Charity Majors @mipsytipsy CTO @honeycombio, ex-Parse, Facebook, Linden Lab; cowrote Database Reliability Engineering; loves whiskey, rainbows. I test in production and so do you. 🌈🖤 Aug. 30, 2019 7 min read

Oops, I forgot to write my lightning talk for tonight on Management for Anarchists. Help me out: for the next hour, tweet me stories of the most fascist, command-and-control behavior you've seen at work. Or the petty little power plays that get on your nerves. Thanks!

Folks. I love you. Please stop sending me these stories.

I beg you.

I will tweet a summary of my lightning talk very soon. Thank you for.... proving my point? congratulations on enduring? I'm not sure what to say. You poor kittens.

so.. i asked y'all to stop last night because there were so many stories of workplace tyranny I was afraid it would overrun my history and I wouldn't be able to read them all.

but in honor of Labor Day, ✨fuck it✨

Send on. ✊

Here is the summary of my lightning talk:

"Management for Anarchists"

First of all, am I an anarchist? No, I am not. I am an Oakeshottian conservative; I believe no ideology can be true or good divorced of particular conditions.

But the power dynamics of corporate life are such that they increasingly make anarchism a not-unreasonable philosophical reaction, though possibly not a reasonable end goal.

The title was mostly a tossed-off joke. But then one of the locations for last night's event refused

to let us meet there unless I took the "A word" out of the title, censored my language, and let them pre-approve the slide deck, which they perceived as being "anti-management".

Thereby illustrating my point with hilarious irony, thanks humorless $randocorp. ☺️

(Ok. Starting now.)

So, leadership. How many miles of books have been written on leadership, leadering, leading leaders who leadly lead etc; and where are all the books on followership? Why do we glorify one side of the power dynamic so grossly?

I don't have an answer, I just think it's weird. All of us spend far more time following than leading. Where are all the books on effective followership?

(Maybe "leading" is an umbrella term for many things we value, like agency, autonomy, excellence and influence.

(Humans are undoubtedly relatively hierarchical as species go. Maybe it's as simple as that.)

I've been an engineer, manager, founder, CEO, CTO, intern, hotel clerk, laundry girl, etc. I have never felt more constrained in a role than I did as CEO.

CEO has so many constituents -- employees, friends you happen to employ, board, investors, customers, /future customers/... Everybody needs something from you.

This experience caused me to think differently about power and human relations, and that is what i want to talk about.

When you are the boss, your job is not to boss people around. If you boss people around they will hate you, and you will counterintuitively have less power.

Your job is:

1) the mission: define it/get it done
2) persuade others to join you
3) give them what they want/need

Do you ever get fucking annoyed when powerful people complain about their obnoxious problems? Yeah, ok so let's add another one:

4) meet your own needs (ye olde "apply your own mask before assisting others"), and don't make it all about you.

It's annoying when powerful people act like they're powerless. So don't do that.

Your job isn't to pretend you don't have power, it's to remember that the power isn't yours. It is on loan. You are being lent this power to do great things with it for the benefit of the lender.

This feels like a great time to point out that power is a myth. It doesn't exist. It is an illusion that exists only in the minds of others.

To a very real extent, you accrue power when people see you doing things, which makes them believe you have the power to do more things.

(Sometimes power is given to us on even flimsier evidence, like because you have the same hair and skin color as somebody they have seen doing things. Humans, amirite?)

But wait! There are at least two types of power (if I'm not mythtaken 🤓).

There is formal authority, which is granted to you on behalf of an org or group, and informal power, which is (roughly) earned.

Lots of us begin our careers with a very formal view of what power is. But then we start to discover its limitations, and other forms of authority.

Like: when you have formal power, it is granted to you conditionally, that you might do what benefits the org. It does not belong to you. You are acting in its capacity.

Informal authority, otoh, is unconditionally yours. You can take it with you wherever it is known.

Another shortcoming of formal authority is that your credibility takes a hit any time you have to resort to using it.

Engineering is a creative industry. You cannot get people's best work out of them if they are following orders. They have to buy in, heart and soul.

You have to persuade and inspire others to want to lend their creative gifts to your mission.

Yes, you need everyone rowing in the same direction, and once in a while you need to ask them to disagree and commit, or do what you ask without understanding why.

But know that having to issue orders is a sign of deep weakness, not strength. Imposing your will on people is sometimes necessary but usually means you have failed to communicate, to ask, or to adequately convince.

After all, you all want the same thing: success.

Lots of us start our careers with a formal view of power. But then we start to discover downsides to formal power, and benefits to other types. Like:

* the power to work on intrinsically fun problems
* the power to set boundaries
* the power to say no
* owning your own time

One of the trippiest things to me as CEO was how much I did not feel my mind and attention were my own.

So much of the job is having and exercising good judgment, so I had to think carefully about curating the inputs to my technical, cultural, and business judgment.

I couldn't just screw around and read some hyperbolic rant on the internet without worrying that it would subconsciously impact my views in some subtle way that might matter.

And I think about work 24x7. Even for a workaholic like me, that's a lot.

Let's wrap up with a couple final points.

Power, esp informal power, accrues to you when people see you doing things. So if you want more power, do more things, and make sure the visibility setting is high enough. Ask forgiveness not permission. It really works.

Most people could have lots more power than they do. But they hang back and wait to be asked, or given the formal kind.

And don't "save" it up: power grows w/compound interest when you invest it in worthwhile initiatives. (You lose it when you blow it on risky pyramid schemes)

Managers, remember that while this is not a democracy, you "lead" only with the consent of the governed. If you act like the power belongs to you personally, rather than is something you wield for good on behalf of the org, I'm out here telling your team to quit every day. 🦄

Treat people with dignity *especially* when interviewing or firing. Remember that everyone craves autonomy, mastery, and meaning, and help connect them with the consequences of their work.

It's harder than just assigning tasks.. but you'll keep better people around.

Oh, and if you are tempted to start swinging your weight around, just go read the stories in this thread. For FUCK'S SAKE people.

Btw, here is a book I think all managers should read (tho i'm not a huge fan of the author): 

Keynes predicted that we'd be working just a few hours a day. Why aren't we? Turns out we are using all that time for meaningless dominance rituals. 🧨🔪💣🗡

You should also reread @eanakashima's barnbuster of a post on how differently people will treat you when you suddenly get more power. 

I had three or four different positions over two years, and I got dizzy from how differently I was treated every time.

You can follow @mipsytipsy.


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