On Management Difference

The Good vs The Bad: How do you know which one is which?


Good management (leadership) is invisible. It just happens. Also, it is very easy to understand what it is supposed to mean in you org using a simple test described below.


It is simple and yet all simple things are very hard to get to. I do not know how to start this one, I will start with a question:

  • how do you know if somebody is a good manager (leader) or a bad one?

That is a challenging question. You see, there should be a clear criteria, set of parameters, with which one could almost immediately tell or reason about how good or bad a manager (leader) is. In general this is called Quality of Management. But that is something for another day to brag about.

Let me turn your attention to something that is on the surface but not very obvious...

The Key Difference

Invisibility. One of the key qualities of great managers is that they make things happen invisible to the rest of the org. Things just happen. When they do the quality of a result is superior, project team is happy, nobody is burned or burned-out. Miracle it is.

How often have you seen people like this in your life? Not very often, but I am sure you have, at least once. On the outside, whatever they do looks very obvious, simple, even stupid. There is nothing that will immediately tell you how they do it. The key ingredient is invisible.

On the other side of this spectrum are different people - the visible managers. Hustle is their business, they are running around, their things are constantly late, deadlines are approaching and that makes them nervous. They scream, they enforce, they are primal. They hardly ever sleep and work is their life. They are constantly dealing with production issues, they know who to blame. Courageous people. What is interesting is that you know exactly what they do, when they do it and if you are going to be affected.

The Test

Here is a quick thingy you can use to understand the expectations of your whole organization towards what people think about what a manager should "consist of".

Ask everybody of the following:

  • Take a reasonably large sheet of paper (printer paper, A4). Split it in two half's by drawing a straight line on it. Write the following questions on each half:
  • Left half: what professional qualities your manager (leader) should have?

  • Right half: what non-professional qualities your manager should have?

  • Take 15-20 minutes to answer both questions. Provide results in digital or physical form. You will be surprised how similar and non-unique all the answers about non-professional qualities are goin to be.


  • By professional qualities I mean professionally-related areas of knowledge that manager is expected to own (posses, be proficient with). For software engineering that may mean the following (definitely not a full list): design patterns, clean code, ability to write readable code in some programming language.

  • Non-professional qualities will definitely be surrounded around personality of a manager. How good of a person this is, ability to communicate, trustworthiness, reliability, honesty, etc.

If you ask me about the applicability of this thing - here is a list:

  • Quick-Fixes. Use it to understand what qualities are missing in management and get them a proper training.

  • Promotions. Promote people who match these expectations better. You will then build conflict-free organizational structures that will perform better by design.

  • Performance Reviews. Think about OKRs and how they are implemented at Google. They review based on personal results achieved and culture-fit, which is similar to two questions above.

  • Internal Trainings. It should not be random. If your organization have internal learning systems make sure they are aligned properly with your organizations' expectations.

  • Org Culture. Information provided should give you a quick understanding of if your public statement about organizational culture matches reality.