Personally Adapting to be More Comfortable in the Role of New Manager

Andrea Fonger

Senior Staff Engineer Lead at HBO



As a senior client developer at HBO, I was at a point in my career where I had to decide between the architecture route or the manager route. Based on my skills and what I like to do, I told my boss that I felt more fit to be a manager. A month later, I had nine reports, split across three different cross-functional teams, with a variety of skill levels, an outstanding performance issue on the team, and in an area of the product I hadn't worked on before. Needless to say, I had lots to figure out before managing anyone for the first time. There were skills that needed to be mastered very quickly, including my own self-confidence, and it became crystal clear what I had to learn to avoid burning out and failing.

Actions taken

  • I had to quickly become comfortable with being wrong and failing. If I was wrong, I tried my best to focus on learning from that and taking those lessons forward versus beating myself up over it. Part of that is accepting that there will always be an unhappy person with the decisions that I make. If someone was really upset about what I did, I proactively reached out to understand their perspective on what I could have done better.
  • I had to overcome being naturally introverted and shy. All of a sudden, I was the lead in the room and everyone was looking to me for a decision or input. I had to get comfortable speaking up more in meetings, having the final say, and recognizing the influence I had and using it rather than being afraid of it.
  • I was forced to be comfortable giving people feedback, both positively and negatively. A lot of that came back to my philosophy of being very honest and direct with people.
  • Time management was another big area of improvement for me. I started keeping extraordinarily diligent to-do lists. When things came to me, I either did it immediately and forgot about it or put it on my to-do list.

Lessons learned

  • As a perfectionist, I do not usually do things unless I know I can do it well. Finding comfort in making the wrong or imperfect decisions was really difficult for me. The reality, however, was there were so many decisions to be made, that I had to get used to making the best decision based on the information in front of me.
  • I feel much more comfortable having the group come up with a consensus, but they will just ultimately look to you for answers. So you have to be the voice, no matter how uncomfortable you might feel.
  • Although being honest and direct was not how I operated at all, it has become part of my philosophy because that seems to work the best in terms of feedback. It can take a lot of introspection and you have to build up the courage to tell people to their faces rather than indirectly. If you do not give them negative feedback, you are doing them a great disservice.
  • Being very open and honest about the state of things applies to project status as well. I bore witness on occasions when my team was late on a project. I once walked into our weekly status meetings with leadership, only this time all the senior vice presidents decided to show up. It was the one day where I had to tell them my team was late on something. I forced myself to go through with it and speak up. The end result was fine and they actually really appreciated that I was honest about things, because then we could talk about the options for dealing with it. Trying to paint a rosier picture of the situation always causes more problems than it solves.
  • Before, as an IC, I had just a few tasks on my plate and it was pretty clear what I did on a day to day basis. As a manager, however, I had so many things to do and meetings to go to, that it became very critical to manage my time effectively and, more importantly, to not forget things. Every little thing should go on there, otherwise, they will just constantly fall through the cracks.
  • Through these changes, I learned from people that the feedback I had given them was helpful. Some expressed that they had never received feedback like that before, while others told me that I didn't give enough direct positive feedback. They implemented my suggestions got better at their jobs, which is the best feeling in the world for a manager to see.

"I had to quickly become comfortable with being wrong and failing."

"As a perfectionist, I do not usually do things unless I know I can do it well."

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Andrea Fonger

Senior Staff Engineer Lead at HBO

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementPerformance ReviewsFeedback TechniquesCareer GrowthCareer Progression

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