The Knowledge-is-Power Poison Pill

“Boys, we’re gonna take that hill,” said Sarge. But what he didn’t say was that the maps he distributed were out of date and the designated zone of operations was wrong. He hand-picked his men but none were rated on their weapons or terrain. He distributed magazines of ammunition, knowing the bullets were only tracers and useless in their campaign. “Now, let’s go!”

After the battle, Sarge will be able to talk about how his men met the challenge and how he empowered them. It’s sad that foot soldiers like Brian will be lost walking through an unmarked minefield. Now, all Sarge will need is replacements.

Some topics apply more to resource management or leadership in general. This is one but I emphasize that project managers have this exposure to some degree(at one job I managed resources as a PM, for instance). So, read on.

Practical Management

The scenario I painted is ludicrous and contrived but you might not have kept reading if I worded it this way:

“Developers, we have plenty of time and resources,” said Middle Manager. But what he didn’t say was that the platform was COBOL and that their Java skills were useless. As were their Linux and Windows desktops. The requirements he gave them were bad photocopies of documents from a feature request for another application. “Get started so we can be done in time for the demo.”

Even in this version, every single statement is easy to write of as crazy. The sad part is that each one of these individual statements has been proposed to me during my developer experience. It emphasizes with a little sarcasm just how hurtful the knowledge-is-power concept is in practical management.

It would frustrate even an excellent employee to write software to solve a problem only to find a leap year bug during the demo.  “I knew that would happen,” doesn’t make a leader look smart. Rather it implies he withheld a foreknowledge with the intent of framing his own team–if he really knew the lay of the land but the team is misinformed. The team will constantly feel set up if you separate yourself from the bugs but claim successful demos as victories. Their job is innovation at the micro level. My advice is to enable them to do that job with fluidity and efficiency. When they innovate only to have you shut them down with unclear or shifting goals they will be frustrated.

The flip side to a recovering economy is that frustrated employees can find better teams that offer improved job satisfaction. If your team fails due to resource shortages at a crucial time your project might fail.

The opposite of knowledge-is-power is transparency through communication. There is a time and place for ever conversation. Of course, a manager would choose to cleanse their communications such that they are labelled as something other than a distruptive behavior. So manage that and communicate the roadmap, the risks, and the issues. An informed team member is innovative and won’t be frustrated when he hits brick walls.

An ideal manager will create that environment that other companies’ frustrated employees will seek. It will be vibrant with his style and anergy.

Super short checklist for your toolbox of management tools

  1. Skill check. Is your team the right team for this challenge? If not get training scheduled.
  2. Tool check. Are the tools a fit for the tasks ahead? If not get them budgeted.
  3. Map check. Managers have to keep requirements fresh.
  4. Transparency check. Managers are responsible to turn communication into two-way communication.
  5. Grow your individuals. Just accept it and do it.
  6. Admit to mistakes. If you aren’t a PMP you might not have realized the value of just being honest and communicating openly. It might be a benefit for a manager to schedule a meeting with your PMO and ask about communication skills.

Quick Recap

Should you by withholding knowedge cause a member of your team to lose their job or take a hit during a performance review you have personally failed your team. Your specific job as a leader is to increase their efficiency and grow their career. I’ll speak more about that in a future post but I want to clearly communicate this. Your team is not fodder for your personal experimentation in the 48 Laws of Power.

If a person is an imitation servant leader he might mask his horrible mis-step as “A teachable mmoment for Brian.”

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