Drafts and the larger leadership picture.

Subject: Drafts and the larger leadership picture.
From: Steven Oppenheimer <writer -at- writemaster -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 26 Sep 2002 10:43:13 -0700

I'm truly astounded by some of the replies on the "Drafts" thread. What amazes me is the acquiescence shown by some people (not everyone) to the idea that one must please the boss at all costs. Quite the contrary, there are reasonable expectations to which employees (or contractors, like myself) should hold employers or managers. These might not always be matters of law, but they are matters of common decency, common sense, and mutual respect. A manager must demonstrate some minimum level of respect for his people, as well as some minimal level of intelligence. A working partnership is a 50/50 proposition, and if managers don't demonstrate these qualities, then, even in hard economic times, one quits and moves on.

As for the draft issue itself -- look, this is not brain surgery Projects in development are not complete, and different aspects of a project in development are in different stages of readiness. An intelligent reviewer is obligated to read and review in a discriminating fasion.

Let's use an analogy with software. Say it's software that supposed to be doing some fancy calculations; the programmers may have the user interface ready, but the calculation engine may not be complete -- or, vice verse, the calculation engine may be in pretty good shape, but the user interface is still in rough form. Either way, it's perfectly appropriate, in an intermediate stage, that the software engineers should to management (or to QA testers, or whomever) and say, "This is partly done -- we need you to review the part that's finished (or semi-finished), and ignore the part which we are *telling you in plain English is not yet finished*." Check the user interface, or check the calculations -- whichever part we think we have working -- make sure we are on the right track here, before we dig in any deeper -- while we keep working on the rest.

Now, what are we to make of a manager if we come to him, as programmers, and we say, "The user interface is not really ready, but the program spits out the right numbers" -- and he or she comes foaming back and says, "This user interface looks like crap!" Or, the user interface is ready for review, but the calculation engine is not at all ready; we tell the manager this, and he or she comes back and says, "Your program is spitting out all the wrong numbers, can't you people program right!" Such a manager is simply, plainly, categorically incompetent.

It's no different with a document. Different aspects of a document can be in different states of readiness, and its often appropriate to review a document -- reading for some things, and ignoring other aspects -- as a document is in progress. And the gripe here is with some managers -- not all, but some -- who are frankly either too dumb or too anal to read selectively. I don't care if it's a character flaw or a lack of intelligence, these people have no business supervising the work of those who are actually being productive.

Much depends on context, and on different roles. I'm writing this during a commercial break from The West Wing. If, hypothetically, I'm a junior speech writer for the President, I'm not going to hand the President of the United States rough drafts. The President is going to get the best polished drafts I can give him. But, if my boss, the senior speech writer, is worth his salt as a leader as well as a speechwriter, I really ought to be able to hand him a rough draft and say, "The first part of the speech, about energy issues, I think I have that in pretty good shape, I'm still working on the rest -- could you help me with some feedback on that first part?" And my boss the senior speech writer ought to have the intelligence -- not to mention the impulse control -- to be able to read just the first part, and stop before reading the rest. Or if I only give him the first part (which would make sense, since I'm still working on the second part of the speech), my boss ought not to come back and say, "This speech ends abruptly in the middle of nowhere." I just TOLD him I'm only giving him the first half of the speech!

Now, *technically* (no pun intended), the senior speechwriter has the following right. He has the right to say, "Only give me polished drafts, just like you'd give the President himself." However, he's not much use as a boss, because I'd like to be able to count on my boss to give me feedback as the work is in progress. That's what I call teamwork. So, while the boss technically has the right to be rigid and a perfectionist even with the draft stage, it's not appropriate, and he is not doing anyone any favors. It's not constructive because it doesn't foster the partnership that could ultimately lead to a terrific final speech. So, personally, I'd have to decide, is the prestige of working at the White House and having that on my resume worth putting up with a boss that I don't respect much? The reality of my life is, I've never worked at The White House. I've worked at corporations, where it's no big privilege to work. If the boss can't lead constructively, I go elsewhere.

But the main point is, if the boss can't read a rough draft -- if he lacks either the ability or the temperament to read in a discriminating, selective fasion -- then he has no business holding down the job.

Mr. Plato and I have already exchanged a few e-mails privately on this issue, and we just have a very different view of life. I don't want to put words into Mr. Plato's mouth, but he seems to feel that the goal of the worker bee is to keep the boss happy under pretty much *any* circumstances. Believe me, I care about my work, and I have integrity. I want to do a good job. But I can only do that if the employer provides a context which makes that possible. I have certain expectations for my leaders or managers. The fact is -- and this too is not brain surgery, we all know this -- some people get into management or other leadership roles who just have no business being there. My clients are fortunate to have me work for them, because I do quality work. If the client, or their specific representatives -- the managers -- can't do their 50% of the job to make the relationship work, then it's the company's loss when I go elsewhere.

Some people in the thread have said that, as technical writers, we need to educate our bosses. I don't accept that assertion either. I'm a writer, not a business school professor. The managers are already supposed to know how to do their jobs, part of which entails both being flexible, and giving their subordinates breathing room in which to work.

There are, of course, many, many facets both to doing a good job as a worker, and to being a good leader as a manager. This issue of dealing with drafts is just one small issue, but it reflects on a larger matter.

Good leaders understand context, and most importantly, good leaders prioritize. A rough draft is not meant to be read the same way as a polished draft, any more than an early attempt at a computer program should be evaluated in the same light as a 2nd stage beta release. Contrary to what Mr. Plato says below, it's entirely reasonable and appropriate to say to a reader or reviewer, "Read this, but ignore certain types of things that are known to be wrong. For now, address certain issues and not others." Any manager who can't grasp that distinction -- any manager who can't prioritize what matters in an early draft from what does not matter -- probably can't prioritize many other important things either. Such a manager is very like to have many other problems with leadership as well.

Steve Oppenheimer
writer -at- writemaster -dot- com

That is not how I understood this particular thread. The original poster was
complaining about the "concept of drafts."

See the original post from Steve Oppenheimer. He does not say "a person took a
document from me before I was done."

Moreover, what the hell is the meaning of the word DRAFT here? To me, a draft is
something that is ready for review in some form. If you produce a document and
hand it around, thats a draft. You can't tell people "oh read it, but pay no
attention to the stuff that is wrong." They're going to point it out. Especially
nit picky stuff.

Now, if a boss walks into your cubicle and picks up a working copy - that's not a
draft. That's a work in progress, and then you would have an arguable point.
However, work in progress can also be revealing as well. A review of a document
before it becomes a draft can help stop wasted work on portions that are wrong or

Andrew Plato

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