The Gates spec review and covering your subordinates' asses

June 18, 2006

Joel writes how Bill reviewed his spec and asked questions and how he survived. This is a great example of a manager understanding the work of people working for him. And kind of echoes with a discussion I had the other day. Should managers be able to do everything that their subordinates do, and cover their asses if need be?

I believe that in the big picture they should, because it helps them steer the work better. Sure, there are practicalities like not always knowing the other involved people, details of all processes. However, it’s about attitude, readiness, trust and leadership, not the technical details. At the end of the day, all great managers that I’ve known (either I’ve worked for them or just watched them from aside) have always been ready and willing to dig in and cover the asses of subordinates, should it be needed under some extraordinary conditions.

Now, the reasons that managers are managers and not doing others’ work daily is that while they are able to drill down to details, they also appreciate the bigger picture and how the details come together to form whatever goal the organization has set. That’s pretty much all that management is about – bridging common goals with individual skills and objectives.