Grateful Management

This is a reflection about management, particularly the management of people. I have been in management of one sort or another for more than twenty years. As with most of my roles in life, I’m good at some aspects of it and not so good at others.

Somewhere around 1986 my business cards listed my title as “Systems Analyst/Project Leader, Major Projects.” I was not organizationally a manager, but the project leader role was a good stepping stone to having my own budget and doing more than just participate in hiring decisions in future management roles. It was around this time that my company got its first female in a management role in an application systems department in the Information Systems division, although they were not ready to open the floodgates to women, of course. [One of my only exchanges with the VP in my division was when he put his hand on my shoulder and told me he liked my dress. Thankfully my immediate boss, who reported to the VP, told me that I was the smartest person who ever worked for him.] Although I really liked my job, I moved on to another organization as a manager at the end of 1988.

I left working for other people’s companies in 2002 after a couple of different Director titles in two organizations, having served as both a co-located manager of people and a remote manager of people. Being a remote manager was difficult. I could not always make the right pitches to the right people at the right time to get what my team neeeded, but I gave it my best, was an asset to the company, and learned a lot.  Remote people management is harder than onsite management, at least it has been for me. I can come off as more of the B-word, perhaps, when people cannot see my smile and the twinkle in my eye, although I’m quite capable of bringing out the inner-B in person too. I simply try not to do so.

In my role as the Managing Partner of Snupnow LLC, there are no employees, per se, but there are currently 6 active partners with ownership in the company. Two of these partners, Ken H and Sierra Bravo, with Matt being our system administrator there, have put in some significant hours this past week trying to get us set up again after some form of bot attack on various of our linux ports combined with our subsequent decision to bite the bullet and upgrade our database server to Cache’ 2009.1 as part of the effort to get the gateway between apache and our database going again. We were eager to get to 2009.1 for other reasons as well.

In addition to owner-partners, we consider InterSystems a significant partner in our company. They have been there for us many times, with considerable effort put in this past week by at least Derek, Deirdre, and Sudheer putting in time with Ken, Matt, and me. And, yes, that gets us back to me.

I did everything I could to try to delegate the system administration required to get us past this problem, because of my exceedingly poor system administration interest in the details, poor skills, and not-so-great sys admin temperament, as evidenced throughout my career. System administration work is stressful to me. Sometimes I can be helpful in system administration efforts. I recall times in past roles when I have called in the reserves (e.g. consulting companies) or bought meals as a relief to those in the trenches, as well as times when I listened to all information when complex issues arose, netted it out, made the call, and even at times did hands-on work to get the job done. However, I suspect the time I did my best work during a sys admin crisis was when I kept high-profile users at bay, pretended I was unaware of the six pack placed under the cool machine room floor, or when I made homemade mint-frosted brownies with grandma’s recipe.

I have experienced and participated in a variety of management styles. I used to do management by walking around, which is rather out of the question now. It is still important to try to help identify and remove anyone’s obstacles to doing good work, even if the walking around takes other forms. IM and Skype have been good tools for that.

I have experienced management by intimidation, my least favorite management style. I recall watching a VP for whom I worked berating a colleague of mine soon after I started working for a company. I turned and looked him in the eye and said “Just to be clear, management by intimidation does not work for me at all. Please do not try it.” It was about a year after working for him that he lost it and yelled at me in a meeting with one other manager, someone relatively new, so perhaps he was trying to show her who was boss. Afterwards, she asked me how I kept from crying. I told her that when people behave badly, even if they are insulting me when doing so, I just think to myself how I feel sorry for them, they must have some issues in their life. By the way, the next week I was proven right on the issue that prompted him yell at me. Poor bast*rd. :q!  I figure you can be competent and/or you can be kind, but you just don’t get to keep your job if you are an incompetent jerk. He didn’t.

In spite of working to steer clear of managing by intimidation, in prior roles I certainly did more pressure-packed management, pushing toward deadlines, questioning, moving fast, calling meetings, holding people accountable, etc. than I can do with the current sweat-equity scenario.  I don’t know if we would be further down the road if I turned up the heat, but I suspect it would be bad for the long haul. My current intent is to enjoy this job for a long time, and I will only enjoy it if those working with me are enjoying it too.

This last week was not enjoyable. We got there, however, thanks to the work of many people and to Derek having more clues than perhaps the rest of us put together. He figured out that the apache gzip compression was conflicting with the cspgateway (no need to know what that is) after our installation, or something like that. [I try to say things like this imprecisely so that no one ever thinks I am capable of using vi. I used to be in a position to be clear that I should not be included in any meeting where anyone said either grep or RS-232.] We are back up and running. Good deal. ZZ

Yesterday when I cut out for a few hours to run some errands in Sioux City, I used the driving time to reflect on the situation and those working on this problem. l thought about how I feel very, very grateful for Ken, Matt, and everyone at InterSystems who was helping us. I told myself not to be stressed, that we will get there, and I’m lucky to be working with people who have skills and interests that I lack.

For many years organizations like Calvin College, my Alma Mater, and Dordt College, my part-time employer this Fall when I start teaching part-time again, have talked about an appropriate leadership style being that of Servant Leadership. I am now in a position to say that a good management style, at least one to add to those already in use, might be one of Grateful Management. Thanks Ken. Thanks Matt. Thanks Deirdre. Thanks Sudheer. Thanks to others at InterSystems and Sierra Bravo who helped as well. I very much appreciate your efforts over this past week+. And Derek, you da man, brother. Thanks. I am very grateful.

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