The Egoless Manager

IBM 360_tape drives
This blog post attempts to complete the Hypertextual holy trinity of the 21st century organisation members. After the Egoless Knowledge Worker and the Post-Heroic Leader, please welcome the Egoless Manager.

Likewise the one dedicated to the Egoless Knowledge Worker, this article aims to propose a behavior pattern for managers to succeed in a highly collaborative environment.

This pattern is defined by the following 10 values …

1- Hyperlink Subvert Hierarchy

In the previous blog post, Hypertextual quotes an impressive Fortune Magazine article written by John Huey more than 15 years ago : The New Post-Heroic Leader. Excerpt :

Leaders must learn to change the nature of power and how it’s employed.” If they don’t, technology will.

David Weinberger summarized this in The Cluetrain Manifesto with only 3 words : Hyperlink Subvert Hierarchy (these #7).

In an interconnected world where employees and customer alike have access to just as much information as anyone in the company, Egoless Managers resist the thrill of power and controlling the information.

2- It’s the manager fault

Scott Berkun has been Microsoft Internet Explorer Project Manager in a previous life. He wrote a best seller (The Art of Project Management) and dozen of essays on the Project Management topic : they all serve as endless inspiration for Hypertextual.

Scott fully buys into Leffert law of management : it is the manager fault. Rob Leffert is Program Manager on Microsfot Sharepoint project and his principle is this :

Whatever the thing is that isn’t going well, you are the primary person to do something about it. If you’re not sure what to do, it’s your job to ask others for advice

This brings awareness to the Egoless Manager : she constantly watches over the people of her team or her project to make sure she anticipates any potential problem that may arise.

3- Be a facilitator

The 20th century manager was an heroic one. He knew everything that there is to know on his domain. He was able to take on his own the best decisions and in case of crisis he was the most likely to save the day.

This is no longer possible. Companies constantly develop into more and more complex social entities due to technologies, permanent flow of information, constantly changing business environment. The heroic manager is long gone.

Rather, the Egoless Manager is obsessed with enabling employees to create value as Vineet Hayar, CEO of HCL Technologies told the New York Times.

The Egoless Manager knows she is living in post-heroic time. She is a facilitator, an enabler. She no longer is the star of the show but rather the producer. The question she constantly asks her team/project member : what can I do to help you make your job more efficiently ?

4- Listening is doing

“Better be doing nothing than busy doing nothing” (Buddha). Strangely enough, the egoless state is a buddhist goal.

Manager is a strange job as you don’t actually produce anything tangible. The role is to operate behind the scene of the delivered craft to make things happen.

Chances are that, sometimes, managers feel guilty about it and feel the need of proving themselves they are useful and important. In such occasions they would do anything to pretend to be busy.

This is not the right approach as this is Ego driven.

Instead, the Egoless Manager considers that it’s her manager fault if she doesn’t have anything to do (refer to point #2). She takes it as an opportunity to adopt the MBWA (Managing By Walking Around) approach to practice her listening aptitude.

To be a good manager you have to be a good listener. And here again, Ego interfere and would rather speak then listen. MBWAing around, Egoless Manager learns wonders, captures tacit information and anticipate potential problems to create the best conditions for the team.

5- Pamper Team Spirit …

Anyone who has watched the football World Cup in South Africa has witnessed the devastating effect of egos on a team. France has particularly been an incredible source of embarassment for any supporter of Les Bleus, me included.

The team will perform all the better that all members are aligned on the objectives. The bigger the egos, the more difficult it is to aligned everyone on the same objective.

The Egoless Manager knows that ego is bad for her team. So she builds it with Egoless Knowledge workers and keeps hers out of the office.

6- … with Trust

Team spirit doesn’t fall down from the skies as a miracle or some epiphany. It has to be nurtured.

Heroic managers patronize and make them look friendly with employees through bad jokes and fake friendship to create a “good atmosphere”. This sounds plastic to anyone with a couple of neurones available.

Egoless managers don’t fail into that trap. They know the greatest tool to build a solid team spirit is the High Trust/Low Fear culture. This is the manager responsiblity to enforce it so that employees are not afraid of making new things and proposing new ideas.

This trust extends well beyond the boundaries of the actual team to encompass the whole company, the customers and the suppliers. There is no such thing as Them Vs Us in Egoless Manager vocabulary or in her team’s.

7- Lead By Example

Egoless Managers put their money (and time) where their mouth is. They lead by example.

There is no such thing as a task not noble enough for an Egoless Manager to take over.

For instance, she leads by example admitting easily her mistake and thus contributes largely to nurture a High Trust / Low Fear culture.

8- Make sense

Knowledge Workers engage all the more in their job as they clearly understand the purpose and the value of their contribution.

This is something the Egoless Manager is relentless with. She makes sure that the tasks addressed by her team make sense for them, that they are part of a meanigful whole : she provides them with the big picture.  This is what John Huey means in the Fortune article :

Leaders face two fundamental tasks and the first is to develop and articulate exactly what the company is trying to accomplish.

Knowledge Workers produce intangible assets. Somewhere in the middle of the multi layer organisation, they have lost contact with the customer.

Reducing their contribution as mere obedient executors of bureaucratically disseminated work orders (Christopher Locke – Cluetrain Manifesto), as it was in the heroic manager organisation, is the best way to compromise any chance of engagement, to have plumetting morale and to decrease both happiness and productivity.

9- No Asshole rule

Leading by example as an Egoless Manager makes it very easy to spot early signs of contorted behavior with egos. And to get rid of them.

Being an egoless manager doesn’t mean being spineless. Great leaders offer willingly their trust and the benefit of the doubt. However, when something goes wrong, they adopt a merciless attitude. such as the Robert Sutton‘s no asshole rule. This aims to eradicate

those who deliberately make co-workers feel bad about themselves and who focus their aggression on the less powerful—poison the work environment, decrease productivity, induce qualified employees to quit and therefore are detrimental to businesses, regardless of their individual effectiveness.

Amongst other, this is a rule applied at Pixar (as Brad Bird makes it clear) or at Favi, another exemplary company putting intrinsic equality as a core value.

The Egoless Manager is merciless with poisonous people to preserve the team spirit and the trustful atmosphere.

10- Embrace Enterprise Social Networks

Egoless Manager is obsessed with the three objectives of the company : be profitable, take care of the customers and take care of the employees. Therefore she fully appreciates the value of Enterprise Social Networks.

While encouraging trans-department collaboration they help providing knowledge worker with a bigger picture of their contribution.

They also are a mean to share knowledge and capture the tacit part of it more efficiently : this is instrumental in creating a productive context and building a team spirit for knowledge workers.

ESN foster innovation via weak links, networking, questioning and associating. They nurture employees engagement and helps leveraging flow of information to create value.

Lastly, ESN fill the gap between enterprise systems to offer a conductor environment for ideas and information to propagate seamlessly on an enterprise-wide scale.

Egoless Manager does not even consider the fact that ESN introduces desintermediation and that as a result she may lose control. Having control is not one of her objective. Getting things done with happy employees and customers is and she has witnessed that ESN help a great deal achieving this objective.

Would you attach any further core value to the Egoless Manager ?

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  1. Love how you reference Sutton. What do you do when you’re in a situation which rather than being highly collaborative is highly negative and resistent to change and where the long knives often come out?

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