26 August 2005

The craftsman-to-manager paradox

Do any of these things sound familiar?

1) You do work that your employees should be doing because “It’s easier to do it myself than hand it off"?

2) You work long hours, getting in early and staying late

3) Your team lacks morale, or seems stressed out most of the time, or both!

You may be suffering from the craftsman-to-manager paradox. Here’s how it works:

If you are a craftsman, you were probably promoted because you are highly productive. Most likely you are productive for a few reasons:

  • You manage your time effectively

  • You require minimal supervision

  • You are reliable

  • You take pride in a job well done

Here’s the paradox: You meet the above criteria because you are a self-reliant perfectionist: your philosophy might be summarized as “Do it right the first time” and “If you want it done right, do it yourself.”

As you move into management, the very things that made you effective as a craftsman are now deadly threats to your success as a manager. Your independence and self-reliance, which was an asset, is now a liability.

As a manager you need to change your focus, from being productive to making other people productive, which requires a wholly new set of skills. You were promoted because of your skills, and now you need to stop using them and start transferring them to others.

And that’s the paradox: To be successful in your new role, you must turn your entire philosophy inside-out. You need to stop doing things and start managing things, which is counter-intuitive and takes a leap of faith. That’s right, a leap of faith.

Sounds like religion? You bet. It sounds like religion because it is religion. Here are the ten communication commandments for managers:

  1. Make your expectations crystal clear. Leave no room for interpretation. WHO will do WHAT by WHEN?

  2. Listen actively. What is the person saying? What is their tone of voice saying? What is their body language saying? Pay attention.

  3. Be observant and proactive. Watch what’s going on around you. MBWA (Manage by walking around). Learn to anticipate problems and address them before they are problems.

  4. Master the art of asking. Good questions help you diagnose root causes and understand underlying dynamics, so you can solve the problem instead of trying to fix a symptom.

  5. Teach. Every mistake is a learning opportunity. In fact, nearly every interaction you have with your team is a learning opportunity

  6. Delegate. Anything you do yourself is a wasted opportunity for someone on your team to learn something. Stay close to help if necessary, but only if they ask for it.

  7. Coach. Spend quality time with your high performers, making them better. It’s easy to forget this one and waste lots of time on the underperformers.

  8. Don’t avoid difficult conversations. As a manager it’s your job to initiate them when necessary. And never have difficult conversations by email; always do them face to face if possible, by phone if necessary.

  9. Learn how to be tough. If you’re going to set expectations, there need to be consequences if they are not met. Face it: If you’re going to be a manager you will have to fire someone sooner or later. It’s a true communication challenge and the toughest part of being a manager. When the time comes, just do it.

  10. Develop your farm teams. You’ll need a stable of people on deck, ready to come on board should you need them. Ongoing and proactive communication is key. Keep them warm.

Many thanks to Gorpik for translating this post into Spanish.

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Anonymous said...

This is so true ! Great post !

sc said...

I am facing this very situation and I'm still stuck in craftsman mode. Thanks for the great post.

Ira said...

Excellent post. I am about to move into a supervisory position in the department that I currently work. There is some work to do there and this kind of information is beneficial, thanks.

Anonymous said...

i have been in craftsman mode for 6 years. make them listen!

Anonymous said...

I've become a manger after being a craftsman for 14 years and making the transition has been incredibly hard since employees don't always share the same work ethic or attention to detail.
On a related note, Magic Johnson failed as a basketball coach because he couldn't relate to players who didn't share his passion for excellence.

Anonymous said...

I went from craftsman to manager a little over 6 years ago and, even today, this post could not be more true. Like Brendan commented, it (still) feels dirty to delegate. It almost leaves me with the same feeling of hiring someone to clean my home when I'm more than capable of doing the job myself. I use the word *almost* because I've never hired someone to clean my home. But if I did, I know it would make me feel useless---like delegating the work load to my team.
I've found one way to deal with it over the years that seems to work out---start a project with the team and, at some point, let them take over and finish it. However, as a manager, I do monitor the progress because I know who's door will get knocked on if something goes wrong.

And, I'll admit this (here anyway), there are times I would like to go back to the days when I was responsible for just my own productivity. Truth be told, it was way much easier to be star back then when I only had myself to count on :)

Anonymous said...

Sorry...meant to mention this in my last post:
Great blog!! I followed a link from Robert Scoble's blog where he mentioned your site.

Unknown said...

Thanks Janine!

FYI, our Creative Director was impressed by your post.


Bill Keaggy said...

Dead on, Dave! Really good, useful post that I know I will keep referring to in the future...

Phil Gerbyshak said...

Outstanding post. Very true for new managers. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...


I think you overlook the concept of the Player Manager and some of the dotcom bodybag/conscript angle.

Unknown said...

KA makes some great points about the player/manager that are worth reading.

I would add a couple of points to KA's: It seems to me that there are at least two kinds of player/managers in most organizations:
1) There's the person who plays both roles formally. This is sometimes called a lead role, assistant manager, coordinator, etc. This can be a great role to define in your organization, because it gives people an opportunity to "try on" a leadership role, with a manager's coaching and support.
2) There's the person who plays both roles informally. This kind of person is an "informal leader" -- someone whom the group respects. This person may or may not want the formal role of leader; nevertheless, if you are a manager you will gain greatly by recognizing, rewarding -- and relying on -- those informal leaders, even in small ways.

Gorpik said...

Great post, Dave, I really loved it. I have linked it in my blog (gorpik.blogspot.com), which is in Spanish, and a friend has suggested me to translate it and publish the translation there.

Is it okay with you? As I have written, there is a link to the original and my blog is not commercial, just your run-of-the-mill personal blog.

Unknown said...


I left a note on your blog. The answer is yes.


Gorpik said...

Thank you for your permission, Dave. You can find my Spanish translation at http://gorpik.blogspot.com/2005/09/ahora-en-castellano.html

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