Managers and Diplomats

“I had a dream last night, but I forget what it was
I had a dream last night about you, my friend
I had a dream–I wanted to sleep next to plastic
I had a dream–I wanted to lick your knees
I had a dream–it was about nothing”
— Camper Van Beethoven

I had a dream last night. The pertinent part started when I found myself in a swimming pool, with about five other guys who were going to move into the basement of my empty house in South Side. (Don’t ask me, it was a dream.)

But there were also a few young women in the pool. One asked, “Is there a manager here?”

It sounded more like “Is there a doctor in the house?” than “I’d like to speak to a manager.”

“I’m starting a job as a manager tomorrow, and I have some questions.”

I offered that I was a manager, and talked to her. It was immediately obvious that she was highly but awkwardly educated: she new all the words, but had no experience to give them any meaning in the real world.

The conversation seemed to turn into an e-mail exchange. She explained that her book said that managers were diplomats, but her glossary only contained a definition for “Diplomatic Palace,” which referred to a building used in ancient Rome to house diplomats. She was confused because she wasn’t really sure how that applied to her new job.

I agreed with her, and then woke up to the sound of trucks ripping the pavement off our street.

But I remembered my dream, and thought it made a good point. Although I am not exclusively a manager, some aspects of the managerial part of my job are very similar to what a diplomat does.’s second aspect of the noun “diplomat” is defined as “a person who is tactful and skillful in managing delicate situations, handling people, etc.” This also applies.

As the head of my team, I have the job of interacting with representatives from other departments in the company. I have to negotiate solutions to their problems, while keeping in mind the restrictions and interests of the members of my team. I build a working relationship with the other departments, and learn to navigate their systems, so my employees don’t have to. I maintain an alliance and friendly negotiations even if our departments decide they’re at war.

The rest of my management tasks are just as the traditional aphorism describes: “Managing programmers is like herding cats.” The key to success is finding well-behaved cats (and wearing claw-proof gloves).