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Becoming a Better Manager Means Starting with Yourself with Johanna Rothman

Episode 34

To be a modern manager, you must manage yourself first. In this episode of Programming Leadership, Marcus and his guest, Johanna Rothman discuss how you must learn to manage yourself to be effective at managing other people. They will discuss some common mistakes managers make and some important values to instill in yourself that will make you a better manager, such as integrity, vulnerability, and congruence.


Show Notes

  • If we don’t manage ourselves, we don’t have the capability of managing other people. @2:42
  • Micromanagement comes from fear and that fear is out of incongruence. @3:07
  • Blame cuts off options and relationships. @8:25
  • Admitting you’re afraid and need help and being vulnerable is a sign of strength not a weakness. @13:48
  • Take small steps in building trust. @15:28
  • Value-based integrity consists of these 5 values: honesty, fairness, consistency, taking responsibility, and treating people with respect. @18:43
  • Self-awareness is difficult, but often is as simple as asking people. @25:14
    • ROTI (Returned on Time Invested) method for a meeting @27:29
  • A challenge for technical managers is actually knowing how to do the work very well. @30:14
  • Take control of your schedule to deal with the time pressure. @36:21



Announcer:  Welcome to the Programming Leadership Podcast, where we help great coders become skilled leaders and build happy, high-performing software teams.

Marcus:  Welcome to this episode of Programming Leadership. I’m exceedingly excited to have Johanna Rothman with me today.

Johanna:  I’m so happy to be here. We have not spoken enough in the last few months.

Marcus:  That’s how I feel. And Johanna is here today, well, first because I like her so much. And I always enjoy our conversations, but she has a new set of books that is coming out called Modern Management Made Easy. And besides just the fabulous title, the first book is called Practical Ways to Manage Yourself. Isn’t that intriguing?

Marcus:  Johanna, I want to start with this. Most of the time I think about management, it’s about managing an organization or managing a project or a team, but why is it important that we think about managing ourselves?

Johanna:  What’s really interesting is the way we carry ourselves, the way we live our values. All of these… And I hesitate to call them the soft, interpersonal squishy skills. All of that is what matters. That’s what matters. So if we, if we insist on micromanaging people, they cannot grow as technical people, as humans, as programmers, as testers, as anybody. So, we prevent them from actually doing their best work. So, one of the things I like to think about management is how can we stop digging a hole that we fall into?

Johanna:  And I have many… All three of these books are about stories I have either lived or seen. None of these is made up. I really wish I had made some of these up, but for example, the bad manager day that’s, I tell the story of the very worst manager day I ever had, where I was… I blamed somebody who came into work late. And I micromanaged other people, and I did all kinds of stuff that was not in anybody’s interest. So, if we don’t manage ourselves, we don’t actually have the capability of managing other people.

Marcus:  Mm okay. My mind is kind of exploding with thought to be honest. And…but let’s go back. So, you mentioned micromanaging. What does, what does that have to do with managing myself? That’s about my relationship with someone else, right? Not my relationship with me.

Johanna:  Oh actually, no, because almost all micromanagement comes from fear that, “I have not explained the work well, that I will be on the hook for somebody else.” And notice that this is fear out of incongruence. So, you are familiar with Jerry’s work about bringing Satir’s model of congruence into the world. But congruence is when you balance

Marcus:  Yeah.

Johanna:  Yourself the other person in the context. And especially as a first line manager, a middle manager, or a project manager, if we are worried about, if we are worried that we will get blamed, we are not our full selves, because we react using defensive postures.

Johanna:  And if we blame other people, which I am exceedingly good at doing… I mean, I seem to practice this every day.

Marcus:  Me too.

Johanna:  I was taking a shower the other day on the weekend. My husband walked into the bathroom, and the lights went out. The first thing I said to him is, “Why did the lights go out?” I didn’t ask that question. I said, “What did you do?” No, the poor man just walked into the bathroom. Right?

Marcus:  What did you do?

Johanna:  I went directly to blame. I did not ask a single question. So some of us are exceedingly good at blame. And in fact in organizations, the organization often reinforces that. You are accountable for “your people” and of “work.” And if you’re accountable, how can they be responsible? I mean, it’s all… the way we talk about responsibility and accountability is all screwed up. So… And when we manage ourselves when we are congruent, and even if we just practice our congruence, and people realize that we’re practicing being more congruent people in the management role, then we build trust with the people whom we serve and lead. And we actually get more stuff done.

Johanna:  So, it’s about… And I say several times in the books, “You do not have to be perfect. You just have to not be as bad as you are.” Well, I wouldn’t use bad for me, but not as unpracticed as you were.

Marcus:  Now,

Johanna:  Yeah.

Marcus:  If we go into the example of the lights, I think it’s a nice concrete example, because maybe I need to connect some dots here. What would have been a congruent response, or maybe how do you wish you would have responded as you look back on it?

Johanna:  I really wish I said, “What happened?”

Marcus:  That’s a much more open-ended response.

Johanna:  Yeah, yeah, because that allows for lots of things. I might still have been thinking, “What did he do?” But at least I didn’t blame him in the nanosecond, right?

Marcus:  Now, what had happened?

Johanna:  We, our, the power flickered.

Marcus:  The power flickered.

Johanna:  Yeah.

Marcus:  Right. So, afterwards… Now, it’s interesting because as we look back, I’m just going to… Maybe this doesn’t make any sense, but one reason you felt that way of, “Oh, I moved to blame so quickly,” is because he had not done anything.

Johanna:  Well…

Marcus:  Had he turned the lights out, sometimes it’s easier to justify our jumping to blame.

Johanna:  Well… well, and I have a little history of him turning off the lights when I’m still in the room.

Marcus:  Ah history.

Johanna:  We have a little history here.

Marcus:  History.

Johanna:  But he, it was a coincidence. And it really was a coincidence. He happened to walk into the bathroom as I was lathering my hair. So, I noticed the flicker of movement, and then the lights went out. Now, if he had actually turned off the lights purposefully, and he would never do that.

Marcus:  No. No.

Johanna:  That’s not something he would do, but he would have had to stagger the turning. So, if I had just asked, “What happened?” He could have then said, “I’m not sure, but the lights are all out. The power seems to be out.”

Marcus:  The power is out.

Johanna:  Yeah.

Marcus:  I don’t know.

Johanna:  Maybe it will come back on.

Marcus:  Right.

Johanna:  And then he might have said, “Do you still have hot water?” And then I would have felt a whole lot better because now he is concerned for my well-being. My husband is always concerned for my well-being, right? We’ve been married for years and years, so we are concerned for each other’s well-being except when I blame him. This particular incident is if I had just gotten in with curiosity, or I might have said, “I really need help. There’s no light in here,” he would have said, “I will go run out for the flashlight,” right?

Marcus:  Right.

Johanna:  So, I could have gone with curiosity, which is what happened? I could have said, “I need help.” He would have offered something. I mean, people are…

Marcus:  There are options.

Johanna:  Many, many options aside from blame.

Marcus:  When you move to blame, you really, you really sort of truncate those other options. It’s hard to go once you’ve blamed to move to asking for help. The other person sort of… Once I’m blamed or once I do some blaming, I’m actually less likely to ask for help, especially if I realized I’ve incorrectly blamed.

Johanna:  Oh yeah, yeah.

Marcus:  So, it kind of truncates my other opportunities or other options, I guess.

Johanna:  Well and it truncates the relationship. Right? So, it cuts off options now, and it cuts off options in the future unless you admit your mistakes. So, after we both laughed

Marcus:  Right.

Johanna:  And he said, “I didn’t do anything,” I then abjectly apologized all day because I was totally wrong. I mean, this was not… I mean, it was not a big hiccup in our relationship. We’ve been married for 35 years. We have history. He knows I do this, but I apologized for the next two days.

Marcus:  Yes.

Johanna:  Because… And it got to the point where he laughed because… But I’m sure that I hurt him in the moment. And almost every time we go to blame, we almost always hurt the other person.

Marcus:  Isn’t it interesting that here we are talking about modern management made easy, such an important topic? And I noticed this, Jerry would do this with me. And I know you have too, is there are little micro interactions that have nothing to do with work, that once we start to see, we find the lessons are just everywhere, and they apply across. Like we, somebody might say, “Oh, well, I can’t get any management lessons from my marriage.” I think that’s silly. I can get most of them from my marriage, and I can get most marriage lessons from work.

Marcus:  I mean, they’re just interchangeable, because I think it’s so much about relationships.

Johanna:  Well, I think what’s really interesting is that if I think back to the managers, and I say this in the second book, in Managing Others, if I think back to the great managers I’ve had, and I’ve had two or three in my career, I think of, I remember how they made me feel, almost. I remember some of what they did, but it was mostly how they made me feel.

Marcus:  Wow.

Johanna:  And they made me feel like a valued contributor, somebody whose opinion they listen to. They might not always agree with me. And there might have been good reasons or not so good reasons for that, but I remember how they made me feel. And when we think about… That’s why Managing Ourselves is the first book, because if we cannot do stuff… And I always hesitate to start with the not, right? But if we cannot do the stuff that makes people feel badly,

Marcus:  Yeah.

Johanna:  Now we’ve created an environment, a culture where people can really excel.

Marcus:  I want to go back and turn the topic back to the micromanager. You said that that starts with someone who’s feeling afraid, afraid of being blamed, afraid of failure. Yeah. Often, I think that from here, like just thinking about it in generalities is fine, because people have different reasons. Maybe they do a control or manipulation, but let’s go with fear. I think that’s very common. My son-in-law is afraid of spiders, and he cannot help but to be afraid of spiders at least in his current knowledge of life. And at 25 years old, he is just deathly afraid of spiders.

Marcus:  I could imagine somebody who’s listening who says, “Well, of course, I’m afraid the last I got fired. This is a scary place.” How do we find other options when all we kind of… Our feelings seem to dictate so much of what we do. How can we start to explore other ways of working?

Johanna:  So for me, this is partly about how much can I carve out a piece of the organization I can work with? So, if I’m a first-line manager, it’s probably my team. Right? And maybe it’s just developers. Maybe even though we’re called agile, I don’t have access to the testers. Fine, we can talk about that on a different podcast. But if I can carve out the development team and say, “My manager is holding my feet to the fire, and I am worried that we will not deliver.”

Johanna:  I mean, I need to ask your help for working in certain ways, and keeping me apprised of your progress. So that’s what I need from you. This is the part of the outcome. The outcome is not just finished features or finished work. The outcome is partially what I need to see to see the progress. I need your help to devise my information radiator so we can, I can see this, so that my manager can see this so I can stay off your backs.

Marcus:  I feel like you’re on the verge of admitting that you’re afraid of something. Is it okay to admit that to your team? Isn’t that a sign of weakness?

Johanna:  I don’t actually think so. I think that admitting you’re afraid and admitting you need help is a sign of strength. I think that that’s how people actually say, “Oh, I understand why.” Every time you explain the why… I mean, I am one of those people that could go why, why, why, why, why. Right, so I’m, the two-year-old is strong in this one. But I think that a lot of people need to understand the reasons for behavior that might seem strange or especially vulnerable.

Johanna:  Vulnerability, when we show other people our vulnerability, and this is what Brene Brown says in all of her books, that gives them permission to show their vulnerability and for us to collaborate better.

Marcus:  Mm you know, I’m in a situation right now where I have an opportunity, and not right now but in a situation, where I see that vulnerability would, is an option I hadn’t considered. But I’ll be honest. I’m worried about it. And maybe it’s just me, but if you’re listening and you’re thinking, “Wow, like maybe I just don’t know how to be vulnerable, and it makes only me worried,” you’re not alone. Because as I think about it, it makes me stressed out to imagine because, of course, what I’m thinking is, “What will the other people say? What will they do? Maybe they’ll go talk about me.”

Marcus:  Like, whatever it is, I feel a little bit like I’ve forgotten to wear pants to work, right?

Johanna:          Well in this trust thing, right? So you’re talking about being able to trust the people you serve, that, “Can I trust the people I ask for help not to gossip about me, not to run to my manager? I mean, how can I do that?” And I guess part of it is I don’t have a real recipe for that. I always say, “Think about your integrity. Think about your values. How would you like to be treated? How can you extend that treatment to the other people with whom you work?”

Johanna:  And that means for me, I often extend trust before I know that I can trust people. That’s a very scary step. Right? I mean, you just… You already said, mmmm. Right?

Marcus:  Yeah.

Johanna:  You guys can’t hear it. You’re only hearing this, but Marcus had that look on his face like, uggh. Yeah.

Marcus:  I know, right, because I feel the risk.

Johanna:  Yeah.

Marcus:  There is at risk at play, real risk, risk to not just my ego, although that might be the biggest one, but my pocketbook and my family… I mean, you know if you get fired from a job or a client or whatever, you have that’s a painful thing, so there’s risk here.

Johanna:  So… So, What’s the first small step you can take? How little trust can you extend to build on the trust. Right? So, I’m sure that you’ve already said, “I think I heard this. I’ve been listening to this podcast. I’m pretty sure that you had somebody on who said the first thing the new manager should do is have one-on-ones with people, and understand, yeah understand what their issues are-”

Marcus:  That sounds right.

Johanna:  … get to start knowing them as people. As soon as you start those one-on-ones, you are starting to build trust because people will tell you stuff in confidence. And as long as you keep the confidence, now you are trustworthy. Yeah so it all starts…

Marcus:  I like that.

Johanna:  And you got to start small.

Marcus:  Yeah.

Johanna:  You’re not going to come into work after you’ve been there for a year, and micromanage, and then say to people, “oh, I trust you. Just give me the information radiator.” You know.

Marcus:  Right. Yeah, right. But make sure the information is what I want to hear.

Johanna:  Yeah. I was sarcastic, people.

Marcus:  Alright, so in your wonderful book-

Johanna:  Make sure. Yeah…

Marcus:   That’s right. You can’t see… You can’t see our faces. Okay, so what is a… So, we’ve talked a little bit about this principle of micromanaging coming from fear. If somebody wants to begin exploring how to manage themselves better, what… Where do we go from here? You’ve written a whole wonderful book, which I have not fully read. In fact, at this point, I’ve read the title and the table of content, so I’m really looking forward to it. But what is the next thing we should be talking about?

Johanna:  So, I really like to think about the values that I think of when I’m thinking integrity. So, I talked about congruence first and then integrity. Let me talk about the five values that I have in the book. And maybe, maybe there are other values that other people think about, but first is honesty. How honest can you be with the people you serve? I’m talking about serving people, not managing people, that it’s a different mindset, which as far as I’m concern means you got to tell people what you want, and admit when you’re wrong.

Johanna:  You just have to say this. How can you be fair to people, and sometimes, fairness is about helping people leave the organization. I have a story about an ungeler in the book, people who ungel… ungeler, ungel teams.

Marcus:  A what?

Johanna:  So, there are people who gel teams. And we often… They might not be the “best, excuse me, programmer. They might not be the best tester,” but they somehow bring people together. And the team is better with them than without them. And often, the manager can’t figure out what this person does. That person is a geler. Right? They help the team gel. Then there are the ungelers, the people who tear apart the team and say, “It’s all about me. It’s not about you.” So, when I think about fairness, a lot of what I think about is not just how can I help people find the right work that suits their needs and the organization’s needs.

Johanna:  That’s… You have to bring in the context. But it’s also about, “How do I help an ungeler leave so I don’t have people who are preventing the team from working as a team?” The third one is consistency, which is I should be fairly predictable. Now my husband knows I’m fairly predictable when it comes to blame, so but we can also laugh at that. And as long as I apologize soon, right? Not letting it fester, then I’m okay. I am also consistent on having a really strange sense of humor and laughing a lot.

Johanna:  So, there’s a lot of consistency about me that works for almost everybody, not everybody, but almost. Taking responsibility, there are times when the manager, even if the manager knows that Timmy or Sally totally screwed up, that’s not what you do. What you say is, “It’s my responsibility for not having taken a look at the information radiators or creating a culture in which people felt free to come to me when things were not happening well or for not having a collaborative team culture.”

Johanna:  A lot of the problems we see or at least I see in first-line managers, these tech leads, is that people are not collaborating. And that they… I hesitate to use the word just because this is not a just. If they were to “just” collaborate, things would be much better off. And that is so difficult. Before we started recording,

Marcus:  Yes.

Johanna:  I ranted and raved about the incentive structure in organizations.

Marcus:  And how incentives sometimes encourages, what do you call it, un-collaboration, dis-collaboration?

Johanna:  Yeah.

Marcus:  I’m not sure what the opposite is.

Johanna:  Well, it’s certainly silo thinking. I will do my work. and hand it off. And then the fifth one is treating people with respect,

Marcus:  Yeah.

Johanna:  So not gossiping that people have the capability to do the best job they can. So that’s… When I talk about value-based integrity, that’s what I mean.

Marcus:  I want to take a just moment and thank my sponsor, GitPrime. GitPrime has sponsored the show not just because they’re fantastic people, but because they really believe that leadership and engineering is about people. It’s about conversations, and GitPrime is a platform that allows you to have better conversations with people. Yes, it has lots of other benefits so you can probably plan better. You can see metrics about individual performance, but let’s just take that one idea about individual performance.

Marcus:  Whenever I talk with a GitPrime user, and by the way, lots of my clients are GitPrime users, they always tell me how surprised they were at what was really happening on the team. See, it’s really easy for you as a manager to observe generally how people are working. You can look at PRs. You can look at who’s assigned what tickets. You as the CLM, the software engineering manager, you get a notion for what people are doing, but there’s always these beautiful surprises about who is really performing well and who is secretly struggling about who’s the person that’s saving bacon through fixing a lot of stuff behind the scenes, and who is absolutely doing all the PRs.

Marcus:  This kind of data lets you move from looking at people as just, “Well, they’re all engineers, and they’re all doing engineering work,” to seeing exactly where each one of them is strong and has opportunities to grow. That’s why I love this tool so much. I believe that new and surprising conversations come out of data that when you can set down with somebody and start to understand and intuit why things are happening, you’re going to create even better quality of exchanges.

Marcus:  By the way, you know here on this show, we talk about the fact that leadership is what keeps people connected to their work, and prevents turnover, and keeps them motivated. It’s about the relationship. I’d like to say that GitPrime not only lets you build better software. It lets you build a better relationship with your team members. Start a free trial today at

Marcus:  You know, it seems like… I bet some people here might think their… I know I do this sometimes. You might think, “Well, I treat everyone with respect, but maybe I’m not the best judge of that. Maybe the other people have a different view of the way I treat them.” Could that happen? And how can we get that information?

Johanna:  So partially, it’s about being aware, right? And self-awareness is quite difficult. I use a Johari window, which is partly… If you’ve read Jerry Weinberg, Seashore, and Seashore about feedback, yeah, so yeah, What Did You Say? So that’s, The Johari window is in there.

Marcus:  Oh yes that… What Did You Say? I think it’s called.

Johanna:  Sometimes, it’s a matter of just asking. I should stop saying just, of asking people. Was I, did you understand me when I said this? Right? Checking for comprehension, that’s kind of the first level. And if you think you’ve done something that might not be quite right, you might ask people about their reactions to it. So, I like to go for the first… How can I create an open conversation, an open culture with the people whom I serve?

Johanna:  And if that’s not the culture in your organization, you might do a survey, right? And make an anonymous survey. Everybody can do this in Google forms or Type forms. You can ask a whole bunch of questions, and I would use a five-point Likert scale, which is zero-one is horrible,

Marcus:  Yeah.

Johanna:  And five is excellent. And if you’re not in the fours and the fives, you do need to have conversations with people.

Marcus:  Yeah, I think that… Well, since we’re talking about surveys, do you have a sense of… What’s your preference? Do you have a preference between anonymous responses and named responses? Because I actually hear a lot of managers debating this when they think about surveying their people.

Johanna:  If you have a culture, that is not particularly congruent. And I will use that word where people tend to blame other people, and there’s a lot of micromanagement and not a lot of coaching and feedback going on. I would absolutely use an anonymous survey. I might start with an anonymous survey. So, for example, in the ROTI, return on time invested method for a meeting, that’s a way of using stickies to build a histogram of how valuable this meeting was so people-

Marcus:  I’d like to include that in the show notes. That sounds amazing.

Johanna:  Yeah oh, it’s in Behind Closed Doors. I’ve put it in Create Your Successful Agile Project also. So, it’s really… It’s a lovely method of using stickies, where people write on a sticky, and number from one to five, where I felt totally safe and I had… Well, five would be, “I felt totally safe, or this meeting was totally valuable to me.” Right? It depends on what the question is. And one is, “No, not at all.”

Johanna:  And if you have a couple things in ones and twos, that is a problem for the team to address, because if a couple people in team were not getting any value out of the meeting, that’s… You’ve got to address that in a retrospective, but the first thing you have to do is get the information. You need the data. So, if it’s not safe to get the data with names, get the data without names, and then as you build trust, now you can ask for data with names.

Marcus:  And I could imagine that some, that if we think about the company, that is a very difficult scale to affect change in, so thinking about you know if I send out a company-wide survey, it could be anonymous, but if I send a survey to my team, maybe it’s safe enough that it could be named because there’s only six people, and we’ve worked together for a year. Maybe it doesn’t even need to be a survey. It’s a conversation or an open dialogue.

Johanna:  Yeah.

Marcus:  So, the container size seems like it matters on that.

Johanna:  Oh I absolutely think the container size matters. And I would start at the team level, and then go out. I would also include my peers. You had that wonderful conversation a while ago with the cohort, your first team.

Marcus:  The first team.

Johanna:  Yeah. That was a great podcast. Thank you for that. I realized that every place I was successful as a manager, I had that cohort.

Marcus:  Yeah and I’m really excited that by the time this comes out, my interview with Jason Wong who came up with that idea and the importance of the first team would have been released, and maybe we’ll be able to put a thought in there on the show notes. But I’m going to take the host’s prerogative, and I’m going to turn the conversation because I was just… As I skim through the table of contents here, it dawns on me that one of the challenges that technical managers have is they know how to do the work very, very well.

Marcus:  They are oftentimes deeply informed and maybe even built the previous system. And so the… I think in many ways we think about that as nothing but good, that that’s just an advantage. Of course, so they know everything so well, but when does that trip us up when we know so much about the system that our people are working?

Johanna:  So, it trips us up in several ways. The first is that if the people on the team don’t get a chance to practice, then you are not doing the management. You are still doing the coding. So, the team does not have a manager. They don’t have somebody to build this trusted relationship with, so you’re actually not doing your management job, which is-

Marcus:  Ouch.

Johanna:  I know, sad. So, that’s the first way that trips us up. The second way is if you have actually not been in the code for a while, you don’t know what it looks like anymore. I had the opportunity. Oh I think this is… So, my very first job out of school, I worked on a telephone switch for the Department of Defense. That was in 1977. In 1999, it was not a Y2K compliant application. It was not.

Marcus:  Shockingly.

Johanna:  Yeah.

Marcus:  Great.

Johanna:  So, in 1999, somebody called me and said, “We actually have not touched your code in 20 years.” And I thought, “first of all, that’s crazy. And secondly, that’s crazy.”

Marcus:  I think that must have been a great code.

Johanna:  I think it… So, the machines at that time were far ahead and yeah.

Marcus:  Let’s move on. Yeah.

Johanna:  I was quite surprised they had not touched the code. So, what I said to them was… I remember talking to my boss at the time about the fact I was using two bytes as opposed to a year’s worth of characters. And I wrote in assembly language. So that, what they were trying to do was move to a higher-level language in 1998 and ’99 in advanced of 2000. So, they asked me questions about the code, and I said, “You know, I actually don’t remember it.”

Johanna:  And I’m pretty sure I did not remember, excuse me, three months after I finished that. I only remember the year because of the conversation with my boss, because in ’77, we were already a little bit worried about the year 2000. And I knew that our design was not going to be robust. So, because of that, that’s the only reason I remembered. They asked me questions about this code. And you might say, “Okay Johanna, that was 20 years,” but there are people who I know as CTOs and VPs of engineering who 10 years ago wrote that code.

Johanna:  And they still think that they know what’s in the code base, and I know that they don’t know anymore, not in enough detail.

Marcus:  Right. I was just talking with somebody the other day, and they, there was a project that hadn’t gone well, and their boss said, “I know this is not that hard.

Johanna:  Oh gosh.

Marcus:  I worked in Dreamweaver and ColdFusion on this system 10 years ago. Why is it so complicated now?” And it’s like, I think that’s a great example of the illusion that oftentimes I think engineers carry is that we have a perfect memory. And also, I think maybe there’s some bias that we did a really good job back then.

Marcus:  And these people today make it harder than it should be, but maybe that’s just me.

Johanna:  No, I think that a lot of… You know I used to say that we solved all the easy problems back when I was a young engineer. I mean, I was working in assembly language. We didn’t have multi-threaded processors. Right? We had a single line. Everything was linear.

Marcus:  Right.

Johanna: Nothing is linear anymore. Everything has loops inside loops, multi-threading, parallel processing. All of that makes everything so much more difficult.

Marcus:  You know it’s funny because… I mean, I started programming. I was a kid in ’82, and I had a VIC-20. And one of my first goals was to understand how the machine worked. And I would talk to people at user groups,

Johanna:  Yeah.

Marcus:  Which were the old version of meetups. And in these user groups, I would run into people who really understood how this little box worked. They really did. But now if we fast forward, I challenge anybody here who’s listening to give me a reasonable explanation about how their computer works all the way to the hardware level.

Marcus:  I bet it’s impossible for any one person to understand.

Johanna:  And I would agree with you, because I was very closed to the hardware back in the ’70s. I mean, I was a bit twiddler. Right? That’s what I did. I understood registers-

Marcus:  Right.

Johanna:  And accumulators.

Marcus:  Exactly.

Johanna:  I don’t think I would understand that now. I was… There was a Tweet last week or the week before about somebody who had written an infinite loop. And I remembered being able on the mini computers I programmed, if I saw the same pattern, I had written, “On the lights on the front of the computer.” Right? We had lights back then. I don’t even, I have a power light now. I don’t have any other lights on my computer.

Marcus:  Let’s turn one more time and pivot our conversation. One of the pressures I hear from managers all the time is the time pressure element. No one has any time. Meetings are… Just calendars are crazy. How do we get time to think about things?

Johanna:  So, I think that this is really important, and especially for managers, stand-ups are not thinking times. I’m not ever a fan of managers doing a stand up, but it’s entirely possible that the stand up is useful for management collaboration, that first team kind of collaboration. So, I really like to say if you are in meetings all the time, first see which meetings do you not have to go to. Can you delegate any of those meetings to the people doing the work?

Johanna:  And I mean this delegation in the best sense of the word, not in slumping off your responsibilities, but in making sure that you are not part of a team that you are not supposed to be a part of. This is sort of like

Marcus:  Oo.

Johanna:  Managing the multi- the micro management business again. I had a boss many years ago. I was a tester. The boss also came to the meeting about the requirements for this project. And I said… I asked him, “Why? Why are you there?”

Johanna:  He said, “To back you up with anything.” I said, “So, both of us are at this meeting. Both of us are doing the same thing. Either you don’t have to be there or I don’t have to be there, and I’m testing. So, what would you like to have happen?” Yeah, I was an impossible employee.

Marcus:  Yeah, but so wonderfully clear and direct. And what did they do?

Johanna:  So, my boss actually said, “I guess you don’t need me to back you up, do you?” So I mean and the other thing is if you have meetings without agendas and without minutes, just give people a warning that you’re not going to go to those meetings anymore. Those meetings are not necessary. If you don’t have an agenda and you don’t have minutes, then there are no action items. Why would you go to a meeting with no action items?

Johanna:  So, part of it is getting your schedule back under your control, not under the control of other people, and make it possible for people to say it’s just not reasonable to have back-to-back meetings. I actually found several references about something like sitting is the new heart attack, or sitting is the new fat, yeah whatever it is. Yeah, sitting is the new fat.

Marcus:  The new fast food or something like it’s bad for you.

Johanna:  Yes, I think it’s really fat. If you make meetings 45 minutes, not an hour, then now you already have a chance to take a little walk in between, and you have a chance to go to the bathroom and be hydrated and all that stuff. So, it’s partially about what you can do for yourself. It’s partially about changing the culture just a little bit, and partially making sure you’re not taking care of other people in some way.

Marcus:  Hmm. And that last point, I think, is important because I think there is kind of a misinterpretation of servant leadership that smells a little bit like parenting.

Johanna:  Oh.

Marcus:  And I know how you feel about pretending that you’re a parent with your team, right?

Johanna:  Oh, so maybe it’s because I’m a short woman, right? But everyone… There were people who used to call me the mother, and I would say, “I’m not your mother.”

Marcus:  You’re someone’s mother, but you’re not their mother.

Johanna:  I am. I am my two daughters’ mothers. And if I’m lucky, my son-in-law will also might think about me that way. Yeah, but that’s it. That’s it.

Marcus:  Wonderful. Johanna, this has been just such a treat to get to talk to you again. And I certainly hope we don’t wait until our next podcast to do this, but where could people find you and your beautiful work online, and get the help that you offer?

Johanna:   Well, thank you. Everything is on, There are links to my Create and Adaptable Life blog. There is all my books. Everything is there.

Marcus:  And your new series, Modern Management Made Easy, is on Leanpub. Are there links there as well?

Johanna:  There will be links as soon as we’re done recording.

Marcus:  And we’ll put them in the show notes as well for ease of consumption. Thank you for being on the show today.

Johanna:  Thank you so much for having me.

Announcer:  Thank you for listening to Programming Leadership. You can keep up with the latest on the podcast at and on iTunes, Spotify, Google Pay, or wherever fine podcasts are distributed. Thanks again for listening, and we’ll see you next time.


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