A while back, I read an excerpt from Aaron Swartz’s blog post about management in the post Upside Down Org Chart: Better Way to Support Employees? by Stewart Mader (his is a great blog to read if you have any interest in wikis). It took me a while to finally read Aaron’s original post, and was very glad I took the time to get through it. In it, he talks about the idea of non-hierarchical management and proposes a different way of looking at the org chart:

The word manager makes many people uncomfortable. It calls up the image of a bossman telling you what to do and forcing you to slave away at doing it. That is not effective management.

A better way to think of a manager is as a servant, like an editor or a personal assistant. Everyone wants to be effective; a manager’s job is to do everything they can to make that happen. The ideal manager is someone everyone would want to have.

Instead of the standard “org chart” with a CEO at the top and employees growing down like roots, turn the whole thing upside down. Employees are at the top — they’re the ones who actually get stuff done — and managers are underneath them, helping them to be more effective.

I really like the idea that, as a manager, I am working for my employee (well, at the moment, I am sans employee, but up until last week, I had one and hopefully will have one when I get back from maternity leave). My job is to understand his/her strengths and weaknesses and try to motivate him/her to the best of my ability. It’s not just about making sure they come into work each day or filling out performance evaluations and approving vacation time. It’s about helping them be as successful as possible in what they’re doing.

In the post, Swartz also talks about learning about your employees (what motivates them, what their strengths/weaknesses are), delegating responsibilities, prioritizing, and offering feedback. There’s a lot of really great insight in this post (which is more like an instruction manual than a simple blog post), so if you’re a manager or an aspiring manager, it’s definitely worth reading.