Home » Blog » Management is getting things done through others

Management is getting things done through others

My father had a favorite phrase he learned in business school* that was often repeated throughout my childhood, usually in response to protestions from my siblings and I that we had to do the chores** he assigned to us, yet he would still get credit for doing the job, since “Management is getting things done through others.”  As we got older, the phrase became something of a family joke to highlight when one of us was trying to get someone else to do their work for them, as in 

Mom: Did you get your sister to carry up your clean clothes?

Me:  Management is getting things done through others.  

A hand that has written the word "Management" in blue marker
Management by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

With this view of management as largely parasitic, it is perhaps unsurprising that I was drawn more to solitary pursuits in school and my career- I eschewed group projects, preferred to be the one doing the work, and didn’t need anyone to take the credit simply for managing me, thank you very much. Coupled with a pathological inability to do things until the absolute last minute, it has always seemd to work better  to do as much as possible by myself, whether in my research, open education work, or even in my hobbies.  

A few years ago, I heard Rajiv Jhangiani quote an African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”  Individuals can sprint ahead in the short term, but a group can benefit from the different strengths of each member, thus continuing far beyond where the sprinter runs out of steam.  

Struggling to apply this proverb to my own work, I realized that my father’s managerial style might not have been about burden-shifting: for every task we were assigned, he prepared the tools, showed us how to use them, and checked in as we worked.  Through his project management, we gained skills and experience and accomplished more in less time by working together.  Instead of being a parasite, good management is a benefit to a project.*** 

As I have become more solidly mid-career, it has become apparent that the do-it-myself approach has hard limits in the scale and scope of what I can achieve. If I want to do bigger things, then I need more collaborators, whether I’m the one managing or the one being managed.   Managing a student research lab this past spring was extremely challenging- instead of doing research, I was tracking down timesheets and writing status reports- much more managing than doing.  Yet the research our lab was doing was significant, all the more so because undergraduate students were doing it on their own.  They were able to do the research because I did the managing. 

Unfortunately, good management requires things I really struggle with- mainly, prompt communication, adhering to due dates and schedules, and reducing procrastination.  Having seen the benefits of expanded teams in a variety of settings, I’m pushing myself very far out of my solitary comfort zone this year- I’ve taken on a role as a co-facilitator for a seminar, a CRSP student researcher, and a brand-new Open Education Student Fellow.  I’m reading up on best practices and hacks for managing email, procrastination, and team workflow- if you’ve got suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

* Dad received his BBA and MBA from Baruch College, when it was still locally known as Downtown City College.  .  

** despite a complete lack of training and experience, my father was an avid do-it-yourselfer, which meant that the assigned chores ranged from standard yard work to house painting, pouring concrete footings, cutting tiles, and other fairly substantial home improvement projects.  And this, all before one could google how to do things!

*** though I’m decades past my teen years, it still stings a bit to admit my dad might have been right about something.