The Rules of Naked Management

Pop Quiz

What’s the most important thing a manager does?

Sure, a manager has to “get stuff done through a group of people”, that’s a given, but what’s really the most important thing? Is it training your team? It is hiring A+ people? Is it keeping executives informed? Is it growing your employees’ careers? It is protecting your team from the “craziness above”? Is it removing roadblocks for your team? Is it keeping morale high? ….

The First Time Manager

The first time I became a manager I asked a lot of folks that question, and read a lot of books and articles. And I got all sorts of answers back. Every one of the items above was “the most important thing” I needed to do according to some sources.

I tried to follow a lot of the advice the first time out, without really understanding WHY I should follow it, and I’ll bluntly say I wasn’t successful at it.

Sure, the individuals who reported to me got all the stuff done my managers wanted done, but my victims employees had to put up with a lot of mistakes as I learned what being a manager was actually about. Certainly at no point did we have a team working to achieve the same goals. In reality I was just an individual contributor checking in on other individual contributors, playing at being a manager, and usually just getting in the way (see pigeon management). Two of my employees ended up quitting, and another (high performer) transferred to another group to avoid me.

In retrospect I realized it was because I didn’t have my own answer to what’s the most important thing a manager needs to do. So for my second big outing as a direct manager, I tried a different approach: I figured out what’s the most important thing I needed to do as a manager, and then I did that. I didn’t worry about any of the other crap unless it directly helped the most important thing.

And I got more successful.

So, what is that “most important thing”?

The Rules of Naked Management

Well, that’s what the next series of articles is about. Some folks have asked me to write a little more about the concept of naked teams, and how to be a first time manager, so here goes. In this series, I will talk about:

  1. The Most Important Thing A Manager Does;
  2. The Rules for Running Naked Teams;
  3. The Rules for Growing Naked Teams;
  4. The Rules for Growing Individuals;
  5. and The Rules for Keeping Your Sanity

My apologies to anyone who has been through this before, as this series of posts is based on some training programs I developed for first time managers. But if you’re a first time manager, think you want to manage people, or have been managed by someone and you wish would be a “naked manager”, then hopefully this series will be useful.

As usual, there’ll be at least one update per week.

The Rules for Rules

This series will be laid out in a series of rules, with reasons why the rules are the way they are. You’ll see there are quite a few rules to follow. To help guide you in how to follow the rules here’s the two most important rules.

If you take NOTHING else from this series of articles, just remember these two rules and you’ll be well served:

#1) Rules should be followed

I’m not claiming I came up with these rules myself. They are based on my experience (yes) which I’ve now reapplied successfully many times. But they are also based on studying at a lot of effective managers at companies I’ve worked at, and at effective people in other companies. They’ve been tested on thousands of employees. And in general they just work. If you see a rule, and you’re doing the opposite, you owe it to yourself to ask, “why am I not following this rule?” Usually you’ll find you become a better manager by following the rule.

Still think you shouldn’t be following the rules? Swallow your pride. Put your ego aside. Shut up and realize you’re no different than anyone else. Seriously! That “special circumstances” bullshit doesn’t fly here. You’re not really different. Follow the goddamn rules!

Still think you shouldn’t be following the rules, and you have “good reasons” why you shouldn’t? Well, enter rule #2:

#2) Rules must be broken

Management is an art, not a science. If we could break it down into a series of rules that are followed 100% of the time, then some smart person would write a computer program to be a manager and I for one would welcome our new management overlords.

But management is an art, and as with all art, requires judgment to be effective. If you’ve tried to follow rule #1 above, really put your ego aside, and still think you should not follow one of the rules, then break the rule. Truly great managers, like truly great artists, don’t follow the rules. However, like truly great artists, they KNOW the rules (e.g. Picasso learned classical painting first), KNOW when they break the rules, and KNOW how they break the rules.

Trust Yourself

Put another way, rules are no substitute for judgment, and over time you’ll find your own way through this mess. So please read and learn these rules, but ultimately you’re going to have to learn to trust your own judgment and discard the crap (mine included) that folks tell you about management if it doesn’t work for you.

I’m just sorry I had to experiment on Jim, Nolan, Craig, David, Aileen and Scott to figure that one out (sorry guys).

- Art

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