OK, I’m the first person to admit that this post might be based from a little defensive stance. However, I’ve seen the pattern enough to feel sharing my perspective seems worth it.
For over a dozen years or so, I have attended numerous software development conferences. About three years ago, I started noticing the severity of bashing management and especially executives that occurs. Why three years ago, well, that’s about when I became an executive. Prior to that, I had always heard management bashing but was able to think “they obviously wouldn’t mean me, I’m different then the rest.” It’s ok; I expect that you are laughing right now.
Earlier this year I was a speaker for an AgilePalooza. At the end of the day, they had a full conference question and answer session for the speakers. I listened to comment/question after comment/question about how to deal with bosses that just don’t get it. That’s fine. I didn’t get it for a very long time. But here’s my issue: the comment/question is often stated with the angst of a Dilbert cartoon. You know, where you envision the executive that grew horns upon receiving the title.
As someone that is not afraid to admit how difficult the journey was to leading a truly collaborative environment, I feel for those people that are being judged. Beyond just that I’ve walked a mile in their shoes and understand; I can’t help but think it is hypocritical in the Agile community. The manifesto starts off with “We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it”. There is no one magic formula that works for every situation. No two journeys have the exact same path or duration. In fact, you are likely attending the conference trying to get ideas to improve yourself, your project team, and/or your company. So why does helping management on their journey not apply?
For example, what if your executive and/or manager were sitting next to you? If they listened to repeat judgments and jokes are they likely to be open-minded? Or are they going to get defensive? Are they likely to feel collaborative in this learning? Or are they going to feel that they have unfair expectations of magic overnight fixes? Personally, my first conference as an executive, I told very few people that I was an executive. I was embarrassed to be someone that was obviously not respected. However, at my workplace I was a leader that for the most part was respected. So where did I fit in? Luckily, I am stubborn and have a lot of friends in the community so I kept returning. That’s not the case for everyone; and that would be the true failure. We didn’t support everyone’s learning.
I’m not saying working for a difficult person is enjoyable. It is not. I know that. I have experienced that myself too. However, I can also admit now that I easily could have been the person someone joked about at a conference. Yet, I am much more grateful to the team that supported me as I learned how to stop stepping in, etc. If you want your executive to understand your pain, begin by understanding his/her pain. You might just be surprised that they do not have horns and their goals might be more in line with yours then you perceived. I prefer to bet for the sake of software development industry that there are more awesome growing managers and executives out there then we give credit to. Please help them (us), don’t judge them (us).
How have you helped your manager/executive learn?