Good management is a slippery concept – it’s definition, like most difficult questions is easy; it depends. Management style depends on what you are managing and what your objectives are. I’ll break it down a little more.
At the highest level, managing people requires a very different set of skills then managing a product. Managing a product means advocating for what is right for the product, and the consumers who will eventually use it’s features. A good product manager should fight for more iterations, more testing, the highest quality work and regular release cycles. Team be damned – the product is paramount.
Managing people requires a different angle on what success really means. If the goal of a company is to launch an awesome product but pivot or sell, product style management does produce output. This is the team be damned approach, as it is unimportant if people won’t last long in an environment where results are more important that their own well being. Managing a product puts that product first and can result in spectacular results. However, managing a team well means that with enough care and focus, good products will emerge on a consistent basis. If burnout is un-important because the product can get by with rapid turnover and unhappy employees, then the only thing to stop an ever upward profit is a sense of ethics and empathy. Employee burnout is the product of Product-focused management, without putting the team first. The issue: using brute force style management sacrifices people for product, and can’t last long. Unfortunately, in the venture capital hungry, quick release culture we live in the Silicon Valley tech scene, some companies know their teams don’t have to last. But some products can be built with both integrity and with an eye toward stability.
Not all companies are made to burn through employees and live a short lifespan. The ones that invest in Team Managers that pair with Product Managers in the same way a Project Manager can pair with an Account manager gives every company a yin yang relationship that equally balances the needs of a Product with the needs of the people that make it. A good people manager is empathetic and therefore careful with their words. They exemplify traditional management skills, working closely with product advocate to advocate for the team. The best examples I have seen of this is when a Product Manager and a team manager have regularly scheduled meetings where they agree on what is ok for the team in the long run. On a daily or weekly basis, this is tempered by an Agile cadence, in which the teams themselves accept what is fair from the Product Manager.