Looking for leadership skills when promoting an IC to manager.

Krishna Vemuri

Sr. Engineering Manager at Townsquared



As a manager, when your team grows it is often challenging to promote your staff to managerial roles, and to know who will be able to handle a team. How do you know who to promote? How do you know they are good leaders? How do you know they'll be good managers? I look for signs and try to inspire them to show leadership.

Actions taken

During my regular one-on-ones, I try to ask my direct reports where they want to go and how they think they can contribute more to the team. One day, one of my tech leads was concerned that our fast-paced environment wasn't structured enough. We chatted a bit about it and I decided to let him bring more process to his team without losing the velocity they had. I was happily surprised when he went to the team, asked for their opinions, convinced them and eventually brought up the concept of accountability. He made it about the team and not about himself. I was impressed! By creating a whole new process about something he cared about, he demonstrated tremendous leadership skills. This helped me understand he could be a great engineering manager. To successfully move from being an IC to being an engineering manager, I believe you need to show great leadership skills AND great management skills. Leadership skills are about exciting people about a mission or a goal and being able to bring them with you along your path. Management skills are more about getting things done, processes, hiring and firing. Leadership skills can be demonstrated by your ICs when they carry out projects and convince people to follow them on difficult paths. Unfortunately, management skills are harder to demonstrate prior to being a manager. That's why I usually set up a 3-month try-out period for people to show me (and themselves) that they will be great managers. Try-out periods are good, but you need to carefully communicate to avoid jeopardizing your employee's credibility in the case they fail to be permanently promoted to a manager role.

Lessons learned

Promoting engineers to management positions is risky, as if they fail, you risk losing a great engineer. But, by carefully watching for signs and by letting people take initiative, I am able to detect people with great leadership skills, and by providing carefully managed try-out periods, I'm also able to efficiently assess their management abilities.

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Krishna Vemuri

Sr. Engineering Manager at Townsquared

Leadership & StrategyEngineering LeadershipLeadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementTeam & Project Management

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