Micromanaging, trust, transparency (No. 9)

Today we're on a high speed journey through micromanaging, Jeffrey Epstein, and why you need to build trust in your organization

Hi Folks,

Happy Tuesday to you! Today’s the day to day to start our new format. I think you’re going to like it. A little bit about leadership, a little about legal issues, and a little about technology—all of it intended to make you a better tech lead, manager, or leader.

Today we’re going to go on a wide ranging journey from micromanaging on tech teams, to Jeffrey Epstein, to your role in inspiring trust in your employees and government generally. Buckle up.

By the way, today’s issue is free! Get on the list for more like this:

Let’s talk about micromanaging

Let’s get this out of the way: everyone hates being micromanaged.

If you don’t, then you probably haven’t been on the receiving end of it yet. It’s usually the one thing I fear the most when starting a new role, whether it’s a new company or a new team. The idea that I might end up working for some oppressive micromanager controlling and questioning every little move I make gives me shivers just writing it.

However . . . that having been said . . .

I personally like being a very hands on manager—when I can.

The other day, a person asked me, “but how do you draw the line between being ‘hands on’ and micromanaging?” I thought it was a great question to explore.

Every manager or leader needs to understand details

Every manager, at some point, is going to need to have a complete understanding of small details. Whether it’s a high pressure project, an irate client questioning an invoice, or something that went wrong, managers are, ultimately, responsible for the team’s execution, which includes all the details.

So the question can’t be about whether managers get involved in little details because sooner or later all of them will need to be.

Being micromanaged is a feeling

If you need (or want) to get into the details as a manager, I think the pivotal question to ask yourself is: can I predict how an individual team member will feel about my involvement?

After all, micromanagement isn’t something you do so much as it’s something that someone else feels. It’s a conclusion that someone draws about his or her experience with you as a manager. You could do everything right, and someone might still accuse you of being a micromanager.

In some ways, I think micromanaging is representative of a break down in trust, in both directions, and it can sometimes lead to the kind of toxicity that leads to litigation. (Not to add any FUD to your Tuesday, but disgruntled workers are fertile soil for the plaintiff’s bar.)

Two ways to avoid making people feel micromanaged

Fortunately, there are many ways to avoid being a micromanager. Just Google it and you’ll get list after list of things not to do. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I have two things you could do to help:

First, when you’re entering a meeting or conversation where you need to ferret out details, check your intentions and motivations first. If you have motives rooted in fear or a need to control a situation, then you’re going to send signals that you don’t trust the other person and that you’re trying to micromanage them.

Examples of sources of that fear or need to control include:

  • Something went wrong and now you need the details.

  • Your management is on your case about when a project is going to get done.

  • You aren’t happy with the direction of a project or task.

  • You suspect the person or team is underperforming.

  • You’re worried about being seen as a micromanager :-)

Second, before entering the conversation, consider how well you know the other person or the team. If you know them well, you will have some ideas about the right way and right time to ask questions about details or make adjustments. Make those right choices. If you don’t know the team members well yet, then this is a good opportunity to learn more about what works and doesn’t. In both cases, see it as an opportunity to build trust.

And remember, it’s not like you only get one shot at this. If you make a mistake and come across as a micromanager, make sure you get feedback early and and do better next time. As I’ve said a lot of times in other places, I think we put some much emphasis on each conversation, worry about failing, and get too wrapped around the axles about it. Just stay close and build the relationships little by little.

At least one other article generally agrees with me that, done correctly, getting into the details as a manager, sometimes, matters.

Speaking of trust

For better or worse, there is generally no law against micromanaging, but let’s talk about law and order for a minute.

You’d almost have to be living under a rock to have missed the news about Jeffrey Epstein, who committed suicide over the weekend. He was caught up in terrible legal issues that I don’t even want to go into here.

In a nutshell, he was very well connected politically, awaiting trial in prison, may have had information that would damage some in power, and there were some irregularities in prison policy as to how it is that he was left alone in a room when everyone knew he was suicidal. Conspiracy theories erupted, and President Trump seemed to endorse one of those theories via a retweet.

The reason I bring it up is because it implicates legal issues peripheral to the micromanaging discussion we just had.

Law is one source of trust in our institutions. We’re supposed to be able to trust that things like this don’t happen in America. Similarly, law is a baseline of trust for employees that they can trust their employers to follow at least minimal standards of conduct.

But trust goes beyond legal baselines. If employees and citizens believe they can’t trust either institution, whether the conspiracy theories about Epstein are right or wrong, or that institutions fundamentally don’t trust them (e.g., because insecure, nervous managers are micromanaging), then the whole system we’ve built, especially in our innovation economy, starts to break down.

You can’t make really bold, imaginative, breakthrough performance increases as a team or as a society if people don’t have fundamental trust in their employers or government. When you’re in fear mode, it crushes your ability to be creative and innovative.

So, remember, part of your role as a manager or leader is to represent the company and to instill trust and safety (e.g., through not micromanaging) so people can do their best work. I know you might just getting used to the role, but as you grow into it, keep this in mind.

Have a great Tuesday!

-michael


Did a friend forward this to you?

Give them a big thanks! And get on the list yourself.


*LEGAL DISCLAIMERS AND OTHER MUMBO JUMBO: since this is a newsletter from an attorney, it is possible that this could be construed as attorney advertising (in blinking lights, of courts). I should also tell you that anything I say or opinions I offer in the list should never be construed as legal advice — even if you think the facts from some case or situation I discuss are pretty close to yours, small details make a big difference. And besides, since I’m just broadcasting information without seeing your individual situation, how could I possibly be giving you legal advice? Never forget the lesson of the Selfish Giant. And finally, my name is Michael Rice, I wrote this content, I’m licensed in California, and, with rare exception, can only work with clients in California.

Rebranded!

Let's just get REAL

Hi Folks,

Still getting this list going, but I thought it might be more interesting for you if I bring together the three things that I’m most interested in under one umbrella: leadership, law, and software engineering.

I think you’ll enjoy it.

Bringing software, legal issues, and leadership together brings them to life in a unique way. It might not be perfect at first, but I think it’s going to come together in an awesome way.

Stay tuned for how it plays out in future emails.

And, by the way, I changed the domain name of this Substack to just michaelrice, which seems pretty reasonable to me.

Terms of service as shield and sword: Twitch v. Johnston (No. 8)

That legal mumbo jumbo you never read but agree to anyway? Yeah, it's kind of important

Hi Software Engineering Leaders,

Sorry I missed a letter yesterday! I have plenty of material tee’d up and ready to go most of the time (it’s how I avoid my crazy kids on the weekend), but somehow yesterday just got totally out of hand. It was really quite beyond anyone’s managerial capability; I owe you a make up.

Today’s letter is free. If you like what you read, consider signing up! Seven bucks a month seems like a great value to me.


Also, today we had a great conference call on law and software engineering topics. We talked about some of the topics in this letter, and more—LIVE! Remember, these calls are every Wednesday at noon Pacific. You—yes, YOU—are welcome to dial in and just lurk. No need to join Meetup or RSVP. Just grab that Zoom number or link.


On to today’s topic:

Twitch goes on the offensive against bots

Twitch is the hugely popular streaming service where unemployed and/or unemployable youngsters squander their youth streaming their video game playing to other, similarly unemployed youngsters. (Wait—is that my inner curmudgeonly voice or my outer curmudgeonly voice talking?)

Actually, Twitch seems cool enough. It even gets used for a lot more than gaming, including quite a number of programmers who go live on live coding sessions from time to time and some other stuff, like NBA games.

Anyway, like YouTube, some can earn substantial income streaming on Twitch (no, really, I’m not jealous or bitter), so folks have incentives to try to “game” (see what I did there) the Twitch algorithm to boost their visibility on the platform. One way people try to boost their ratings online, including Twitch, is to use bots.

Starting back in 2017 (or maybe ‘16), Twitch sued a number of individuals who were hosting, operating, and selling bots to Twitchers who wanted to boost their profile the cheap and dirty way (hey, it worked for the President).

In a recent default judgment win in the ongoing litigation, Twitch won a $100k+ judgment (plus attorneys’ fees) against two individuals operating and selling Twitch bot services.

Why this matters-

Twitch brought the lawsuits against the individuals under fairly straightforward intellectual property and breach of contract terms. This is important because it highlights why having well-defined terms of use and intellectual property can be used both to defend yourself from others and also to be used as a “sword” to prosecute, civilly, bad actors.

Without strong, clear terms of use, Twitch would have had to rely on harder to establish legal grounds like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act or tort claims.

How the law works-

Today, I’m writing about how Twitch recently obtained default judgment against some of the defendants in the case. Default judgments happen, generally, when defendants fail to appear or respond to litigation. They aren’t always automatic, but not showing up to defend yourself puts you on the fast track to a nasty judgment.

In this case, the court was likely willing to enter a default is because Twitch had a terms of service agreement, among other contractual terms with its users, whereby users agreed not to

  • use a “robot . . . or other automated means to access the Twitch Service for any purpose”;

  • “impersonat[e] any person or entity . . . misrepresent[ing] the source, identity, or content of information transmitted via the Twitch Service”;

  • “manipulat[e] identifiers in order to disguise the origin of any Content transmitted through the Twitch Service”;

  • “mak[e] unsolicited offers, advertisements”; and

  • “us[e] the Twitch Service in any manner that would . . . negatively affect or inhibit other users from fully enjoying the Twitch Service or that could damage[] the functioning of the Twitch Service in any manner.”

Terms of use are, by and far, enforceable, even though only 3% of people actually read them before signing. Thus, there was a contractual basis between the parties that enable Twitch to prosecute the defendants on the basis that they breached their contract with Twitch and were, therefore, liable for damages.

Thus, well thought out terms of service, like most any contract, not only protect you from liability through disclaimers but can also serve as a basis for proactively seeking damages when someone does something bad.

Actions to take-

Take your terms of service and other agreements seriously! Think about them strategically. How could they be used not only to protect you from liability or to proscribe how you want users to act, but how could the enable you to strongly enforce your community’s and project’s mission?

(In more law and justice related to Twitch, as I was finishing today’s letter, I found out that the company’s San Francisco HQ was targeted by some threats by a shooter. Workers were sent home to work. So shitty, and I’m tired of it.)


In other news…

  • Kik fired back in a lawsuit by the SEC against the company for the alleged unlawful and unregistered sale of securities in the form of Ethereum-based tokens a few years ago. The 130 page answer got a lot of attention partly because it’s an interesting case, partly because it’s pretty uncommon for a defendant to file such a detailed and lengthy answer, and partly because most defendants against the SEC quickly settle. I highlight it because this will be interesting to watch unfold AND it’s a possibly an effective (if expensive) way to try this case in the court of public opinion.

  • Speaking of bots, California recently banned using bots for sort of similar purposes—the BOTS Act. See California Business and Professions Code 17940 et seq. It seems to be limited to influencing elections or trying to encourage people to buy things on big social media networks, but it seems to be a fairly complex piece of litigation, despite its relatively short length. It’s already the law in California—effective July 1. More to review!


Did a friend forward this to you?

Why don’t you get on the list yourself?


*LEGAL DISCLAIMERS AND OTHER MUMBO JUMBO: since this is a newsletter from an attorney, it is possible that this could be construed as attorney advertising (in blinking lights, of courts). I should also tell you that anything I say or opinions I offer in the list should never be construed as legal advice — even if you think the facts from some case or situation I discuss are pretty close to yours, small details make a big difference. And besides, since I’m just broadcasting information without seeing your individual situation, how could I possibly be giving you legal advice? Never forget the lesson of the Selfish Giant. And finally, my name is Michael Rice, I wrote this content, I’m licensed in California, and, with rare exception, can only work with clients in California.

Loading more posts…