Shield

If you were to ask me who my favorite manager was, I'd say JA, my systems engineering manager on KEI at Orbital Sciences Corporation. She was my first manager, so it's difficult to say whether her ranking is due to her being my first manager (what do you compare it to?) or some sort of objective manager-ranking metrics (I don't know what these would be, but hopefully something near-sadistic like performance management reviews).

Anyway, I don't care why. I don't even remember the details. And the details I remember are through the eyes of an idiot.

The one thing I remember—or at least still feel—is the way she shielded the team from external bullshit. (Technical term.) I remember that. The project was receiving some non-negligible amount of chaos from the external environment, but I have this lasting feeling of how she absorbed much of that trouble, leaving the people on the team free to do the work.

More than a decade later: I would do a Bruce Willis barefoot walk over broken glass for that kind of leadership. It's hard. It's rare. It's valuable.

Why?

At least, why is it valuable? You hire people to do work—to develop software, to design gearboxes, to machine housings, etc.—not to debate, impotently, about some thing that they can't control coming down from some level that they can't affect. Boss's boss's boss wants some extra hot sauce on their status report? Or the resident subject matter expert wants three spaces after every period and a genuflection after every pronouncement? The people doing the work shouldn't be subjected to that kind of useless direction. Pass on the things that need to be passed on, but absorb the rest. It's a difficult thing to do to stand between the people who have the power and the people that are going to get rained unnecessarily on by that power.

If you want your people to get the work done you have to shield them from the environment when possible. Take the hit from the outside yourself, but do what it takes to let the people doing the work do the work.

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