Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Management is Always Having to Care about Other People's Issues

Mr. Snarky and I went out to lunch yesterday. We both had to work, but we work literally 5 minutes from each other, so I just picked him up and we went out for a nice lunch. We don't do this very often- we both have other preferred lunchtime routines. We really should try to do it more, though, because it gives us a chance to talk about our days in ways we can't over dinner, when the kids are also eager to share their days (Petunia, in particular, likes to tell us her day was "great!" and Pumpkin usually wants to tell some long and complicated story that I only have a 50% chance of following) or after the kids are in bed, when other priorities crowd in.

Anyway, on Monday, we found ourselves talking about our respective work issues, and since we are both managers, most of our issues involve fixing other people's problems, or fixing problems caused by other people's quirks. We do still occasionally discuss technical issues we are solving, but really, the technical issues are the easy ones. Dealing effectively with other people- that's the hardest part of my job, and I would suspect most managers' jobs.

This is not news, at least not to anyone who has spent any amount of time as a manager, but still, I sometimes manage to forget it. Remembering it yesterday- and getting ample opportunity to really live it today- clarified another reason for my recent career funk: I'm tired of dealing with other people's issues. And I don't just mean the "I have a problem, can you help me solve it?" sort of issues. Those are actually the easy ones. I mean the issues where I know that person A has a quirk that makes topic X a sore topic for him, but oops! Person B just sent an email about topic X and cc'ed not just person A but person A's boss. And oh, I need to get Person A to help me solve a problem related to topic X in order to finish one of my projects. Or the issues where Person C really wants to do something on one of my other projects, but doesn't really know how to do it yet, so either I have to say no and make Person C mad at me or figure out how to train/mentor without impacting any timelines. Or the issues where Persons D and E are having a long running and rather pointless technical argument, and I just need to get a decision made already, but neither really wants to budge because it has become a technical holy war of sorts, so I have to find some credible third party to break the stalemate and settle the issue.*

I could go on and  on, but you get the idea. People come with quirks and baggage and pet topics and the like. That is one of the things that makes people interesting, but it is also one of the things that makes management hard. Sadly for me, dealing with other people's issues is a large part not just of my current job, but of just about any job I can envision on anything looking like my current career path.

This was a bit depressing, and I said so to Mr. Snarky. But then he said something that made us remember the time we went to one of those Texas Roadhouse type chains and were surprised to discover that when a particular song comes on the jukebox, the waitstaff all have to stop what they are doing and do some stupid dance. And I decided that maybe my job isn't so bad, after all.**

*These are not actual examples from this week. They are all fictional examples, culled from years of being a manager.

**Although... maybe next time I've got two developers locked in a technical standoff I'll tell them that they can do a dance off to settle the issue. That should go over really well.


  1. OMG, developer dance-off? I'd pay good money to see THAT.

    I think this is why I hated being someone's manager. I just can't deal with this kind of stuff. or the endless personal info I'm privy to about why the person couldn't get his job done. In recent times, I've only managed contractors and mostly they were not doing their job well and it sucked. But at least I didn't have to do all the CYA that's required when it's a full time employee.

    And lunch with the hubby? Awesome. We used to do that when we worked at the same place. I miss it. Though I guess now we have lunch together, but at home, and it's because one or both kids are napping at that time.

  2. Tell 'em to DDR it out. The one who gets to the highest level/score wins.

  3. I'm so glad you admitted to not being able to follow Pumpkin's story 50% of the time. I was feeling bad about that, but maybe that's just par.

    1. Oh yeah, she goes into way too much detail with a bunch of asides and I just lose the plot. Luckily she doesn't seem to mind when I ask her to try again....

  4. I've found that I really do like managing people, but my word can it be exhausting. I got my managing feet wet with one direct report, who is any manager's dream. I then added people at a fairly steady clip and man does the dynamic change when you have multiple folks involved.

    I've joked before that everyone thinks being "the boss" is easy street--you just tell people what to do!--but the reality is so much more difficult than that.

  5. This is good insight for me- my current job does not entail managing people but it is something I always think I would like to do. Maybe I should just be thankful I don't manage people!

    Love the lunch date- we need to do more of that!

    1. There are pluses to being a manager, too, and usually I think those outweigh the negatives. But sometimes, I just get tired of being the one who has to handle everyone else's issues!

  6. Alexicographer5:46 PM

    I managed people before my son was born and, for complicated reasons slightly related to my cutting my hours back after he was born (but mostly not), have mostly not after. A troubling question to ask myself in some ways but I wonder whether I'd find it harder now that I'm a mom to a (young) kid whose issues (mostly just desire for my attention) seem to soak up much of my "people" energy -- something that I personally have always had in limited supply.
    I sure don't miss that aspect of the job, even though I did in some ways enjoy solving the puzzles involved in building a team that worked well together.

  7. I am a prof in charge of a sizeable research group (1 postdoc, 9 grad students). Managing them is a large portion of the work I do (in addition to teaching, writing grants and papers, and service). It definitely takes a lot of energy and you have to be sensitive to individual issues as well as the issues of people's mutual interactions. I can choose my own team, which is a plus, as I can select for compatibility to a certain degree (i.e. I don't want anyone who looks like they will be too difficult and disrupt the progress of others). Knock on wood, I am currently pretty happy with the group composition, they seem happy and getting along well, and they are all very very smart (I seem to be good at selecting smart people sight unseen, as that's how I have to bring in most international students).

    But managing people isn't easy and it isn't what I envisioned I would do so much as a professor. I thought I would have more time to do the real technical work, and not just beg federal funding agencies for money to do work and then supervise others doing it. :-(

  8. DANCE OFF. I vote yes.
    It really is *so* much about people and their problems and considering how not a people person I am, it was surprising that it was actually a very satisfying job. Despite not having what I would consider tangible results like with a regular project: a product or a presentation or organized data, etc., I could still come away feeling like a good day of work was done.
    All your examples make me laugh because: yep. If it's not an expertise holy war, it's a clash of incompatible philosophies, or a newly birthed set of expectations based on the imagined coordination of the moon, oregano and a scooter in a row.
    A doesn't think he is progressing fast enough; B should be moving upward but you have to fight w/upper mgmt to approve such things; C wants more opportunity in this or that area but someone is holding her back by acting in such and such a manner and you have to be three steps in front of all of them. It was one part psychologist, two parts juggling and one last part prognosticating.
    Though after a period of time, a team really came together where many of the shenanigans died out and it mainly came down to project how-tos and career growth and direction questions. Which I can deal with a lot better.
    Rarely felt like I was ever done though, and sometimes I don't think I am, still.

  9. Anonymous8:53 AM

    Wow, your exemples of managing, made me think about what I do with my family (father, step mother, step mother kid's, brothers)... Wow! I should totally ask for a salary for this! ;)


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