At work, some of my best friends are senior level Program Managers. They tend to be the most entertaining people: eccentric, fanatic, creative, violently verbal and deeply hilarious. The sort of people who sat in the back of the room in high school and shot spitballs at the future CEOs and scientists sitting up front. But their impact on technology and science has been perverse. Rather than make the game more interesting, they have sucked a good deal of the life from our daily work. They have become specialists in caution, politics, and literal reactionaries … they react to the results of their ambitions and fears. They fear anything they haven’t tested!
Program Managers (PM) are unavoidable, given the complexity of modern communications. But I have a hazy hope that the most talented PMs now realize that internet community and multitasking generation have come to understand what market-tested language sounds like, and that there is a demand for leadership, as opposed to the backward mentality of carefully massaged medicine of secret and unproven or dubious effectiveness. To be sure, the old tricks: the negativity, the cautiousness and cronyism still work, but only in the absence of an alternative.
I hate predictions. Most PMs, like most managers, get their information by looking in the rearview mirror. The winner will be the one who comes closest to this model: A PM who:
– Refuses to be a "performer," at least in the current sense
– Speaks but doesn’t orate
– Never tries to hold look as is s/he holds a press conference on or in a meeting
– Doesn’t assume quiet people are stupid or uncaring
– Believes in at least one major idea, or program, that has less support in the team
– Can tell a joke at his or her own expense
– Can get angry, within reason; gets weepy, within reason … but only if those emotions are real and rare
– Isn’t averse to kicking his or her opponent in the shins but does it gently and cleverly
– Radiates good sense, common decency and calm
– Is not afraid to deliver bad news
– And above all, is not afraid to admit a mistake