules can be simple, bottom up, and help improve teamwork:


I agree fully with the author about writing objectives.

Objectives can be sophisticated, top down, and help improve planning. I suggest knowing "Objectives and Key Results" (OKRs) as at Google and Intel:


Core-hours are 9am-5pm? Aren't those just the normal busines hours for white-collar work?

Wow. "core hours" is full time, but there's also mandatory overtime. Anyone not in the boss's timezone has to to work weird hours to satisfy the micromanager's desire for fiefdom face-time. Work starts before 9am every day, to prep for a 9am dressing-down.

This is not a place where anyone with a choice would want to work.

> * Each workday has a team standup meeting. We choose 9 a.m., because it sets the tone for the day.

> * The workday has core hours when we expect people to be together. We choose core hours 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in our team's main time zone, because these are typical business hours for typical offices.

> * Beyond the workday core hours, we expect people to do their own schedule

You make great points and I'll edit now to make it more clear that the goal of the ground rules is to be communicating, and the goal of the writeup is to show a bunch of examples gathered from many teams in many industries.

Can you refresh the repo page now and see if it is more helpful and clear? Thank you!

For example, the item about 9-5 core hours actually comes from a bank that has tellers, call center operators, and an IT staff that needs to be onsite and available for helping with physical hardware. Again, the point of the ground rules isn't the hours per se; the point is that the team writes its expectations so everyone has a good understanding.

9-5 core hours is bullshit. The whole point of core hours is to be a window of time where you can guarantee a meeting can be scheduled with people across time zones. This doesn't mean you have 8 hours of core hours. That's literally insane.

Not to mention you can’t adjust your hours at all to avoid rush hour or cooperate with a spouse in day care management. 9-5 is necessary for banks, but not for software developers. Having a few core hours is necessary, but if it’s 8, you can no longer call them “core”.

> if it’s 8, you can no longer call them “core”

You are lucky if you think 10-12 hour work days don't exist in software development. You might also be forgetting about flex schedules, core hours may include the entire working day and may be a signal that substituting 9-10am for 5-6pm is not acceptable because you were hired to do a job that depends on your presence when others are also there. There are multiple legitimate reasons that core hours exist in 8 hour blocks in some places.

And that's all moot since the specific hours in this discussion are unrelated to the point @jph was making, which he already stated kindly and clearly.

No, they really can't do that, at least they can't document it, unless the employees are non-exempt or they wish for the employees to be paid overtime. Even having core time at all sounds like a non-exempt requirement, let alone the whole day.

Many managers are completely oblivious to federal labor laws, unfortunately.

Exempt means not paid hourly. I think you are confusing Exempt with Independent Contractor or something else. An exempt employee can certainly be required to show up for work when needed, be they an oncaller, or a hospital resident, or an attorney litigating in court.


> The job duties of the traditional "learned professions" are exempt.

> Professionally exempt work means work which is predominantly intellectual, requires specialized education, and involves the exercise of discretion and judgment.

It would help to have more specifics about who & what you're talking about, I'm not sure what you mean when you say they can't do that.

But, I worked in a very well known Hollywood film studio that had mandatory 10 hour work days with an 8 hour core window, not including crunch times. They factored overtime pay into the schedule. This meant that all employees were being paid some 1.5 time, that double-time would hit sooner than you'd think, but also be a lower rate than what you might expect. It was all documented and reported on my tax forms, and within the bounds of California law AFAIK.

You weren’t exempt since you were getting paid overtime.

Exempt and non exempt status are very clearly defined. One gets paid hourly, the other a salary. If you are on any kind of schedule, you are usually non exempt unless really a manager.

Yes, that's correct. Where are you going with this? Both exempt and non-exempt employees there, including all the software devs, had an 8 hour core window that was called "core hours", and everyone worked at least 10 hour days.

In order to be exempt, your hours can’t be fixed. You can go over or under them as part of your duties, but as soon as the boss says you will work XXX hours, then your exempt status disappears

That this law is broken often is in no doubt, but all it takes is one complaint to the DOL to set things straight quickly. At the very least, if the core hours are documented, it should be fairly easy to make a case for whatever overtime was worked.

> In order to be exempt, your hours can’t be fixed.

I don't think this is true. And it's irrelevant to my point that there are legit reasons for 8 hour "core hours" windows. That discussion was already irrelevant to the point @jph was making: that communicating team expectations by writing them down, making them explicit, and communicating them is a good idea.

Anyway, I just looked up exemption status, and here's what some lawyers have to say about it. I'm certain that the studio I was working for was not breaking any laws by having 10 hour work days with core hours. The way they accounted for it was a tad surprising / misleading to me, but it was in no way illegal.

'An exempt employee has virtually "no rights at all" under the FLSA overtime rules. About all an exempt employee is entitled to under the FLSA is to receive the full amount of the base salary in any work period during which s/he performs any work (less any permissible deductions). Nothing in the FLSA prohibits an employer from requiring exempt employees to "punch a clock," or work a particular schedule, or "make up" time lost due to absences. Nor does the FLSA limit the amount of work time an employer may require or expect from any employee, on any schedule. ("Mandatory overtime" is not restricted by the FLSA.)'



I work from Poland. In my previous job I participated in a number of projects. I would typically do some hours within my "normal" working hours but then have those strange meetings. For example, one regular meeting was at 1AM my time which was when the project team would meet -- half of it was US, half of it was China.

Generally meeting anybody from West Coast meant I had to stay late, for some reason I was never able to organize meeting that would have more than one US West Coast person come early to work

This is why I'm a contractor. You want me to work 12 hour days? Ok, I'm capped at 40 hours a week? Well, I guess I'll just work 3 days a week then! Or you can approve me for overtime. But either way I'm getting paid for every hour

I got paid for every hour, and it was my choice to take a job that had 10+ hour days. I was paid overtime when I stayed late or worked weekends. For the most part I liked working in film despite the long hours.

Either way, your incredulity is perhaps misplaced. You always have the power to choose the job & hours you want. It might affect how much money you make, what you do, or how other people perceive you, but it's not hard to guarantee you get paid for 40 hours and never work more than 40 hours.

Personally, I don't love working at places where people are obsessively concerned with getting paid for every minute worked and with clocking out at 5pm sharp. By all means, we should have lives outside of work, but I'd rather be working on something fun where the people around me are engaged and are so involved we sometimes don't even notice it's 5:45 than a place where people count down the minutes until they can leave. That's just how I feel now, and I might change my mind. It's a certainly balance, it can go wrong in both directions.

Back to the real topic of this thread: explicit communication of expectations at work is better than not communicating, or unspoken desires or vague rules, right?

seanmcdirmid, what country are you in? In the USA there are very few jobs that are strictly 40 hours. Part-time jobs are less than that, whereas full-time jobs are typically more than that.

It feels like you didn't even read the comment you replied to. FWIW, I've worked in a company where the whole point of core hours was to have a working set of people in the building at the same time, and wasn't related to time zones or even meetings.

Agreed. When I run teams the core hours are typically 10 AM - 2 PM or some band of 4 hours around a key time.

We choose... We choose... we expect

That’s the royal “we” isn’t it?

Yes and I'll detail that in the repo now, and emphasize that these are examples gathered from many teams.

Can you try reloading the repo page and see if it makes better sense now? Thanks for the feedback!

As Kolpa said, your core hours mean a lot of mandatory overtime. Why would anyone want to work under these conditions?

Did you read the updated response? They are examples from different teams.

The ground rules idea is awesome. In the article I refer to something similar as "team customs"... I like your name better!

I've been multiple places where these are called "Team Agreements" and they are reviewed regularly as part of the retrospective process.

Also, I've called it Working Agreements. Here is a great post about them - https://giffconstable.com/2016/03/getting-tactical-product-t...

Those ground rules are great. How do you "enforce" them, or at least keep them at front of mind on the team?

Thank you! If you have ideas, I'd like to hear.

To keep ground rules at front of mind, each teammate is responsible and self-directed.

* I have a teammate who likes to write the core rules on the whiteboard before each meeting, and point to them when he starts the meeting, and each time a participant needs reminding. This is amazingly effective with a good sense of humor.

* I have a teammate who uses chat private messages to coach people. This is especially effective for things like video calls when we want to try the team sign language ground rules.

* I have a teammate who does weekly one-on-one meetings with every direct report, and monthly one-on-one meetings with skip level reports, and discusses the ground rules along with OKRs (objectives and key results) and KPIs (key performance indicators).

I'm always open to learning new aspects, and also to trying new ways of working. Feedback is very welcome.

I'd have some sign language for anybody who tried enforcing "sign language ground rules."

> * I have a teammate who likes to write the core rules on the whiteboard before each meeting, and point to them when he starts the meeting, and each time a participant needs reminding.

Are you working with school children or professionals?

> I'd have some sign language for anybody who tried enforcing "sign language ground rules." Are you working with school children or professionals?

For example the Executive Director was deaf, a significant number of client staff were hard of hearing, and there were 100K school students, including special needs students, and many recent immigrants who were starting to learn English.

All online materials were provided in accessible formats, and all public presentations had a sign language interpreter. A typical classroom meeting, district meeting, or videoconference, could have 20-80 participants.

I can point you to the National Association for the Deaf (NAD) which is an excellent advocacy group. NAD works to improve accessibility, equal access, and equal opportunities. Sign language in the workplace can be a big help to some people.


I once served on a jury with a fellow who was deaf. It's been a while now, but I recall that we'd do things like minimize side conversations, take very well-defined turns when speaking, and pause in between speakers to allow the interpreters to catch up. It was an interesting process and I think that being respectful of him and the interpreters actually made us more efficient in our deliberation as a group.

Your experience is fascinating! Can you write a bit more about this? I think you're on to something important.

You've received a lot of hostile comments in this conversation, and you've handled them all with aplomb and courtesy, bridging the gaps of mismatched assumptions. I salute you.

Thank you for noticing and commenting; I appreciate your salute. Positivity is enormous help to people, including me. :)

You didn't make it at all clear that your sign language rules were to serve the deaf and hard of hearing. This is not a common workplace situation so perhaps you understand my confusion.

The whole point of K-12 education is to produce obidient factory workers. It isn’t a coincidence that some office cultures might evolve in similar ways.

Make it explicit for some period of time as you introduce them. If they need review they can be part of the weekly/biweekly retro. If it needs more personal reinforcement then 1-on-1's. It's the manager's job to communicate these and KEEP communicating them.

First :

>>> People are not stagnant; instead, they are constantly learning and evolving.

There's adifference between evolving naturally and evolving because you're pushed to do so by the company. I work with people who don't want to evolve. They seek a peaceful, comfortable environment. They do their job quite well, nothing more. I understand that.

Second, values... Should people be hired because of their skill or because of their values ? What if their political views conflic with your values ? Isn't it the moment when discrimination comes in ? Say you work for Google because you love the AI stuff, then Google starts selling weapons. Should they fire people who don't share those values anymore ?

> Say you work for Google because you love the AI stuff, then Google starts selling weapons. Should they fire people who don't share those values anymore ?

Values apply pressure in both directions.

If you have a culture like Google, and you need to pivot a significant fraction of your business to building weapons, then you will — sooner or later — need to replace a lot of employees (and manage that process, deal with the resulting morale problems etc). That's really expensive, but it might be worth it (depending on the business).

If you're actually like Google though — in that your real business isn't building weapons — then you just drop the weapons project. Dropping it will make the rest of your business more effective, which is way more important than some experimental side-hustle with the military. Ideally, you'd see in-advance that those kinds of projects would clash with your values and cause problems, but we all make mistakes.

A useful set of tips, but when I first became a manager, my biggest problem was thinking there was some magic formula to get the best out of my team. I was looking for a YAML config script, but human beings don’t work that way.

Now, with a bit more experience, I spend more time listening to people and working out how I can help them with their specific need.

As a sidenote, I hate the euphemisms “release” and “let go”. You’re firing them. Pretending that you’re doing it for their sake doesn’t make it easier for them. So just cut the bullshit. You can be honest and compassionate.

I'm glad of hearing that. I was always surprised by the "let go" expression. It would be interesting what would happen in a conversation like "We have to let you go. – No need. I don't have to go anywhere".

In Spanish the term is "despedido". "despedir" is the action of saying good bye. The literal translation could be something like "good-bye'd".

> Release: Let go of people who don’t align with your values.

I hate the "similar values" proposition, like that's something practical to align with the working members of teams. How about the same attitude and similar ability? Measuring that is not easy, but it's a heck of a lot easier than trying to measure "values".

Going beyond an article, 'Peopleware' is a fantastic book for engineering folks transitioning to management - it's not new but the fundamentals stand the test of time.

It's the book I started out with 15 years ago and I have suggested to many others.

Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams (3rd Edition) https://www.amazon.com/dp/0321934113/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_j-...

Agreed. I can’t recommend Peopleware enough. It is common sense, humane reasoning applied to software teams.

Sadly, I read Peopleware long before I ever became a manager, and it made me very attuned to being treated badly and being given ineffective tools or support (e.g. crappy open plan seating arrangements instead of private offices).

Peopleware will open your mind to the obviousness of productivity-first thinking and accomodating basic, inescapable human needs. Which can make you reflexively sad when you see how much of our industry steamrolls these ideas in favor of idiotic open plan disasters, hazing-focused interview barriers to entry, unrealistic mandates for Agile-style estimation and work tracking, etc.

Thanks for sharing! I wrote this and would definitely appreciate everyone's feedback.

Medially great. Good information. Nice to read. Except for the in-page popup (reported to Mozilla).

Got it, glad you overall liked the information and thanks for the UI feedback!

This was a fun and informative read. Thanks :)

Glad to hear it!

"People. The hardest part of building a business."

If you're going to work and are having the hardest time with people, you should question the team. Anyone expressing an inkling of toxic, negative, or unprofessional attitude needs to be removed. Some people go bad, but it's just them telling you they want to go. Be graceful, but fire them.

Whatever you do, don't try to fix attitude. Everyone is entitled to their attitude in America, and it's the wrong battle. Let them have it.

They are not, however, entitled to contaminate your work culture, which must be upheld as sacrosanct. And, if it's you, then you've already burnt out.

A lot of old school management involves whips and dangling carrots. Managers are supervisors, and workers are presumed to misbehave without supervision. They are motivated with rewards, and put in check with punishment. Workers hate managers, and managers hate their job which would not exist if the workers would just behave. Good workers question their environment, their pay, then leave.

In reality, most ambitious professionals will behave when they take ownership of their responsibilities and opportunities, and will seek to build trust with others that do also. When handed, responsibilities and opportunities can quickly turn into dreadful obligations, so people must want them, and they will when they are aligned with their professional ambitions.

Once you have a team of such individuals, a manager is relinquished from behavior management. This holds true even at the lowest paying jobs.

Having this as the premise of your corporate culture will allow you to focus on managing work, not workers. And will allow your workers to focus on their work, and not each other. Trust will also naturally build among those showing responsible behavior. All this without "managing people". All this without "a leader".

Everyone leads themselves towards a common goal, empowered by a common philosophy, from the comfort of a common, sacred, positive workplace.

This formula took me five years, and it wasn't just the hardest part of building my business. It was five years of not being able to build my business. Today, I can say without reservation:

People are the best part of building a business.

And I am grateful to everyone, including those whom I fired, for teaching me this lesson.

Great write up! I like that it starts with Culture and People to create a strong foundation. As you say, People are the hardest part. Having a good structure, routine and communication help make it manageable. I think this provides a nice framework to build around. I'm a co-founder of a company makes tools to help manage a lot of those processes you discuss so this resonated with me. We built our platform based on many lessons learned managing previous start-ups, and converged on a very similar approach.

If you're into this sort of management style, here's our platform which aligns well with what's described in the article. It supports flexible one page plans for a concise way to document your strategy, functional accountability charts, priority and metrics tracking as well as a meeting space to set a consistent rhythm - also performance reviews to tie it all together.


One thing this is missing that I think too many managers forget about is CELEBRATION. When your team wins, you need to make a big deal of it. Bring in lunch or something and take a moment to say thanks on a regular basis. I think one of the biggest contributing factors to burn-out is feeling like your achievements have gone unrecognized and unappreciated.

I would also recommend Camille Fournier's The Managers Path book for folks in tech. You will be able to relate to this book whether you are an individual contributor or seasoned manager.

I find the animations and numerous different interspersed formats (text, square card thingies, profiles, three boxes side by side, one box in the middle, etc.) very distracting from the content.

Indeed, the way mgmt seems willing to capriciously fire people for "values" conflict or getting caught in the middle of some mess management created is one of the reasons I don't really see the point of investing much in a single job. I can still get fired or laid off at random if I worked two hours extra a day or something (has happened to me). If I spend those two hours making myself marketable and networking it won't matter if you fire me because I'll just bounce to something else. I wish some managers would just learn to interact like humans instead of being insecure tough guys and "playing hardball" with everyone. I've seen that tank projects and set back careers (IC and mgmt).

How many popups do I need to swat away in first minute of reading this post. Second one doesn’t even have a close button it just hovers over text on the bottom. How about letting users read the article before forcing them take make a decision to subscribe

The first part was good, then it kind of fell apart when it hit management by objectives, and the "fill in a email we send you with 'achievements this week', 'plans for next week'"

That's kind of nice, but really this should be auto generated - we should be building systems that pop out "Bob closed two sales this week, and needs one more to hit quota" - this is just a sales funnel so it's not hard - it may get fuzzier with "alice wrote the monthly report or alice completed the redesign of the home page" are just formatted git comments ?

Thanks for sharing! This seems like a good general guide on how to manage :)

I would just provide a quick caution against over-indexing on culture. There are two issues that can come up: implicit bias, and conflicting values.

Implicit bias exists when you're not explicitly biased against a (typically protected) population. You don't hate women or gays or people with disabilities, but your culture values things that make the environment uncomfortable for those populations. One common example that shows up in gender discrimination lawsuits is that women tend to get worse reviews for being too moody or angry or confrontational, whereas men presenting the same behavior get lauded for being decisive and direct. Even if you disagree with this, that won't stop it from becoming the subject of a lawsuit. The example given regarding Beth and Tom actually fits nicely with this issue, since discrimination claims are often that women are unfriendly. (you might consider switching the personas to avoid this perception)

Another common example that shows up is "would you have a beer with the candidate" type tests. I didn't see this in your guide, but I've heard this a lot over the years. People notoriously prefer having beers with people that are very similar to themselves. That's often not germane to the job requirements, and is an easy way for bias to sneak into your hiring process.

In the same vein, I once heard the founder of a well-known startup in the Bay Area give a talk about forming teams. He said, explicitly, that he looks for signs of anxiety among potential hires (like biting their nails, or too weak of a handshake, or how they talk) and won't hire someone who is overly anxious. If someone with diagnosed anxiety were to apply for that job, get rejected, and hear that talk, they'd have the good start of a lawsuit for disability discrimination. That founder was just talking about what he values in the company, but he's actually admitting to discrimination.

The second issue is conflicting values. The companies I've seen who preach their values the loudest have tended to be the ones which are least likely to exemplify their values in their behaviors. Imagine a company which has values of "integrity" and "we're a team." If an employee were to point out behavior that they don't think exemplifies integrity, will they instantly be met with accusations that they're not playing for the same team? I know of at least one company who painted "Be a team player" on their walls, but when they were acquired, their executive team took multi-million dollar parachutes while everyone in the company got paid around a penny per share. Is that consistent with being team players?

Sorry to be negative here. Things like "culture fit" and "corporate values" can be important, but they can also be yielded as weapons if they're being relied on to fix a fundamentally broken workplace. They're also things that I increasingly hear my employment lawyer friends talk about - so watch out. It seems like the right approach is to demonstrate what your culture is through your actions and not through explicit definition. Your product and team will also likely be more productive and build a better product if it's not a bunch of clones :)

If you're unwilling to ever say what your cultural values are, then your only cultural value is "do what thou wilt". Anything anybody does is automatically your culture, if it's defined in actions only. Somebody brings their dog into the office, your culture is now dog-friendly. And for anybody who hasn't seen your history of actions – like new hires – your culture doesn't exist at all.

The benefit of defining your values is not descriptive, but aspirational. Your values are not "here is how all of us will infallably behave at all times"; it's "here's how we want to be, even when it's hard, because we think it's right and because we need to rely on each other to keep ourselves honest about them."

Shitty people will still manipulate or ignore those values at their convenience, but if you're working with shitty people it'll never matter what systems or values or rules you have.

I think this idea of explicitly stating corporate values is relatively new, but maybe there's a longer history there than I'm giving credit. I definitely hear you that a company can have implicit values, and that's going to happen regardless of if you make them explicit or not, so you might as well make aspirational, explicit values.

I disagree that lacking stated values creates a Wild West environment: if your office building doesn't allow dogs, then it's not a dog friendly environment even if someone brings their dog to work (i.e., bad or improper behavior will be rectified).

The example of a candidate or new hires is a good one. Having aspirational values feels like it could be misleading to the new or potential employee. What happens if they come in to an environment that has stated values of "radical transparency", but finds the realized values are "passive aggressiveness" and "backstabbing"?

I don't mean to come off so cynical, but I think as well intentioned as stated corporate values are, they can very quickly become traps or weapons. This is particularly true in silicon valley, where a growing number of people have figured out that hip values can be used to manipulate employees.

Great article, bookmarked for future reference!

I work for a small consulting firm focused on improving productivity and building innovation systems within small-medium sized businesses. And having strategic plans, vision, values is hugely important in building a focused innovation program. It's become routine in my engagements to spend significant time defining goals and values where the companies had none previously! This sort of exercise is valuable for firms at any stage and size in my opinion.

Totally agreed! If you put in the time to define it upfront, it makes so many other tactical things (like hiring, goal setting etc) much easier down the road.

If you change from being e. g. a developer to being a manager, then this shouldn't be regarded as a promotion. It's a different career path.

I just don't see the point of those bullet point transitions in the article. It just doesn't bring any value and is distracting.

For those interested in learning management skills I've found https://www.manager-tools.com/ and their podcasts and resources invaluable.

Also the best book I've read so far on management is the excellent High Output Management by Andy Grove. Still incredibly relevant.

It changed my opinion about what is the quality of good manager when I have heard a dialog:

- Are you a boss of team X?

- No, I support team X.

"servant-leadership" for the win.

I always found the "company culture" as a limiting factor: at the end, it tends to build a sect of developers close to any suggestion that doesn't self-enforce the culture that produces them.

"Culture" kind of wants to produce a "family", but a family is not what I'm looking for when I look for a job.

Great post! - I noticed a typo in the "Customs" section. ...bakery comes in early, then (not than). Cheers!

Thank you! Just fixed it.

Also see Lauri Apple's "Awesome Leading and Managing" https://github.com/LappleApple/awesome-leading-and-managing

Good leadership ideas. I think defining relationships and respecting the boundaries is also important.

Make sure all employees understand relationship types and know which there have with one another.

Are we colleagues, friends, etc?

This will lead to smooth interactions.

Absolutely. People often don't appreciate or feel comfortable with the fact that when in a leadership role, the relationship changes. New leaders often focus too much on being liked, or having their decisions liked, over doing what is best for the team and its members. Being a popular and well-respected leader is the outcome of good decisions, support, and relationships, not a consequence of trying to do the popular thing.

It's especially tough for people who are transitioning from being part of a team to leading that same team. I elaborate a bit here:


The only thing I would add is, culture can be taught. You can take someone who isn’t a culture fit and make them a culture fit in 8 weeks or less.

I really wish they went easy on the animations.

This is a nice article. I am surprised to see a 'management' article to receive so many votes on HN.

This is an pretty great article.

Wish I would've read it years ago... thanks for the share

I said the same thing to myself when I wrote it... I was thinking back a few companies ago and wishing I understood this stuff. Glad you liked it!

unless this post is a thousand pages long, the title is a bit over-the-top. I look forward to the "How to be a particle physicist" installment.

Taking up way too much space on mobile with the distracting CTA. Stopped reading when I couldn't close the popup on my phone.

Might try again later on my desktop, if you promise to remove that at some point :)

This feels like someone has read one of the EOS books and rewritten it with different terminology to avoid copyright infringement.

I guess it's also spun around a new startup rather than fixing an already operating business.

If you like what you read here then look up Traction and Get A Grip.

Wish I could take print out of this. But the site is not printer friendly.

Good catch! I'll work on fixing this, thanks for pointing it out.

Judging by my experience over a number of years in industry, the most important aspect is to understand the cultural expectations of the people you are working with.

Working with a north-east US team can be wildly different than a Southeast US team, or a west coast US team. Let alone a Toronto CA team, vs Quebec, CA, or UK or Australia, or Germans, or Dutch or Poles, or Indians from New Delhi vs folks from Bangalore.

People work differently, and culture and communication is wildly different.

This is really interesting to me, do you have any examples you can think of to illustrate this? Definitely something where I don't even know what I don't know, but it seems so important especially in recent times.

I mean, it's stereotypical, but if an Indian colleague drops a "kindly do the needful" on most Americans, that will be met with consternation and confusion.

The other big issue I've seen is around scheduling meetings with inappropriate lead times. I've come in too many times on monday mornings at 9 AM to see angry emails about not attending a meeting at 8 AM, when the meeting invitation was sent 2AM.

Why so many points? Hackers now love Vision and Strategic Focus stuff ?

This has nothing to do with the topic at hand. Rather, it's a call to action to stop something I really, really hate about the web these days: popups over content, begging me to sign up for an email subscription. Whenever I'm reading a web page and one of these rude popups appears, I immediately close the browser tab and move on. If the authors are rude enough to interrupt me with an invitation to clutter my inbox, then they must not want me to read their content.

Please, let's end this scourge by closing more tabs and not driving more traffic to these sites.

It's because analytics say this gets more lead captures, but they rarely measure if the leads are fake just to make the things go away. In the end they are just looking at "conversion" metrics and the cost it took to drive that traffic. Longer term effects are hard to measure, and ad agencies and internal ad teams are measured for this month, not the future.

I work at a place where I am a fly on the wall, listening to these ad teams, and let me tell you, they honestly believe this kind of bullshit honestly works and matters.

They hotly debate the virtues of deceptive dark patterns, and, man, are they assholes to boot. They also blow cash on retarded shit like juiceros, and bro-compare their juicero-type schlock and tchotchke collections unironically, and sometimes with transparent envy of one another. It's as bad as you might imagine.

After lunch, when they really get going, with their mind-blowingly vapid conversations, I have to blast my eardrums with tinnitus inducing audio, in order to quarantine my mind from their stunting world views.

When Douglas Adams imagined the Golgafrinchans, I have to believe that he was in the presence of the these sorts of people, when he dreamt up that little tidbit.

It is my ardent belief that the only way to divest society of such parasitic blooms of "humanity" really is to blast them into outer space, but in order to do so, we have to learn to be really careful about how we sanitize our telephones first.

Gonna state a counterpoint, saying that most marketers & advertisers I've spoken with have been pretty on the ball. They understand that people don't "like" adverts and try to get leads through different ways.

People who embrace these irritating practices are not necessarily the minority, but I wouldn't say they're the majority either. It's definitely not an accepted best practice.

Marketing extends much further than just annoying popups and advertising, and is an extremely important field -- something I feel us engineers sometimes forget about, because the benefits aren't immediately measurable.

So, you think these people don't analyze whether adding these pop-ups brings actual traffic to their website, not just increases subscriptions? If it was "fake signups", why would people add their real email, and why would they click on the articles afterwards?

I might be wrong but I read somewhere that more leads are captured during a conscious action by the reader. So prompting for email when reader is closing the window is much better than disrupting the flow while reading the blog.

I'm on board with this. There's nothing wrong with a good old fashioned call to action at the end of the article. Encourage subscription by producing good content, not by abusing your reader's time and attention.

However, those tactics really work. I don’t like them either, but I have done A/B tests and the intrusive model always results in people who are more “gullible” and thus more likely to buy whatever it is you are selling. The dismissive types — they wouldn’t have been a customer anyway. (Generally speaking..)

Hmm... yeah, you're right. They're filtering out customers like me. That means the intent of the site is not the site content, but the mailing list they can generate by dangling that content via a link, eh?

If they’re any good then it’s both. You should have a content team that works toward the goal of making great content for your audience, an analytics team that helps you figure out exactly who your audience is and what they like, and a CRM team that works to execute on that vision to maximize value for both the customer and the org.

Except when you separate out optimizing value for your audience from optimizing value for your org, the former becomes a cost centre, if not plain waste of money. At some point, someone is bound to ask, why waste money with a person passionate about the topic, when someone who doesn't care could write 2x - 10x the volume of content?

Or put in other way, there are very few orgs that are "good" in the sense you describe. There are so few of them, that myself - and many others - treat monetization steps as a negative signal. Personally, I put that as a heuristic for on-line content - the harder a site tries to make money off you, the less trustworthy and useful it is.

Yeah I can see that point. Like Daring Fireball, Gruber just has the single ad off to the side.

Why can't it be both? Odds are if the content is good, someone who cares created it. More than one thing can be true.

In my experience, those two are inversely correlated. The best content tends to be one that's not monetized in any way, and the more effort into monetization is visible, the more likely the content will be shallow, or bullshit.

Not a law of physics. Just a heuristic I picked up over the last two decades on the Internet.

I don't get this either. Especially when the box shows before I can read the article: why would I sign up it a site I haven't even started to read and find about?

The ones that only appear when your mouse tracks towards the tab close button are impressive, but also super annoying.

Coupled with website notifications, it's all hell break loose. Can someone tell me if it is possible to write a chrome plugin that will close any such websites. I mean within 30 seconds of opening if there is any permission/sign up popup - just close that website.

Thanks for the warning. Opening in Outline.

Awesome! Simple and practical.

Great post. Upvoted.


Being "a Manager" is the wrong first step to leading a team. Management is an activity we should all be undertaking, not a role.

I agree that a more flat landscape in teams is best. I like "Why good leaders make you feel safe | Simon Sinek" : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmyZMtPVodo

Good management is really about good leadership - and that does have a point person to look to. they inspire and motivate everyone else on the team. This is a much more bottom up / equitable than most mainstream practices promote.

Nice presentation - very pretty. This is the takeaway:

We’ve reached the end of the Formula, covering everything from culture to process. You now understand the basics of leading a new team.

Management and leadership are acquired skills, and they take practice. This guide is a framework for you to build upon, make your own and be the best manager.

... and this is how I think of my staff:

Some people might be incredible salesmen, while others can bake cookies or build a computer with their eyes closed (that would be super impressive!)

Fuck off.

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