Horizontal Management

I have a pretty easy management approach that has proven effective in most cases. To distinguish it from top-down vertical management, “telling people what to do”, I would classify it as Horizontal Management, treating people as equals and finding right directions together.

“Hi, I’m Chas Mastin your manager. My job is to advocate for you and get you your maximum salary and title. Now, what are you here to do?”

Then we get into the details of their goals and how to achieve them. This isn’t some crazy new technique, this is basically OKRs without the overhead of corporate BS. Sure these goals need to tie into the company goals but that is the easy part.

Much as a therapist explores a person’s history to find meaning and direction in the present, a manager explores the present to help direct the future.

For therapy to work the therapist needs to suspend worrying about their own ego during sessions. A Horizontal Manager must do the same.

Because work must have meaning. And moving tickets in Jira isn’t meaning, any more than made up velocity points are. Well, it’s meaning, but transparently shallow meaning. It won’t keep people engaged for a long.

What will? Love of a product, of quality, of your colleagues. And yes, I do mean oxytocin type love. But we only get there by providing an environment of low stress, but high incentives for excellence. People want to be heard, to have agency, to be given credit for what they do that is excellent.

We are trained to be rewarded with A’s and told we are doing poorly with C’s. But then we get into the work world and there is only more paychecks, review cycles and the threat of being fired.

This isn’t optimal, or fair. It is your job as a manager to forge another path in a horizontal org. To shepard the lost, to empower the meek, the temper the agressive.

My favorite quote on leadership is from the Tao Te Ching

“The best leaders are those their people hardly know exist.
The next best is a leader who is loved and praised.
Next comes the one who is feared.
The worst one is the leader that is despised …

The best leaders value their words, and use them sparingly.
When they have accomplished their task,
the people say, “Amazing!
We did it, all by ourselves!”

Lao Tzu Tao Te Ching

Strive to be the best leader, almost invisible but always there, and clear the space for your folks to do it all by themselves. The best way to do this? Focus on the right data points. That’s the tricky part. More on this to come.

Painting by Simon Stålenhag

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