Before I started a startup, I was a software engineer at a large firm, and it was clear they were grooming me for management because I was a strong individual contributor and had "put in my time": 3 years as an engineer. Advancement at this firm was measured by "how many reports" you had, as in "direct reports", or people managed by you, and if you just did superior individual work but had no one "under you", you weren't advancing. So they sent me to a couple of training courses about management and started prepping me for the path.
This was one of the many reasons I quit this BigCo to start my own startup.
I am now the co-founder & CTO of Parse.ly (http://parse.ly). In our first two years after starting up, I spent all my time building stuff -- which is exactly what I wanted. Ironically, because the company has grown and now has a 13-person product team, I am now technically "managing" my engineering team with 13 "direct reports". But at our company, we have completely decoupled management from individual contribution -- certainly, if a strong individual contributor shows an interest in management, we'll consider it. But becoming a "manager" is not how you "advance" here -- you advance by doing great work. Our first employee who joined in 2009 is a great programmer and he is still with the company, but he's still doing what he loves: building & shipping stuff. Based on our frank conversations on the topic, I think he would quit if I forced him to be a manager. The appropriate reward for doing great work isn't a "promotion to management" -- that's actually a punishment for a great individual contributor. The right reward is to ensure you continue to provide an environment where that great work can continue for that contributor, and where they can continue to grow their skills and apply themselves productively in the role.
I'm 95% convinced that companies larger than 50 people can't acquire truly outstanding people without having a decentralized system that doesn't reward power grabs and people pyramids.
I wonder if it's even possible to have a system that doesn't reward power grabs and pyramids at a certain company size. Maybe the number isn't 50; maybe it's slightly lower or slightly higher. But certainly above Dunbar's number, we start to see organizations where departmental siloing and fiefdoms emerge. Politics seems inevitable in these situations, and the people who a) want to play the game, and b) are good at playing the game are the people who win the game.
The game exists because all it takes is one or two people to will it into existence. If a power vacuum opens up, or if enough competing VPs and Directors emerge, then someone is going to try to get ahead through politics. The only way to counter that is to play politics. Office politics, as a whole, is an emergent property of the individual players' political strategies and counter-strategies.
I have yet to work for, or with, a large company where office politics wasn't a significant factor. It's a bigger problem at some companies than at others. But it's always there. It can never be completely curtailed; it can only be mitigated. The best way to mitigate politics is to implement communications, reward, promotion, and advancement policies that don't incentivize politics as much as other systems might. This is a nontrivial challenge, especially at big scale.
Somewhat related: I used to believe that if some company could manage being a BigCorp and still keeping the lean startuppy feeling in terms of work conditions, individual creativity and management transparency, that would be Google. I don't know whether they ever tried, but from what I hear and see (from the outside, never been even close to being inside) they haven't succeeded and became a by-the-book BigCorp with the usual problems.
Or did you mean you were hoping for a Valve style structure, and they weren't going there?
Here is what is going to happen next: He is going to get his own ideas about what I should work on, his own theories as to how to make the company grow faster, and his own vision as to what I should make.
Prior to that it was obvious to everyone that I was killing it. I made the company a million dollars in my first month just by writing a custom classifier for adword optimization (this was back before some of this stuff was automated or startup-ified). But when he takes over what is going to happen next? He is going to take credit for his "idea" because he set me on the "path" to solving the problem or making more money. Fuck that noise, it's parasitism and par for the course for management.
You also take on the task of making sure everyone's individual skills and aspirations line up with the company's, that teams are developing well in parallel toward a unified vision, and so much more.
Do you really want that job? If what fired you up most was your ability to kill it as an individual contributor, why not stay in that role and help hire someone else to take on the management side?
It sounds somewhat petty, but I can sympathize because the company I work for is going through a similar transition and I've seen the strains that even a single extra manager can have on communication. If the CTO is the one who approves your raises, and now the CTO's opinion of you is not shaped by you but by reports of you created by an intermediate third-party, a lot of somewhat complex interacting variables just got introduced into the equation.
If you start out at the bottom of a huge company like Google, you get used to that from the beginning. If you join a company with <=25 people and watch it grow, then you can really feel the transition sometimes.
But I don't think that means management is parasitic. The fact is that at a certain size all organizations need management, and a good manager helps you be productive. Whether you are recognized for that or whether credit gets usurped by your manager is a separate question.
Seems pretty tightly coupled to me. Losing individual contributors capable of implementing million dollar AdWord campaigns, for example, is going to have a big impact on the manager's team's productivity. So I think recognition and productivity are very tightly coupled.
As a CTO I have a foot in both camps, and I have to say there's a lot about management that developers don't know. In fact, my best management is never even known by my staff, they simply deal with a metric ton less bullshit due to a thankless move on my part—ignorance is bliss. Granted, it's probably easier for NNPMs to hang around an organization than NNPPs by virtue of tangibility, but I've seen enough NNPPs to know that programming is far from the transparent, egalitarian utopia that tech folks wish for.
Why makes you axiomatically claim "of course" managers are going to be sociopaths? That is not a given at all. There are good actors and bad actors on all sides. Do you think there aren't developers who play games to protect their turf and do the minimum to get by while collecting a paycheck from a business that they contribute nothing meaningful to?
You should try to keep your staff in the loop. Hiding things just means that you end up with a far bigger mess when you aren't able to shield them from it. If you keep your staff in the loop from day 1, it becomes far easier to deal with problems later. Because they won't even be problems then, just challenges that everyone knows about.
And after all, it sounds like you were to be involved in the interview process. You would have had an opportunity to help select a candidate you could work with. Maybe it still wouldn't have worked out, but it just seems unfortunate to me that you didn't even give it a try. Of course there could have been other factors you haven't mentioned.
Don't get me wrong, I really appreciated my time there and the people there are all really nice, in fact the company I founded recently is with two former FreshBookers, but I just want more freedom than people are usually willing to give me.
It is typical for a company to outgrow its early hires capability to manage that growth well; approx 50 people is a fundamental transition for most. This is difficult, often painful, and is likely to go more smoothly by adding relevant experience and maturity to the team. When the dust settles it's a different company and, if done well, capable of much more than it was.
The irony is that you work in advertising which itself is parasitism.
She didn't get the job.
I have hired people at salaries greater and lesser than mine. Occasionally, the person above me was earning less than me and in several cases the person under me was earning significantly more than me.
The only question should be: is the person in the correct position and earning the amount they are being paid.
This known as Peter Principle
My belief is that management & compensation should be completely decoupled, so people wouldn't seek to do management for "career advancement", but because they actually enjoy management. For example, I hired a product manager last year and he really loves the work. It allows him to mix small engineering projects with product strategy, requirements elaboration, and his considerable people skills. But I don't see him as a "superior" to my other engineers -- he is just a contributor, like my other engineers.
The "pay scale" for management should be similar to the pay scale for advanced individual work, in my opinion. Unfortunately, that's not the market we live in, so I can see why people would choose to seek management for "advancement" reasons, but this is just an unfortunate side effect of the market and ultimately causes a lot of talented contributors to do work they don't really love. Why? Essentially, for the money & prestige that needlessly comes with it.
One route to that is by getting out of mainline production coding and going meta: designing new systems, programming languages, tools etc. Good work if you can get it, but prone to failure. Another route is to become a manager. There's plenty of demand for managers with technical ability, a clear route for advancement and much lower risk of failure.
I'm thinking of the recent Ask HN "What happens to older developers?" Which I answered in some detail here https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7373301
There's lots of reasons for wanting to get into management, and I've found that one of the main motivators is wanting to get out of direct code-slinging software development as the majority of their day and use their experience for the company good in different ways -- basically new challenges and all that...but keep a similar level of pay. And very few people these days want to stay at a single job for more than a few years. So for a very experienced developer, they may start to feel "trapped" in their career and may not even know it.
Sorry, I don't want to be contradictory or make you defend what's obviously a working system for you guys. Just food for thought.
The managers your describing sound more like PM's.
So decisions on who gets promoted are made by people for whom getting promoted chimes with their value system.
Imagine a carpenter who sets his sights on working hard at carpentry and being a good carpenter so that he can eventually advance his career by becoming a plumber. Makes no sense, right? These are completely unrelated skills. Maybe plumbing pays more (reverse the roles if I got that wrong) but that doesn't make it an "advancement". Certainly one could make the move, but it's a lateral move, not a logical progression.
Management is the same way. It's a different field. Yet somehow we have this idea that if you do well enough in some other field, "advancing" into management is a logical next step. It makes no sense.
The current way it works in trades like that is to move up to being a foreman or a site supervisor or similar. It's no different really.
Ideally companies with management gaps want to move experienced tradesmen into these roles rather than put "management professionals" who wouldn't know a 2x4 from a band saw into them.
Segregating out "management" as an entirely separate discipline makes a kind of sense, and it's why management is taught as a separate skill set with certificates and MBAs and all that. But I think the results have been mixed (90s Apple is given as a textbook example). For every professional manager who does a good job, I think it's possible to find somebody who moved into management who does as good or better because they understand the problem domain of their reports better.
Wholly agree though that it's a separate set of skills, but I think those skills usually work best when layered on top of practical experience in the field.
Yeah, you're right in that. It obviously doesn't work that way, there are far fewer management positions than people who could be promoted up into those positions. Even in some of the most hilariously top heavy organizations I've seen, this holds true.
I guess we have a cultural model of the "career" that somebody can start "in the mail room" and work their way up to CEO. Any deviation from that as a possible path is seen as veering off course or failing or "career ending" and you just end up in mere "jobs". You're right of course that this is unfair as the vast majority of people will never be on a career path that looks like this.
There's also an old fashioned class-based hold over in organization structure: nobles and commoners. This has been held over as "management" and "workers" or in the military as "officers and enlisted" and it seems that a great deal of our organizational theory, promotional structure and cultural ideas about progression are based on this: the "organizers and communicators" and the "producers".
Is there a better way? Maybe. But I don't think current counter-approaches work well over the long run, e.g. flat org structures. As a species we seem to naturally arrange ourselves into hierarchical structures, and if one isn't imposed on a group, one will emerge.
So I guess the idea of management, and it being a career path, is complex and is simply an optimization on these issues.
I've also been in organizations with very explicit, upward moving career trajectories that didn't end up in management per se. For example, one very large R&D organization I worked in was broken down like this.
You had the "employee". They all theoretically started as a "researcher I". As you progressed into "researcher II" then "research associate" then "research scientist" you were offered two choices go into "people management" and become an "associate manager" where you did normal people management stuff, some HR functions, signed off on time cards and did promotion stuff, but otherwise didn't involve yourself in the day-to-day of an employee's work life. Employees were simply "resources".
Or go into a research track. If you went research track you would then end up as a "research scientist" then a "principle research scientist" and then a "senior research scientist" (with research fellows etc.) Around the time you became a "principle" you were then offered two choices, stay in research, or go into program management. A program manager "owned" a program and requested "resources" from associate managers who were then matrixed under you. You directed their day-to-day, but if there were employee problems, you took it up with their associate manager who then dealt with it.
However, and this was the trick, if you stayed purely research, you'd of course continue doing research, but at that level, you were more valuable assisting the PM or the sales/marketing team (even R&D firms have this) with your expertise in getting research grants, writing proposals, etc. Quite often a PM would assume all the contract management stuff and the Senior Research Scientist would end up running the day-to-day of the lower level researchers. In the aforementioned military model, this ended up looking like an officer and his sergeant major. Or in academia, the principle researcher and his post-doc, with all the grad students. In practice, you'd end up becoming a manager.
However, in the line of "mail clerk" to "ceo", you were out of the game already. Nobody viewed it as a failure, Senior Scientists were revered like high priests there. But a priest cannot become a noble or a king. Only if you were an Associate Manager, or to a lesser extent a PM, would you have a shot at the line. Progressing AMs and PMs ended up assuming other roles, a bit of sales work, and for AMs a bit of PM work. I'll let you decide on the downsides and upsides (there are actually quite a few) of this system.
Some PMs ended up floating back over to Senior Scientist level, because they were already good at doing all the administrivia, but wanted to get their knuckles dirty in research again. Unfortunately, they usually found themselves more mired in more paperwork than pure research, and nobody wanted to take the pay cut and work as a Researcher II again where your time is 100% research. The economics simply don't work out to have a Senior Scientist running lab tests and squeezing pipettes all day. But they're the only ones with enough domain knowledge to write the grant proposal that will bring in a $30m 5 year program.
It can make sense.
A leader needs the respect of those she/he leads. It is easier to command respect when you are perceived as a technical expert or authority.
Promoting the Dilberts to bosses is an attempt at giving the engineers what they say they want: bosses with Dilbert's engineering skills.
I come across mentions of WWII era projects, designs of famous aircraft etc where the designs were incredibly well suited to the needs, and produced in incredibly short time-frames. Some of that is obviously the war-time focus, but I also notice that in many of those projects the lead position is not a non-technical manager, but a technical chief engineer where management functions must have been subservient. Unfortunately, there isn't a huge amount written about the organizational day-to-day project structures during WWII.
I think at least some of the appeal of startups and smaller companies for technically oriented people is that division of responsibility is not as formalized and contributions can flow more easily between different domains. But again, startups are structured where technical founders are at the levers of control, and that's inverted from how many companies end up organized as they grow.
Once you start admitting that "managing people" is just a job that you can do well or badly, and that can be really important or just administrative trivia, then that worldview shatters.
Unfortunately it seems very well embedded in the general culture, even in tech where it's not totally unthinkable for someone to earn more money (and provide more value) to the firm than the person who manages them.
Would it still make sense to pay them as much to just write code as it would for them to take on a more decision making role?
Yeah, that's not going to work.
Highly capable people given and environment that fostered their production.
Not everything generated was immediately commercial. But it was a very productive environment, and this had strong commercial implications. It also created a lot of public good, immediately and/or eventually.
Not every institution can afford a Bell Labs or a PARC.  But letting people do what they are good at, is perhaps not such a bad idea.
 P.S. I suppose that from one perspective, not even Bell nor Xerox could... although I don't subscribe to the argument, at least and especially not at such a simplistic level.
It turns out that there is an interesting feedback effect. People who have the capability to be smart, are only smart when the environment is right. Therefore your best people disappear first when you destroy the environment, because they are the ones who most strongly experience how their productivity has been undermined.
But it never seems to work that way. I think it's more a fear that if you bring them back, it gives the inmates a reason to revolt rather than the signal getting lost somewhere.
My wife went through a similar situation with a manager two levels above her. And this guy was easily among the worst managers I've ever even heard of -- case study worthy material, the textbook definition of a Machiavellian management style (it's funny that he also runs a management consulting business on the side). Within months of him being put in place the company shed about 40% of their staff under him, including people who had been there more than a decade.
While all this was going down, his manager would come down and talk to the malcontent and implore them to not leave. But the condition was clear, get rid of the asshole or they'd have no choice. As it turns out a few months later they did eventually fire him, but the damage had already been done and not a single former employee was contacted with a "hey sorry about all that, we fixed things, would you think about coming back?" From conversations with those that left, most of them would in fact return.
In the interim, they've lost tens of millions of dollars on failed projects, outside consultants to try and fill in the gap, and other related issues.
From the employee level it seems bizarre, but the only rational explanation I can think of is that they're afraid of bringing people back and thereby granting them too much power. Somewhere in management training, the seniors probably learned that "officers don't show weakness in front of the men" and have been holding to that at all cost.
There's some people who enjoy subordinating others. And you're right about the not showing weakness as part of that. They'd rather trash a large area of the company than admit that they were wrong. And the need to limit the power of the people at the bottom of tree prevents them having the autonomy to work well.
I share your "weakness", but I don't view it as a weakness at all. Why would you want to work for a stupid boss anyway? I feel in the end you should enjoy work, since it's a large part of your live anyway.
"Life’s too short and too complicated for people behind desks and people behind masks to be ruining other people’s lives, initiating force against other people’s lives on the basis of their income, their color, their class, their religious beliefs, their whatever…" - Jeff Buckley when talking about the background of the song Eternal Life.
The skillset required to be a good manager doesn't require exceptional intelligence, just basic common sense.
It seems in the long term, workforce competence will always correlate directly with management competence. Money and job popularity being factors that allow workers to tolerate a larger skew in the gap between them and management.
One of the worst managers I've ever had, prided themselves on how many people they "helped launch" to other departments, never realizing that they were running away screaming.
For those who don't get the reference, think of good employees as water, bad ones as salt. Organizations get a fresh water mix of employees who include both kinds. But over time the good ones evaporate and go to other organizations. The bad ones tend to stay. Over time the "saltiness" of the mix increases.
If this process continues long enough, you wind up with something resembling the Dead Sea.
I've been friends with the (competent) managers above a bad manager, and discussed a number of times how bad this manager was. They agreed with my assessment, and yet did nothing about it. I suspect this was partly because they underestimated how much of a disastrous effect this manager had and figured that the unpleasantness of firing him combined with the work of finding someone else would not be worth it. But mainly I think it was because they were 'friendly' with this bad manager (on account of having lunch and meetings together as managers), and because he was 'one of them'.
Maybe if managers are kept from become too much of a tribe some of this could be avoided (assuming that there is competence at some higher level, of course)?
Managers are like this x10. You go to meetups - they go to MBA school. You post on forums - they play golf and go to strip clubs. Rationality goes out of the window when tribal loyalty comes in.
I believe that they made the wrong call. But then again I'm biased, disgruntled, and all the rest of it.
There are many signs of bad managers, I am sure we all have them, but my number one is, thinking their title makes them right and beyond question. Got enough of those around to choke a horse. Worse it is usually a symptom that comes from top down and is hard to fix.
And yes - this should be trivial to measure. Hiring a good employee costs X. Of those, 1/Y is a great one. The cost of losing a great one is XY. XY is usually significantly higher than a year's salary.
For the same reason, I also think managers should be rewarded for creating great employees and giving them to the broader organization.
The new manager was good at keeping track of things and micromanaging. But the most inspiring line she could come up with was, "You still have a job." (I wish I was kidding.) She also had an unfortunate habit of lying badly and often, with a resulting destruction of trust. But that aspect I'm too bitter about at the moment to want to discuss.
To see why it matters, go watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc. I believe that its message is not complete (for instance I've noticed that correlations between stress and mental performance is highly dependent upon the mental task you are doing), but what it says about motivation is spot on.
The key factors are Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Good leaders can give people the sense of all three while still getting them to do what the organization needs them to do. Micromanagement makes it clear what the organization wants, but destroys motivation.
A boss goes to his own boss, and that boss gives him an unrealistic goal to be accomplished in a short time frame. The good boss remains calm and pushes back. The bad boss walks out of the meeting full of anxiety and tells his team to accomplish the impossible, quickly. This might work the first few times, but soon the competent people on the team will leave.
One of the quirks here is management is usually better off in the long run hiring bosses who will say no to them once in a while. Bosses who always say yes are more pleasant in the short term to their superiors, but they will be better off in the long term to have someone who pushes back on requests which are too unreasonable. We see blog posts here every day about how hard it is to find good engineers. Incompetent bosses who are dripping with anxiety after a meeting with their own boss, relaying marching orders for yet another death march project - good engineers do not remain under such people very long, especially in job markets like the current one.
This applies to engineers equally so. The ability to manage expectations is one of the most important skills one can possess. It also happens to be a particularly difficult skill to master, which is why, for example, just about every developer's first freelance project is a fixed bid scope creep nightmare that they end of walking away from or making $5/hour.
It's a matter of responsibility and ethics. No matter how much pressure there is on me and how unreasonable the request are, it's my responsibility to deal with it. If I would just shovel that shit over the wall and pass it on to my team, my presence would be 80% pointless. (Also, my team would bugger off a.s.a.p.)
So no, I'm not confident in my own competence. I feel the anxiety if the owners tell we are screwed if we don't accomplish X in Y amount of time. I sometimes say yes to things I should in hindsight have said no to, but it also happens the other way around. Management is almost always working of an incomplete set of data, a.k.a. guesswork.
But I have a job to do, and I wouldn't be doing it if I just made it someone else's problem, and nobody would believe or trust me if I didn't seem confident.
So that's pretty much the only thing I'm fully confident of: the ability to make people thing what I know what the fuck I'm doing. That is management competence #1, and unless you're a sociopath, it's not a trivial skill. Especially if you actually understand the field in which you work.
At one end, you have people who think they just lucked out, and they'll have poor performance because they'll practice cargo-cult management: doing things just because that's what the management books say you should do.
At the other end, you'll have people who are supremely confident in their own abilities, but their hubris will keep them from entertaining valid objections from other people. They'll be blinded by their sureness that the path they picked is the correct one.
You want people who are confident enough to know what they don't know and able to ask other people for help in those areas. These people will be able to lead a team by letting the people in the team know that they're important in the decision-making process.
Take for example a poor developer who keeps breaking things.
It can actually be difficult to get rid of someone. So the company instead makes him a low level manager (no longer directly touching code).
Yes! he comes up with stupid ideas etc, but, his team know he is wrong so they just work around the stupidity.
In a couple of years of poor management from this junior manager (who team keeps working through). Upper management (who forgot how bad a developer he was) think GOD! he has done a good job; his team get things done. Lets promote him.
Bad manager is now in a higher position again.
This taught me a great truth tho': the people at level N+1 compared to you in a company, are there because they have the support of people at level N+2. Unless your problem is such that you can attract the attention of people at level N+3 to it, your options are extremely limited.
As long as they're not an asshole about it, and you enjoy working with them, you should do what you can to make your manager look good, otherwise you might get another one. Once your manager moves up the ranks or joins another company, they will invite you (why wouldn't they? You make them look good.)
Generally in big companies especially, if you do well at development and promote yourself you'll become a manager regardless of managerial ability. You then get to micro manage the bad developers you mention.
But Ive never heard of someone getting promoted due to poor performance.
Performance can be very hard to measure, particularly for non-technical managers.
If he's useless as a dev and hasn't the knack for management, then he is useless (in this position).
Business wise that's the only thing that makes sense.
I used to work with an Italian company (via acquisition) that suffered from these kinds of troubles. You can't demote someone, you can't get rid of them, so they get a "sideways promotion" to something like a "project manager" or "team leader". Eventually this leads them into a managerial position. There were so many incompetent people in management at that company... their job was literally just to pass information down the chain. Meetings were hell because every project had 5 layers of managers that wanted to be involved.
Until such a time as we can (a) define "innate talent" precisely, (b) measure it so that we know now much a person has, and (c) determine that none of our current methods of teaching the related skill result in enough of an improvement, statements like that are just excuses for people to look at each other and say "I just don't think he has the talent to do this. Great guy, hard worker, but no talent."
Interestingly, if you dig into the links and studies provided, you find that "talent" is never defined and, where used, completely replaceable by "skills" or "interests". And once you replace it in the above sentence, it becomes either obviously false (of course skills can be increased with training) or patently absurd (of course training rarely changes your interests).
Still a great article for the connection between management and employee satisfaction and productivity.
The US government doesn't suck: Bush or Obama suck. Apple isn't a great company: Steve Jobs is a great leader. AIG doesn't have a bad business model: Mo Greenberg makes bad decisions. The Patriots didn't win a Super Bowl: Tom Brady won the Super Bowl!
No organization, NONE, has exploited this tendency more than Harvard. They are masters of the bait and switch. And this article is a classic example. They list all sorts of arguments for there being problems with companies/units, then, without any proof of causation, attribute the failures to bad management. They talk about what it means to be a good manager, but in no way do they offer any evidence that the problems of bad employee engagement and productivity will actually be solved by introducing a good manager.
Why? Because Harvard is in the business of selling you its students as managers. They've developed a reputation of offering highly-credentialed applicants two (HBS) and four year (HUG) vacations to ride the marketing wave of "Harvard grads are great managers." While MIT focuses on creating students who themselves will invent, create and further the pace of the world, Harvard instead seems to have chosen to exploit our tendency to anthropomorphize company success by latching onto shareholder and management insecurities (lack of engagement and productivity), even where there isn't anything to be insecure about, and inserting their graduates into highly paid positions as "the solution."
And they've been fabulously successful in this marketing campaign. I think SV has done a very good job of seeing through this schtick, but comments here make me think the tide is turning.
That's not to say there's no such thing as a bad manager. There are managers who can personally ruin/save a company. But all problems are not caused by bad management. All productivity issues do not stem from bad management. Sometimes it's a sociopath manager, but more often it's a bad product or business plan or economic downturn or any one of a set of problems that no shiny new Harvard manager will fix.
It's not one person it's a company, but it's not a company it's an agregation of people and policy. Is Obama evil? No the US government is, is the US Government evil? No but there are some corrupt people and some bad policies.
on and on we go.
If the hundreds of poor managers I have known would have just understood these 4 words, nothing else could have made more positive impact.
A good interviewer can get a sense for someone's ego vs. assertiveness pretty easily, but so many interviewers are looking at experience and skillset over character, personality and style. Experience and skill set are important but the other aspects are often overlooked. As an example, a hands-on development manager needs to not only be screened for the development chops but also if they are mature enough to handle the decisions that need to be made in that management role.
He's really successful in his situation, but he's not the one you'd have leading a high-performance team of experts.
However, the original article is not as great. It starts strong but gets into hand-wavy generalities about the requirement of innate talent which is one which I vehemently disagree.
Later edit: You might also want to check arethuza's ribbonfarm blog link above.
In other words, from a game theory perspective, being a (mid-level) manager (in a hierachy) is an unstable equilibrium for a vast majority of situations. Truly excellent companies have deeper benches of talent (or are structured in ways that compensate, ie. they are more "flat")
I could give references, but the book (Thinking, Fast and Slow) is not in public domain yet, so just some 3rd party links:
If you re-read the blog keeping what I just said in mind, you will see that it fits. And you will further see that your point is in complete agreement - the people who are perceived as having good management potential have a low correlation with actual performance.
The blog points out that this happens at the bottom level because people who are good at non-management tasks get promoted to management and may or may not be a fit. But as you go up the latter you find that a lot of what tends to get rewarded is visible success. Which gives an unfair edge to self-promoting narcissists who manage to make their occasional successes more visible than they should be. The result being that perception and reality tend to diverge.
One thing I would add, contrary to conventional wisdom, is that Accountability is probably the least important. I don't mean to say that you should let poor performers hang around, but that, given that everything else is firing on all cylinders, your team will let you know who their poor performing peers are. So an innate talent or process at 'accountability' isn't really overly important.
Being a manager is a very, very different mindset from being an individual contributor. And there ARE people who want the managerial career path too. The trick is in finding them and offering the appropriate training (because not everyone is cut out to be a manager).
Lastly, the "manager" title is very broad. There are people managers, technical managers, project managers, etc. So training someone to be a manager needs to be tailored to the types of managers at your organization.
Next thing you know, Bob is a crappy manager. Sorry, Bob. The leadership was too lazy to plan out career paths for the people. Now Bob is a crappy manager who will be pushed aside and ignored until he either quits or gets fired.
But now Bob has management experience. What does he do? Go back to doing the scrub work for scrub pay? Hell no. He wants that middle management pay check. Now Bob is going to make a career out of being a bad manager. Because Bob's first managers were lazy.
This is something which is less practiced in the UK. I have worked in the city and have worked with experts who have been in tech for 15 years and there is no pressure either from their within or from the management.
As the article very rightly cites - "Companies fail to choose the candidate with the right talent for the job 82% of the time"
The RnD-Director was a dev and wanted to develop and not to tell people what they should do or don't. So he went back being a dev and gave the position to another one, he probably still got the same pay but with a job he found much more pleasing.
The CTO of the company left it, because of the same reasons. He thinks of himself as a computer scientist and not a manager. He wants to solve technical problems and don't talk to the big bosses of customer companies or manage people around.
"Good managers are like sea captains. Bad managers are like a slaves overseer."
The last pearl from my manager was:
"If you can produce 100% in 6 hours/day you would for sure produce 150% in 9 hours/day (Together with a puzzled look after I pointed that no, we are not a screws factory)."
I don't need to mention that the entire team is aggressively looking for new positions on other companies (BTW a it is/was a VERY nice team).
No wonder that it is rare. If you add additional filter that a company need to be able to correctly identify and promote such people...
Such useful advice! We shall immediately assign one of our worker bees to create a predictive analytics system forthwith.
When will we ever learn?