Becoming a Manager: My Three-Step Journey
28 May, 2021
I worked in tech in various roles for more than ten years. I started off in consumer technology and sales and then went into app support and diagnosing problems for large manufacturers. Finally, I got into software development, where I wrote code and developed features. As a software developer, my main goal was to develop high quality features and ship them quickly . Throughout the organisations that I have worked for I have always taken an active role in mentoring and coaching those around me and it was apparent that I was good at coaching and leading.
That made me realize how happy I was, seeing others do well. The passion for coaching people and helping them out was always inside me. It seems that I have an inherent affinity for coaching people and helping them excel in what they do. I also took great pride in getting people to think beyond code and more towards the commercial benefits of what they were working on. As soon as the role of a team lead became available, I applied for the position. By that time, I was certain that I should pursue a management path and would make a great fit for the role.
Am I the right person for the role?
Though the passion for coaching people was always there, I was somewhat hesitant at first. What I found to be helpful was conducting a thorough self-assessment. I did a personal SWOT analysis to identify my strengths and weaknesses and created a personal development plan. That reassured me and gave me confidence while at the same time helped me map out areas for improvement.
Light-touch mentorship within the organization
I started talking to EMs across the organization, benefiting from this light-touch mentoring. Talking to people in the EM role from the same organization allowed me to grasp the role in a more contextualized sense. The roles and responsibilities of an EM vary a great deal from one organization to another. Some organizations want their EMs to stay technical and hands-on, writing code with a team; others prefer them to become detached from technical work and focused on the people management. It’s always useful to find out how your particular organization perceives the EM role and understand if that aligns with where you see yourself going.
Through mentoring, I also got a more objective picture of my competencies and the areas I needed to improve.
Taking the delegation route
I had a good and candid relationship with my manager, and frequent catch-ups with them allowed me to get firsthand insights into an EM role. That helped me to gradually tap into some of the work they did. I would approach them, ask if I could help, and have them assign me projects matching my skill level. Over time, I became more competent and able to get a broader understanding of what would wait for me in my new role. However, that is something one can do only when they are competent and confident enough. Therefore, only when you are excelling in your current job should you ask for some additional responsibilities.
Perception plays a critical role in promotion. I wanted to be perceived as someone who is capable, competent, and confident, so when I would land that role, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to my peers or anyone else. Instead, people should be acceptive, unanimously agreeing that they could see that coming.
- Transition into a manager role is all about a mindset shift. Once you become a manager, your accomplishments become your team’s accomplishments. How well your team performs reflects how well you do as a manager.
- Some people will miss writing code and getting into the weeds of technical problems. You should overcome that ‘missing out’ feeling and feel confident when stepping back. Great managers will grow great engineers who could be more technically competent. If you think that things are not up to the standard, you can jump in and help with some coaching. But don’t be overwhelmed with the idea that you have to stay technically hands-on writing code.
- Focus on value. Delegate what can be delegated and focus on things where you can bring the most value. As you once grew by being delegated projects, so will your reports. In general, you can spend your time better than writing code.
- Learn about conflict resolution and emotional intelligence. A large part of your role will include helping your team members overcome conflict, having difficult conversations, etc. Learn to show empathy and share your vulnerabilities, which one can acquire only through regular practice.
- Approach management as a coach, not as a manager. Find out what the best leadership style is to get the most from the team. Then, grow along with the team. Figure out their needs and adjust accordingly -- would they benefit more from a directive, hand-holding approach or a more servant leadership type of leadership.
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