If you’re the CEO of a hip, young startup, you naturally want to be the cool, approachable boss — not the one who distances himself from his employees with ten levels of hierarchy by adding a bunch of extra bosses who are just there to tell other people what to do. It’s tempting to dismiss management as a useless task and try to keep your organigram flat forever.
In tech companies in particular, there’s a common misconception that management is “easier” than engineering.
It’s not hard to see where this idea comes from. Typically engineers will spend years getting an advanced degree — or creating an amazing independent project — in order to qualify for a software engineering job. And then someone on the team gets promoted to head the team, usually without any management training of any kind.
But treating management as easier (or as not really a task at all) can lead to some costly errors. I was once on a team where the least-performing engineer got tapped to manage the team. Apparently the idea was that if he’s struggling with coding, maybe he can at least organize the meetings and put the status updates into the project planning software. And that might have worked out if those were the hardest tasks of the job.
Even worse (and more common) is to tap the most productive engineer to be the team lead. The reasoning seems to go like this: “He’s so good at this — he should be telling all of the other engineers what to do,” and/or “With such a brilliant engineering mind, management tasks should be trivial for him!”