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There are so many articles that blame leadership for all that ails a company. To me, it seems a bit like saying "most program crashes are caused by runtime errors". While both are true, there are deeper explanations that can be more helpful in starting a discussion.

In the case of crashing a program, maybe it's because of a misused raw pointer or a type error in an untyped language. As soon as you frame it that way, you immediately see possible paths forward to improve the situation.

In the case of burnout at companies, I've found it has more to do with the mindset of the top leaders (who other managers down the chain tend to emulate). The mindset is that the company is "a machine", which makes the rest of us "cogs" (or pick your favorite machine part).

The leaders may be perfectly nice and considerate people in general (or not), but regardless, the company-as-machine mindset leads them to set aside their humanity in the interests of the company. All of sudden everyone on the team needs to be replaceable, have predictably high output, etc. Those might be fine concerns for a business, but they end up blinding managers to the flesh and blood human beings in front of them and they start to see employees as the means to the greater business ends of output, productivity, growth, etc.

I believe this is an issue of human development that affects most companies eventually. Only companies with really developed leaders who, when faced with serious pressure, are able to see people as the unique and complex beings that they are and not make people feel like they somehow don't matter at a fundamental level.




You start by saying that too much is blamed on leadership and then go on to describe the real reason which is a failure in leadership?

FWIW, I largely agree about the "cogs" idea. One particularly frustrating thing is seeing repeated failures and management fails to consult with workers about how it happened. Seeing the repeated problems the workers volunteer their insights to management about the underlying problems and possible solutions. But that info is either discarded (after "careful consideration") or warped to fit an existing but incorrect management narrative. The very idea that people doing the work could contribute anything meaningful beyond estimates doesn't seem to be palatable.


This opinion is nice but not actionable. That means that it is less useful if you are in the role of an employer, wanting to reduce burnout in your org.

See my comment below for actual mental models you can use to prevent burnout in your organisation.[1]

I personally find JD-R more useful, because it prescribes a model of 'jobs demands outstripping job resources', which then implies that you as manager can seek ways to increase job resources to help your employees cope. This at least suggests a direction for trial and error.

Adopting the attitude of 'all people are unique and complex beings that matter' may be nice, but it doesn't prescribe action. Therefore, it isn't as useful as 'think of burnout as JD-R or COR and perform experiments according to those models, pausing each quarter to see if burnout-related turnover has decreased'.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17850532


In absence of leadership, the tool firms use to solve coordination problems is management. A leader from this perspective is simply a better manager. Better at all the tasks of coordinating human activity, reading when people are feeling down, better at inspiring them, better at breaking apart complex tasks into routine ones that the ICs can more easily understand.

But leaders are practically impossible to reliably hire at rates the business owner can realistically afford, and if the whole zeitgeist of business starts paying more for effective leadership, then that just makes the problem a hundred times worse.

Leadership isn't teachable, but management is. Learning management will teach you the rudimentary skills of coordinating people to accomplish a goal, but it won't by itself make you a leader.

Firms can hire more managers, that solves the problem, I call a team with more than one competent manager, 'well-managed'. But good managers, like good leaders, wind up getting overworked across projects and so they just miss things. A leader doesn't miss anything, they're laser focused on the overall business goals of the project.


I agree that leadership isn’t “teachable” in the same sense that a skill or piece of knowledge is. But it can be supported and cultivated. It’s what I do for a living as a leadership coach. I don’t actually instruct anyone how to lead, but rather give them them the opportunity to discover it for themselves. I’ve seen pretty meaningful shifts for people on the timescale of 3-6 months.


Leadership is very teachable. The military and other large organizations that need leadership that can't be gotten off the street invest in it.

Few orgs want to teach it because it costs money and the ROI is poor if the subject jumps ship. The military doesn't have this problem to the same degree for obvious reasons, but for companies that require common skill sets, it's a tough decision.


It depends what you mean teachable. When a leader is when faced with a serious challenge, the crux of great leadership is being able to set one’s own ego aside and act from a place of groundedness and a clear and objective view of reality.

When human beings are in a difficult situation they all too often try to comfort themselves by seeking praise/affirmation, stability/safety, connection/relationship, etc. And in those moments we see everyone around us as a means to the end of getting one of those things that we feel is missing for us. Our ego _is_ our personality. We’re fused with it and most of the time aren’t even aware that we have these impulses.

Great leaders are the ones who develop an awareness of their inner world and are able to set it aside when they need to act.

Can you teach this? Sort of. There are people who do. You can call what people like me do as a kind of teaching. But it requires someone more than just instruction and practice. The person doing the “learning” has to be willing to let go of parts of themselves that had been with them for most of their life.

I’ve found mere desire to be a better leader is not enough. People’s psychology is riddled with land mines and powerful defense that won’t let them abandon a deeply held belief just because someone taught them that it was somehow counterproductive.

The people that make the leap are usually feeling “stuck” or having some kind of recurring breakdown that they just can’t bear anymore and don’t know what else to do.


People join the military for much different reasons than they join a corporation, reasons that generally mean they're going to choose to stay over leaving when the time comes.


Support and cultivation are orthogonal to the goal of maintaining a competitive edge. Ultimately, it means you're running a different kind of enterprise.

Which would be great and all, but there's less money in those sorts of things so the market can't support as many of them.


Treating team members and colleagues as human beings who bring their whole self to work is, imho, essential to enabling people to deliver their best work. Understandably, but somewhat irrationally at the same time, companies as they mature tend to put formalized processes over individuals. The reason for this may be to institutionalize knowledge or scale better as the company grows which I do see the point of. An unwanted mid-term impact of this very often is what you describe, thinking of humans as cogs in a machine, thinking of success as an increase productivity KPIs and increase in company valuation. For me, this means to establish a positive culture in new companies/teams/etc. where our own values can align with the team's / company's values.


Gore opened new offices when the company grew over 150 employees. Could not paste the link since on mobile, submitted it instead. It is called grow 3 Billion Big by staying small.


Oh man, I love your explanation. Indeed the burn have many reasons and one of them is company see employees as a code in the system. The business of the business is get business. At the end company want profit so irrespective of whatever they say or do; they have to leave humanity and just be a manager.




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