Wow! What a year! Less than 18 months ago (from this writing), I gave up my hometown of 28+ years for a city 10x bigger. I traded my spacious, but quiet 4 bedroom, 4 bath house in the suburbs for a small downtown condo.
I came to a new city, wide-eyed and eager to take on the most technical role I’ve ever had (Principal IR Analyst) and to learn what this fact-paced private sector was all about (I came from the government sector). The “Principal” (advanced technical) role was always cool to me and I was looking forward to 5+ years in that capacity before moving to management. Well, little did I know that the 5+ years of technical deep-drives I had imagined…turned into more like 5 months before being given the manager role. I could have resisted, but team encouraged me and had my back, plus we could all imagine how bad the alternative (off the street hire) could be.
As Manager, the people I once worked alongside were now my employees. I started with a team of 8… but had the honor of doubling it, one person at a time. As a technical leader I was always empowered to make changes to any process I wanted, but now I had the much harder challenge of managing people. It’s humbling (and stressful) to know that I am now accountable for the day-to-day activities of all my employees. Even more humbling was that my employees potential might be limited by my ability to meet their needs, challenge them appropriately, and give them good feedback. Technology is hard, processes are harder, but people are the hardest. Intellectually I knew, there is a big difference between a manager and a leader, and I certainly wanted to be the latter.
Now turning 30, I figured I’d take a step back and document for myself, some skills that i’ve found to be important:
- Delegation – being a manager shows you a workload that you probably had no visibility into before. As a technical expert, it’s tempting to take on those problems yourself, but delegation paired with some mentorship is probably a better approach.
- Foresight – in management the “pressing” to do list never ends, but if you are only addressing active problems, you will constantly be poorly prepared for new problems. I’ve been successful taking 1/2 of my time to ensure we are prepared for problems/scenarios that have never happened, because inevitably months down the road that scenario happens, and being prepared saves you and your team serious stress.
Developing some foresight often requires asking yourself:
- How do we do this better and faster next time?
- How do we automate this?
- Are we prepared to handle major variations to the inputs of this process? If not, let’s plan for variations.
- Do we have tabletop exercises planned for every problem we hear about other companies face? If not, schedule tabletop exercises.
- Do we have resources dedicated to getting ahead of the core team to ensure we peeking ahead for operational and executional risks?
- Communication + Managing expectations – it’s important to have candid communications with your leadership and your employees about mutual expectations. If you need support in an area, say so! If you need an employee to step up, tell them! Like you, I’ve always been frustrated trying to gauge what my boss was wanting from me, so being clear about the good and the bad is important.
- Extreme Ownership – there will many opportunities for you to blame other teams or your employees, that’s normally unproductive. It’s more productive to say “that’s on me, I’ll make it better”, this sense of accountability and ownership for all problems earns respect. When my employees see a problem, even if it’s not theirs to solve, but work hard to solve it… that’s a sign of a good employee.
- Situational Awareness & Good Notes – at any time, you may be called to speak to a complex topic to a uncomfortable level of depth, so staying connected to your employees and the problems they are taking on is important. As a manager, you need to delegate the technical work, but that’s not a free pass to be disconnected. Keep yourself abreast of everything that’s going on and take notes, trust me, the meetings will go much better. Your brain CAN NOT hold all the information you need to be successful, you need a reliable system of note-taking (digital or physical) that allows you to speak to a wide-range of topics by flipping a few pages or making a few clicks.
- Humility – having a few wins as manager, doesn’t mean you are “invincible” and it certainly doesn’t mean you deserve all the credit. Speaking for myself, I would be nothing without my amazing team. As a manager you will get credit for things your employees did, be sure to share the love.
Is the switch to management worth it? Maybe not for everyone.
However, if you are hand picked for an opportunity to lead, take it, someone sees potential in you… show them their trust in your was well-placed.
When given two options, choose the bolder one, you will learn more down the bolder path.Author Unknown
Management life is hard, but it seems to be my future, as I was just promoted to an even higher position as “Head of” (“Manager of Managers”, “Director”, etc.) the team I was originally manager for + other adjacent teams with their own managers. This shift from tactical leadership into more strategic leadership is definitely it’s own learning curve, but hopefully I’ll be able to keep up!