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Power Bends Light (2019) (honkathon.com)
126 points by luu 5 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 23 comments



As someone who has relatively recently been assigned an increase in power, the angle presented in this article is worthwhile being aware of.

I'm naturally a bit of an anti-authoritarian, and don't like ordering people around, and so I can be a bit wishy-washy in assigning work. That's bad leadership / management however, and so I'm working on being more direct despite the inherent discomfort: Power requires commitment to a vision, or else it will be temporary (both the power and the vision), which will not lead to progress. Commitment to a vision requires a level of 'bulldoze the roadblocks' mentality, which comes with a certain level of denial of the realities and complexities associated with those roadblocks (which is often the foundation of my disdain for some figures of power). Get it done!

Any progress is better than none. Progress in the wrong direction at least provides education as to the correct direction.

I'm sure there are plenty of books written about this.


I think there is something between ordering people around and wishy washy orders that works with an anti-authoritarian framework.

The mainstream way of dealing with this is to work using OKRs and telling your team what to achieve rather than what to do (there are many advantages to this, not just the pure outcome of handing power down). When you start doing this the tables start to turn. You will get questions that you have to answer. Because everyone is now required to understand what they really work in and what the best way to get there is. You can help them find the best way, but you will rarely have the optimal answer. If you want your team to succeed you have to help them instead of ordering them around.

And that's really what I think managers are. Really they are interfaces to other teams and org levels and their objective, mentors and to some level curators / gardeners (you don't order plants around to make them grow. No, you find out what conditions they need and do your best to provide them).

You are right, there are many books out there. The one that I like to give my leads is: Managing Humans


The intro makes me want to read it right now: https://managinghumans.com/

Will be purchasing ASAP. Thanks for the heads-up.


You might want to check out 'The Effective Executive' by Peter Drucker. It sounds like you are in the perfect place in your career to read that book. It's a quick read and a short book.

Let me as you a question. A waitress comes over to you at a Diner as says "What can I get for you?". If you tell her, are you 'ordering her around?

Maybe try to reframe your perspective a bit on your subordinates. They probably depend on you to give them work to do right?

You said something interesting there; your 'bulldoze' comment. Without discounting the fact that there are bulldozers out there, a lot of the time that is more akin to just having confidence that once you hit a roadblock you'll 'figure it out because you always do'.

One thing in that Drucker book that always stands out to me is he says something like: You are in charge to make the hard decisions. The easy decisions make themselves.


> One thing in that Drucker book that always stands out to me is he says something like: You are in charge to make the hard decisions. The easy decisions make themselves.

It sounds like that Perl slogan that I've always liked: making easy things easy, and hard things possible. I've never thought of that as applying to management, but it seems to work there, too.


I've heard of Drucker a number of times in the past. I think I'll be doing a mass-book ordering tonight.


> Any progress is better than none. Progress in the wrong direction at least provides education as to the correct direction.

I definitely agree that, if you're going to make 'progress' in the wrong direction, then you might as well learn from it; but I don't think that means that it's better to go in the wrong direction than to stay still.


That's from a specific experience I had with bad management, where decisions weren't being made and the responsibility for the decision making kept getting shunted around. In that situation, it would have been better to start in a direction, review the progress and outcomes, then re-align as necessary.

It doesn't apply in all scenarios, but it would be rare when an at least somewhat reasoned decision is entirely the wrong direction.

I just watched the first episode of Midnight Gospel last night: "It all depends on the circumstances!"


There's also a difference between 'progress' orthogally to the goal versus 'progress' away from the goal; "wrong direction" can cover both, but the latter is significantly worse.


If it helps, a reasonable way of thinking about your relationship to your team can be one of customer-service. You are the customer, your staff is the service provider. Think of them similar to how you might think of a business you hire to do work for you (a restaurant, a house painter, etc.).

You tell them what you want, they tell you what they can do, you either figure out a good point where the task can be shaped so that it works for everybody, or you can go get new service providers. Just like you wouldn't return to a restaurant with bad service, or rehire a crew who breaks your furniture when house painting, don't continue to work with staff that don't provide what you need.

Ultimately, you are the service provider to your managers as well and your ability to act as that broker and provide what they need is how they decide to keep hiring your services or to let you go sell your services elsewhere.


If you think assigning work is leadership, then I think you should step away. Leadership is about inspiring people to follow you. The best leaders let people self-organize. They coach them but not `assign' them work.


That's a nice theory but sometimes people don't actually organize themselves, and wait for someone to tell them what to do. GP as much as said that they naturally agree with your perspective but it wasn't working out in practice.


> If you think assigning work is leadership

When there is a pool of work items and a team responsible for completing those work items, someone must be responsible for assigning the work to specific team members. Self-organizing works fine when there is a perfect match of task to individual skill to time, but when there are more tasks than people, people with wide skill sets, people who prefer one type of work over another, differences in priorities, or any other random situation that comes up a thousand times a day, then, I'm sorry, but work is going to have to be assigned. Assigning it appropriately and delivering the instruction is what makes that particular aspect of leadership good or bad.

Inspiring people and letting them self-organise is all well and good in a vacuum, but at some point shit's gotta get done. Leadership is about all of the above and more.


I’ve seen many times someone newly promoted who doesn’t yet realize that in meetings they can no longer just say whatever comes into their head. Whereas before they could throw out some random dumb idea and have it shot down by their peers, now they come back in a few weeks and to their amazement and shock there’s a team implementing their random dumb idea!


I remember reading a book where someone at apple said "Why can't macos just execute windows .exe files?"

Although this person was technically qualified to ask this question, the important point was there was enough power for people to take pause and consider it.


Why not consider it? How much benefit would it offer? What would it take?

Consider these: why cant a rocket be reused? Why cant it just land? Why cant we just invent a new material?

"What if we just...?" Can be absurd, but it can be worth confirming that.


As a technical person you are thinking about the problem. That's why I love being technical.

In a power structure it is more complicated. "Why can't a rocket be reused?" Well, Elon Musk is a technical person with power so not only can it happen, everyone will get behind it.

On the other hand, why should my car HAVE to be internet connected if I don't want it? (or have a proper dashboard in front of me instead of the side?)


And the answer is https://www.winehq.org/

Depending on if you like the answer, millions of man hours for a shaky ability to run windows .exe might cause the question to be reconsidered.


"I guess people cared more than ever about having a good relationship with me, so why not join in on the laughter if the joke was clever and harmless? At first, I was repelled — it seemed like a gross display of obsequiousness — even though I knew none of these people would admit (or probably even believe) they had changed their behavior. I realized later it wasn’t really (or, at least, only) about sucking up."

This whole part reminds me of this clip from the phantom menace reviews. "People look scared of George. They laugh at his bad jokes." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIWKMgJs_Gs&feature=youtu.be...


> At first, I was repelled — it seemed like a gross display of obsequiousness ...

It always makes me cringe, whether it's about people deferring to others, or to me.


Well, money bends science. So no big deal ;)


I thought this is about electromagnetic power bending photons, not a rant about corporate power corrupting goals for money (like google quietly giving up on their "don't be evil" motto)


> corporate power corrupting goals for money

You know, that's not it either.




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