Lessons in Management: Let Go

Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their result. ~ Gen. George Patton

It has been 8 months since I was catapulted from a volunteer, giving of my time on evenings and weekends, and working a thankless desktop support job at a large company, to a position of senior management in a fast moving company. The odd part about the transition is that I had no prior management experience – just tons of passion and energy and a drive to make this company succeed.

Over the next few days, I’ll be posting some of the lessons I’ve learned during this time. This is a departure from the normal technical and WordPress related posting because this is important. This is important for new managers to hear from someone who has learned all these lessons the hard way. And it’s important for me to examine where I’ve come from and where I’m going.

At 30 years old, it’s generally expected that folks are established in their careers after following the traditional route of a degree and several years experience in their chosen field. For me, I skipped the degree part, which meant for the past 8 years I’ve worked excessively hard to get to where I am. I’ve fought the system that demands it and have learned everything by getting my hands dirty.

Because of that, I’m very good at what I do. I can code well (though Gary does like to give me a hard time about older code I’ve written). I have learned very difficult lessons doing systems administration. I’ve lived 16 hour days for most of the past 10 years trying to get ahead.

I don’t regret any of it. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that bad habits were learned.

During the period of my career where I was operating solo, doing freelance gigs and establishing a client base, I was anal about details. Everything had to be perfect because my future relied on it.

When I became the Technology Manager for b5media in October, it was sort of a misnomer but it gave me a chance to transition into the job. It was a misnomer because I wasn’t managing anybody! I managed myself and a vendor here or there that we chose to outsource projects to.

During that time, it was still all about me. I ran the servers (with a lot of help from Sean who was not paid staff at that time). It was me that did development still. It was me who got googly eyes at the first strategy session in Toronto when some of the very lofty goals were presented.

Over the past months, we’ve reorged and I’ve found myself in a position of even more responsibility of not simply managing projects and people, but also developing strategy. The team has grown from one to five (big announcement coming Monday, stay tuned!). The workload has tripled or quadrupled. The technology goals have become more ambitious.

A major source of stress for me, as a relatively new manager, has been to let go. When you work as hard as I have, it’s really hard to let go! It’s hard not to slip into micromanagement.

The take away from this for new managers is that you cannot do everything. Don’t try! You will kill yourself trying and no one will be any better for it. I’m fortunate to have a very competent group of guys who I have learned to lean on. Since I’ve learned to trust them, the technology team operates more productively, more efficiently and with better results.

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.