2 min read

Hammering Away

Hammering Away
Truly the staunchest of allies. All credit for From Software

A while back, a fellow manager and I were comparing our people management styles, as you do sometimes. During this conversation, I came up with a pleasing analogy that I thought captured the differences nicely.

But before we get into that, note that this blog post was brought to you by the looming spectre of the twice-yearly performance review process at Atlassian. Just like a career criminal trying to go straight, the people that I work for need me to do this one last job before I'm allowed to stop caring about manager things.

Also, they promised not to hunt me down and shoot me afterwards, which was nice of them.

In other words, this is going to be a stream of consciousness post, because putting together anything more complex than that right now would be a stretch.

Anyway, let's get back to that analogy that I mentioned a few paragraphs ago.

When it comes to people management, I consider myself something of a blacksmith.

The other manager? More of a watchmaker.

See, I told you it was a good analogy, but let me explain anyway.

When I'm responsible for people I take great care to provide them with all of the things that are expected; support when they need it, opportunities to stretch and show what they are capable of, honest feedback about how they are actually doing, and so on.

But I don't do any of that subtly. I approach all of the things above in a straightforward, often blunt, manner.

When it comes to growth plans, I hammer out a general direction along with clear signals to understand progress, then leave the rest up to the person. If they need assistance, I'll provide it, but the onus is on them to make it happen.

See where I'm going here?

To me, the combination of those things brings to mind the traditional image of a blacksmith. Bulky, rough and straightforward. Focused on bringing out the best in a piece of raw metal by applying a series of decisive strikes.

In comparison, the other manager still provides all of the same things that you would expect; they support, they engineer opportunities, and they give targeted feedback.

But they do it with a level of delicacy, care, attention to detail and consideration of the situation that, honestly, boggles my mind.

They help people to be more awesome, almost without the person knowing that they are being helped.

When I see them work, it brings to mind the image of a watchmaker. Lithe, elegant and complicated. Focused on making a hundred small tweaks and changes that bring out the best in a complex piece of machinery.

And I respect that.

Neither style is objectively better or worse. Each has strengths and weaknesses.

In reality, the effectiveness of the style comes down to the people involved. Everyone is different and not everyone responds the same way to the same approach.

You can't take a delicate mechanism, smash it with a hammer and expect it to come out the other side more functional. You also can't take a raw hunk of iron and scratch away at it with a set of fine tools and expect to create a sword.

Being able to acknowledge your own personal style, the one you default towards, while also understanding what a specific individual needs is one of the key differences between an okay manager and a great one.

Me? I'm definitely more of an okay manager.

But that's okay, because I'm not responsible for people anymore, which is probably for the best.