Boss vs. manager

It doesn’t matter what kind of organization you work at; there will always be some level of hierarchy, and that’s just life. In the tech industry, where people are always talking endlessly about being more egalitarian and democratic, a truly “flat” organization is a fantasy. You need leaders, decision makers who can be high level and set company goals. You also need people who are focused on the executional aspects of the business. You can’t have everyone do everything and have everything be a vote.

I was discussing with my manager today that I am about halfway done reading Radical Candor, and it’s been a really good read for me; it’s probably one of my favorite career books I’ve read thus far. I’ve been thinking about it constantly the last two weeks in terms of everything: my last ten years of work experience, particularly how awful the last company and job were. It’s made me think about how to be more direct in my communication style at work without coming across as an asshole.

My manager asked me a question today about the term “boss” vs. “manager” in light of this book. Kim Scott uses the word “boss” a lot. What do I think about these terms? I personally hate both. “Boss” feels very hierarchical, yet to my earlier point, hierarchy must exist at any organization whether we like it or not. But where the term “boss” doesn’t sit well with me is if someone says they can just make decisions simply because she’s “the boss,” and not provide data to back up that decision. “Manager” also feels shallow to me. It feels very tactical — you “manage” others’ workloads, their day to day. There’s nothing in that word that indicates that a lot of your job requires building a relationship with your direct reports, understanding what their goals are, and knowing them as people. There’s an absence of empathy in there. Both terms completely fail.

Maybe we should be creating new words to replace these to be more effective. Or maybe there’s too much focus on the language and the politics at work, and none of us will ever reach optimal effectiveness.

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