Review of "Behind Closed Doors – Secrets of Great Management"

I recently read the book “Behind Closed Doors – Secrets of Great Management” by Johanna Rothman and Ester Derby.

This book gives a good introduction into the world of management (not leadership though). You will find a good set of tools for your tool box as a manager. This it is particular useful if you have just been promoted and are in the transition from a “doing” role to a management role.

The book has two parts. First part is the story of Sam, a senior manager that has to manage the development department of a software firm. Part two gives more details on the particular tools in your manager tool box (don’t just use the hammer ;-)).

Here are some of the aspects and tools that are covered in the first part:

  1. One on ones (managing different people)
  2. Work portfolio (what not to do)
  3. Team building
  4. Management by walking around, coaching
  5. Influencing (management without authority)
  6. Delegation
  7. Managing yourself
  8. Managing your manager

For me it is quite helpful to review the tools from time to time as I tend to get sloppy on them.
Having said all this, a book in general (and this one is no exception) has certainly limits to teach you being a good manager (which is a very complex task). In practice you will face a lot of situations that can never be covered in a book. This book states (on the back cover) that it is for beginners up to intermediary. It gives you a start and hints for a lot of good tools. You have to use those that make sense to you and practice this stuff in real life. I would recommend to either discuss and practice that with your peers, find a coach in senior management or go out and attend some training with a good share of practice.

The value of Face to Face

Yesterday has been the day of promoting face to face interaction. I read two independent blog entries.

The first one by Esther Derby called Face to Face Still Matters. It compares the cost vs. the use of face to face meetings. The point here is that the use has no cash value while the cost (like travel etc.) has a clear and measurable price tag.

The second one “Face-to-Face Trumps Twitter, Blogs, Podcasts, Video…” by Kathy Sierra brings a different perspective to the topic. Kathy talks about being highly motivated by meeting people face to face as well as the magic bit that is still missing in other means of communication.

Both perspectives make a point that all our technology can not fully substitute meeting in person. I want to add one other point here: Talking to people face to face is a matter of respect (particular in one on one meetings).

(See also my post on communication effectiveness).

Can one learn Management and Leadership?

Esther Derby has a blog entry about natural born leaders and managers vs. learning the skills (she also has a link to a nice little article called “Do We Have to Choose Between Management and Leadership?“).

I agree with Esther that you can learn the skills of both management and leadership. However before learning comes awareness and openness. Some managers I came across so far haven’t had either.

If you are not aware of the lack of (at least some) of the skills, you have no chance to learn. The same holds true if your are not open to the different aspects involved in becoming a great leader and an effective manager.

A mindset of “you can always do better” definitely helps to become a better manager and leader. If that is not the case, you have to rely on your current “natural” skill set, whatever that is.

What is Common Sense after all?

So, what is Common Sense or as we Germans say “Gesunder Menschenverstand”?

According to Wikipedia Common sense is what people would agree in common.

What does that mean? I think Common Sense is what a group of people have learnt or experienced and now know implicitly. It is what they intuitively think is right.

Ken Schwaber say

Common Sense is a combination of experience, training, humility, wit and intelligence.

in his book Agile Project Management with Scrum.

If learning and experience is part of this thing, can we learn Common Sense? On one hand, Common Sense seems more than knowledge. On the other hand let’s look a bit on the phases of learning:

  • First there is unconscious incompetence: I do not know that I don’t know (e.g. kids are not aware that they can not drive a car).
  • Then comes conscious incompetence: I know that I don’t know (This feels like sitting in a car’s driver seat for the first).
  • Then comes the learning work leading to conscious competence: I know that I know (For the first couple of month driving a car, I do everything very conscious).
  • Last phase is unconscious competence: I don’t know that I know (I do not have to think when driving a car)

By the way is there a similar though slightly different concept in eastern philosophy called Shu-Ha-Ri.
The elements we have learnt and that are part of our unconscious competence (or we are in the Ri state for that matter) portfolio basically build our paradigms (another of those big words). Those paradigms in turn are part of our Common Sense.

So a part of what we see as Common Sense is actually what we’ve learnt and experienced (particular in interaction with others).

On the other hand only things that really work and are easy to comprehend will make it to our Common Sense. This would exclude complex processes or artificial prescriptive instructions.

Hey, what is this crap good for, now? First, this was not the question here…

Second, there might be another post…

Another interesting question though is: can we unlearn or “overlearn” things? Or to state it in another way: How does the (our) Common Sense change over time?