Growing Into a Manager of Managers

Aaron Lerch

Director of Engineering at InVision



"When transitioning from an engineering manager to a manager of other managers, it can be difficult to differentiate your tasks from the other managers tasks. It is important to set boundaries to make sure the managers are doing their own job without you jumping in and doing it yourself."

Actions taken

"Two months ago, I moved into the director role and I now manage the managers. This is a newer thing for me, but it felt natural because I've been preparing myself for this for awhile now without realizing it. I have learned that the job descriptions of an engineering manager and an engineer are so different that it's easier to separate yourself, and not try to do their work for them. When you start to manage the managers, the roles look really similar to each other, but differ in different scopes and levels of responsibility. Sometimes that can make it difficult to not start doing someone else's responsibilities. I had to internalize a distinction of respecting what they are doing, as well as discerning the responsibilities they own from those I own. You need to respect those boundaries. It helps to move away from doing similar things so you can jump in and do your own thing. This frame of mind made me a better engineering manager because I did a better job of setting context for what other people needed to do and setting those boundaries." "A lot of times, engineers run into a situation which isn't a technical problem, but it's a people problem. They approach it and then stop,not knowing where to go from there. By having this boundary, it really helped me in those moments to coach them on how to handle it and how to give them ownership to resolve their own situations instead of me coming in and resolving it for them. I had to step back and realize that this was a key part of what they do and help them own it. This helps engineers level up on their soft skills, which are super critical. Keeping that boundary and passing that context along and coaching helped my teams get better. Now that I'm moving into a director role, it feels similar to that because I'm not crossing the boundaries we've set. You need to approach it from the standpoint of asking the question yourself, and whatever answer you come to, think about if it is okay for your people to fail. Failing is how they are going to learn, so they need room for that." "For the manager's that I manage, it's all about their teams. How they organize their teams, how they resolve conflicts with their teams, and how their team interacts with other teams. Those are things that I want them to own and I will set context around and guidelines around how I want us to work together in general. On a more tactical side, such as staffing and performance reviews, they should be managing that within their own teams. So how do I spend my time? When I'm not recruiting, I'm spending one-on-one time with my managers to see what's on their mind, what they are experiencing, and identifying their pain points and struggles and talk through their specific coaching needs. I'm not going to solve their problems, but I will help identify the problem and talk through solving it. I have about 25 engineers in my group and I meet with each one of them every two months. I verify with them that I'm aligned with their manager, and I get feedback from them about their manager to pass along.. If someone comes to me and tells me they are having an issue with their manager, I would get more information from both parties and I would expect that manager to come up with a resolution. It is their job to resolve it, and if they can't then it would end up being a much longer conversation."

Lessons learned

"At the end of the day, it is all about setting boundaries. Keep in mind what your role is as the manager's manager, and what the engineering managers role is so your lines don't get crossed. Make sure to not overstep those boundaries. I am committed to the success of everybody at my organization; and at the same time, we all have our own responsibilities. The managers need to own their teams and take accountability for their success."

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Aaron Lerch

Director of Engineering at InVision

Engineering LeadershipLeadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementPerformance MetricsLeadership Training

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