Becoming the manager of your own team

Martin Cocaro

Sr Engineering Manager at MuleSoft



"I joined a company as a software developer in a small team. We were tasked with rebuilding a portion of the company's website and enhancing it. As time passed, the team slowly grew in size and my manager gave me the privilege of taking on new roles - first, as a Project Manager for my team and then as a Manager. When I officially became a Manager, I was frightened that my team would not respect me, that they would do whatever they wanted to and that they would maneuver me at their will, or that I was not going to be able to manage them or lead them."

Actions taken

"Given that I started out developing for that team, I knew the piece of code by heart. I was able to make accurate estimations and plan accordingly for everything that that team needed to do. I initially decided to build a defensive moat based on my technical knowledge, so I kept looking at all the code, fixing the hard bugs myself and in the interest of earning their respect, I was the person that would be on-call and be up at nights to fix whatever happened. I felt that by going the extra mile and helping the team do the things they did not want to do or were too hard, I would eventually earn their respect and get myself out of there. I turned out to be completely wrong about this. The team never lost their respect for me, as the fact that I had a lot of tech knowledge gave me an advantage. But when I started doing the things they did not want to do, it backfired because then it became a habit and the team never had to suffer the consequences of the bad choices we made. This stopped any new learning that we as a team could do. Unfortunately, I did not realize what I was doing until I left the company to manage a different team. That's the moment I realized that technical knowledge is just one aspect you can leverage to motivate people to respect you, and that it needs to be used wisely."

Lessons learned

"The most difficult part of management is delegation. I found this as a first-time manager, and almost every new manager finds the same thing. But be aware, as doing everything for your team will become a bad habit you'll struggle to get out of if you do not act promptly to delegate. You might feel you are not doing anything at the end of the day, because you don't see any code you can run, but a manager's job will only be seen in what the team accomplishes. Another lesson I learned is that if you are concerned about asking a team member to do something you are not willing to do, try to look at the root cause that needs to be fixed so that you don't have to ask the person to do multiple things they don't want to do. It's ok to ask for things ad-hoc or for single tasks to be done, nobody will care that much. Finally, remember general accomplishments will gain your team's respect, not just your technical knowledge."

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Martin Cocaro

Sr Engineering Manager at MuleSoft

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