Blog of Rob Galanakis (@robgalanakis)

Hire talented people and get out of their way?

Whenever I need inspiration for a blog post, I check my LinkedIn feed. I am bound to find a stupid inspirational quote. Today’s is:

In most cases being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way.

This advice (hire smart, don’t micromanage) is so simplistic, it’s hardly worth saying. The profound stupidity is equating this with “being a good boss“.

No, hiring smart people and not micromanaging them is the absolute, bare minimum you should be doing as a boss. Basically, if you call it a day there, you are a worthless, paper pushing, pointed headed body in a seat. If not today, then soon.

What are you doing once you get out of the way? Meetings? And how can you be sure you’re hiring good people, if you’re not closely engaged with the work? Should you offload that to your team? And then what is left to do as a “good boss“, by your definition?

In reality, where being a good boss is incredibly difficult and rare, being a good boss means:

  • Earning trust, and learning to trust others.
  • Improving how decisions are made.
  • Making sure people are learning, challenged, and growing.
  • Mediating business pressures with craftsmanship.
  • Creating a greater context for the work of employees.
  • Fighting fires and doing drudgery without becoming a bottleneck.
  • A thousand other things that don’t make good motivational posters.

You work on these things every day. It’s slow and painful. There’s no secret algorithm or technique. You could take all of these cute little quotes about how to be a good boss, and it’d cover maybe 1% of what actually goes into being a good boss.

5 thoughts on “Hire talented people and get out of their way?

  1. “Hire people and sit on your a$$ while $$ pours in” really sounds what naive bosses would prefer to be doing.

    Management quotes irritate me most of the time, especially when you encounter them at work. E.g. the famous “what you can’t define, you can’t measure, what you can’t measure, you can’t manage”. Once I was in a meeting where a manager “measured” complex technical tasks by various ridiculous measures and then selected most important tasks by those “measures”. While you get a sense of management there, you just failed to select what’s really most important if you had technical insight.

    Long story short, management quotes should be left for Dilbert to make fun of. All too often they oversimplify what actually needs to be done. Like with the quote in question, reality is, most often you won’t be able to hire talented people, you’ll be hiring a whole range from phds to interns, and not all of them will be “gifted” or “talented” or “extraordinary”, they’ll get the job done, some effectively, some less, some might even be talented.

  2. dorf says:

    I’d prefer to just not have managers. My experience with them has generally not been great
    One manager mostly sat around and talked, he wasn’t a bad guy, but he had barely any technically ability, so he just left it up to the programmers actually doing the work.

    Another manager liked to do meetings. Pointless, irritating meetings. He was always worried about things. He barely understood the codebase, but made “decisions” about how we should be doing things. I ended up hating this experience and quitting.

  3. Robert Kist says:

    “Whenever I need inspiration for a blog post, I check my LinkedIn feed. I am bound to find a stupid inspirational quote”

    hehehe. So there’s at least one person who benefits from all those platitudes. Just wait till people start mailing them to you just to see some new posts ;)

  4. Dmitry says:

    Rob, don’t you think that quote is just a rephrase of Steve Jobs quote? I mean that one:

    “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

    Getting out of the way doesn’t necessary (or at all) mean that you as a boss don’t need to micromanage your employees. The thing is that you have to understand what they suggest with their talents, and be smart enough to bring their ideas to life.

    I may miss some language context since I’m not native English speaking person, but in this case I’m pretty sure there’s no micromanagement context in here.

    1. I think something is lost in translation, Dmitry. I’m not advocating for micromanagement. But the absence of micromanagement does not mean a manager is doing a good job (they may be not managing at all). However it’s pretty perfect that Steve Jobs has a similar view; he managed as an absolute tyrant and micromanager. I’m not sure what he was smoking when he said or wrote that.

      dorf: At a sufficiently large or mature company, I’m generally against managers for the same reasons (I actively worked at CCP to reduce the number of managers and eventually eliminate my own position). At a small start-up, I’m having a difficult time seeing how to make decisions quickly without managers, but I’m actively trying to figure it out. Though I suspect bad managers implode far more quickly at startups so maybe it is less of a concern?

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