Understanding the difference between contributing and managing

There's a large disconnect between the importance of managers and their broader perception. Management requires a different way of thinking than being an individual contributor.

Posted by Tejus Parikh on December 30, 2017

Jason Fried wrote a post a while back on being a bad manager. His observations are delivered in a stream of consciousness and cover a number of topics, some, like the need to practice, really resonated with me. Yet, there was no final answer nor fully coherent thesis, which, coming from a voice that’s never been shy about expressing opinions on how people should work, shows how difficult this topic is.

There is clearly a large disconnect between the importance of managers (especially those not in the executive layer) and their perception. Managers account for 70% of the variance in individuals engagement, according to a Gallup Study. However, when asked to picture a “middle manager” many of my generation will respond with “Bill Lumbergh,” the antagonist in “Office Space.” Lumbergh is a caricature of the bad manager, but one that is also clearly oblivious to how awful he is. Which sets out a sad reality suggested by Fried’s article: managers are important, but the default state is to be a bad one. Which seems to be doubly true if what you were before being a manager was a really good individual contributor.

Bill Lumbergh, the epitome of a bad manager

Bill Lumbergh, the epitome of a bad manager

The question then is how do I avoid being a bad manager? It’s a question that I’ve asked myself as I’ve transitioned from being an individual contributor to a team lead to a manager with HR responsibilities. I don’t think I have all the answers, but I feel the first step towards being a better manager is to understand the differences between being an individual contributor and a manager. In this multi-part series, I’ll explore the following topics:

The first post in the series will be about one of the hardest parts of being a new manager, how to evaluate your own progress when the job is to lead instead of do. This can be especially tricky when the manager retains some responsibilities as an individual contributor.

Check back in shortly for the next installment.

Original image is CC-licensed [original source]

Tejus Parikh

I'm a software engineer that writes occasionally about building software, software culture, and tech adjacent hobbies. If you want to get in touch, send me an email at [my_first_name]@tejusparikh.com.