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Acting as a manager rather than an IC

Team reaction
New Manager
Personal growth
Career Path
Collaboration

6 December, 2017

Michael spends a weekend re-architecting a project. However, he then realizes his decision to do so has long-term negative impacts on the team and destroys the trust he’s been building up.

Problem

How do you stop being an engineer to become a manager? How do you handle that moment when your predominant skillset stops being what you have always been doing? Not so long ago, I saw a systemic issue in our Jira workflow and decided to re-architect how our product works with JIRA over the weekend. I coded for 48-hours, feeling like I was helping the team. The team accepted the changes I had made (mostly because I was their boss), and the product was pushed to production. However, a few hours later it experienced an "out of memory" issue. After multiple instance restarts, the team picked up the ticket and fixed it.

Consequence

It was a bad move as a manager. My team was nice about the mistake, as I believe they appreciated the intention, but I had clearly ruffled some feathers. One team member even asked "So are you an engineer or a manager?". And while he said it in a joking manner, he was clearly not joking. During a one-on-one a bit later, another direct report told me "If you don't trust us, fire us and hire other people". It was quite a shock for me to hear that. I had thought I was helping my team get ahead, but instead what I did was send the signal that I didn't think they were up to the task. It takes time to build trust with your team and this type of event can break down that trust in the blink of an eye.

Lessons learned

As a manager, your purpose is to build the best team you can and to be a support for your team members. To achieve that, I believe you need your direct reports to feel empowered. Put them in control, let them figure out answers, only step in if you think you're going off a cliff, and even then, let them fail! By re-architecting the project, I deprived my team of the chance to show some heroic actions.


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