So… you wanted to be a manager?

I love my company. I love my team. I love people around me I worked with. I have a great manager… Yet few weeks go I just hated my job.

I had no idea what I was doing and, what’s more important, what it is that I am supposed to do.

You sort of knew what to expect

The thing is, I decided to be a manager. I wanted to be one. I sort of understood what it meant. I sort of had some of the responsibilities. I was sort of leading the team. Some people sort of knew I’m filling in a bit of a leadership gap in the team (or that’s what I was told by my manager who’s been also leading the team). Sort of…

Then you understood how off your “expectations” were

Then I became a manager. Suddenly I had people reporting to me. I had a manager and leader responsibilities. I was really leading the team. People knew I am the manager. Suddenly I was officially leading the team.

The first week or two were ok. I didn’t really saw much of a change aside having official one-on-ones with my team members and having more access/system rights (on technical sides of things).

Then the word spread around and I became “the manager of the team”. And people started treating me like a team liaison. The number of questions and meetings that appeared out of nowhere was just stunning (not that I didn’t expect to have more meetings. But… I shouldn’t even be a part of some of them). Then people from “somewhere above” asking you for stuff but not trusting that you provided the right answer. And a lot of going back and forth. Plus trying to still help my team do the job coz I was the most experienced dev in the team… And a lot of other stuff that started coming my way that I didn’t really have to deal with when I wasn’t officially a manager.

There was a lot of changes that I didn’t have time to gradually get used to coz it got all thrown at me almost at once. And I felt like there’s so much stuff I had to do and I had no idea what’s the best way to approach it. What should I do and how should I do it? Plus… I wanted to write code (and I still do) but everything was so overwhelming I had no time to write code more than an hour a day which wasn’t much of a benefit to the team…

You were stressed out and didn’t want to do your job

I was extremely stressed out. And then came a day when I really, seriously hated my job. And I had no idea why. I really needed something, or someone to help me navigate through the maze. But didn’t even knew what’s wrong and where to start.

Navigating the maze

That’s when I run into a Learning PathThinking Like a Manager By Dave McKeown on O’Reilly Online Learning. It really helped me organize my thoughts. The course reiterated six key skills that any new manager should develop and gave me some useful tips and questions to answer so I can move forward. I’m going to reiterate that here for you and for myself for the future reference 🙂

What does it take to be a good leader?

That’s actually a question for you. what does it take to be a good, effective leader? What does it take to be a bad leader? Have you worked with any of them? what made them good/bad? If you answer yourself that questions thinking about your previous experiences honestly what will help you see where are you actually going.

Give yourself some time to answer those honestly before moving on.

You probably wrote things related to empowering the team, being patient, empathetic, good listener, being able to motivate people etc.

Thinking like a manager

The big part of becoming a manager is key shifts that you’ll experience and the types of work for which you’re now responsible for.

Making the shift

When you’re working as a team member your responsible for your own success. You may work with others and with a team, but the things you do lead to success or failure. You’re concentrating on the task at hand or work coming your way this week and how to do it to best of your knowledge. You concentrate on actions and tactics and getting the job done bu utilizing your skills.

When you’re becoming a manager things change. And require a mental shift. Now you’re responsible for the team success and you have to work through your team. You focus on tactics and strategies and you need to think more middle to long term. You need to make sure your team is knowing where are you going. And, what may be the hardest thing to do, you need to work through your team. You can’t do the job they’re doing anymore coz you plainly are dragged into so many different directions that you’re becoming a bottleneck. So you need to get out of the team’s way.

The six key skills every manager needs

Dave introduced the six key skills every manager needs

Time management

Time management is about managing interruptions and dealing with them in the right way (not right away ;)) to make sure the work moves forward and you’re achieving your daily, weekly and monthly workload.

How-to tips
  • Get everything out of your head. Don’t manage your todo list in your head: Get a list of what you have to do (I literally jotted down everything I could think about)
  • Asses the real priority of the task that comes your way. If someone comes to you they will need the task is urgent. It’s up to you to assess how urgent it is given the scope of work of your team and where it fits.
  • Focus of the next step and next action and not everything
  • Let your team take control of things you don’t have to do by yourself.
  • Let your team go to the places/meeting where they can go instead of you 🙂

Remember:

  • not everything is urgent
  • motion (or doing something) is not equal with progress
  • you don’t have to be everywhere and know everything to add the right value

Delegation

Delegation is about the amount of work that can be done by your team if you sit down with them and show them how to do it).

How-to tips
  • Keep to yourself no more than 20% of work from your todo list (the course advised 5-10% but I like the Pareto principle)
  • Concentrate on more middle to long term strategic work
  • Make a delegate or do decision: Look at your list above and ask yourself: is your team able to do that task if you spend a bit of time upfront explaining it? If the answer is yes then you should delegate. Be ruthless about it.
  • You can also do 4Ds: do, drop, defer, delegate.
  • Be specific about the result of the task, but give them the right to decide how.
  • Get out of the way (I know it’s hard)! Let them know you’re there to answer questions and help anytime they need you but don’t hover over your team’s head.

Remember:

  • your team will grow
  • you’ll get more stuff done
  • you can concentrate on the important parts

Coaching

Coaching refers to your ability to have the team move forward with their tasks and abilities.

How-to tips

  • Don’t provide a response right away, let the team figure out stuff by themselves.
  • Help them find a solution and guide through possible ways of doing stuff. Giving tips is ok 🙂
  • Ask the team what they think the response is or what the work should be?
  • Have informal check-ins how your team is doing

Remember:

  • Every interaction with your team is a coaching possibility

Feedback and difficult conversations

It often boils down to providing the course correction – you may not be comfortable doing that. But it’s also important to remember to give positive feedback and reinforce positive behaviors.

How-to tips for negative feedback
  • It’s important to go in with no feelings (I know it’s hard) – try to concentrate on facts and figures (data, please!)
  • Nip in the bud – address the problem when you see, otherwise, you may hear “I’ve been doing this for weeks, why is it a problem now?”
  • Try to strike between going to soft and going too hard (I know, easier said than done, so more to build up the awareness)
  • When you’re having a conversation reinforce that it’s not a criticism, but you want the situation to improve
  • Be honest and transparent. Don’t cushion the feedback and don’t beat around the bush.
  • Be concise.

Cross-team collaboration

Cross-team collaboration is about figuring out who do you have to work with, whom to serve and how to serve your external customer.

Goal hear is to know who your internal customers are and proactively reach across the organization to ensure you deliver the right thing.

How-to tips
  • Make sure you know who is your internal customer
  • Make sure what they needs are. Become friends and understand their expectations 🙂
  • Make sure you review the progress and find ways to improve it

Accountability

Accountability is about making sure you and your team deliver the work required and reach the organization goals. It’s also making sure your team feels accountable for collective success.

How-to tips

  • Set goals for your team that you can work on together
  • Meet your own commitments. If you don’t admit it and say you’re sorry
  • Celebrate success and make a plan for failure
  • Set Accountability plan: set goal, deadline, review date, make sure you give feedback

Where should you start?

I know it’s a lot. And you don’t get to work on all of it at once. Take some time to realize where’s your biggest pain point and working on which skillset will give you most value right away. In my case, it was writing down the To-Do List and going over it while considering “do or delegate”. And if it was possible for my team to do it with some input from me it ended up being a “delegate”. Helped me clear my head and my stress faded away after doing those two things.

The next step is putting it into action!

Good luck!

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