Being a Manager of a New Manager
28 June, 2021
At one point in my career, I was promoted into a new role where I was tasked to manage a new manager who took over my previous team. Naturally, I felt immediate empathy for them; as a new manager, they had to build relationships with ten people on the team and get to know me, their new manager.
But, what I soon noticed was that most engineers on the team who felt comfortable working with me started to create a parallel reporting structure, bypassing the new manager. By doing so, they were effectively undermining their authority as well as my efforts to empower the new person. Being a manager of a new manager, I wondered how to ensure that the team remained happy while empowering the new manager to exercise their authority in full.
For starters, I would remove myself from all team meetings. Regardless of how curious or concerned I would be, I would step aside and let the new manager run those meetings without me being present. If I would attend those meetings, I could say something, most likely unintentionally, that would contradict their decisions or even overrule them.
But, while my attendance in team meetings could be detrimental, my participation in skip-level one-on-ones could be immensely helpful. Sometimes, my former team members would be more comfortable sharing something with me because they would think that their current manager was directly accountable for it. That allows me to have an accurate account of what is happening on the ground and help the new manager if needed. While people would feel more comfortable sharing something with me, I would be careful what kind of information I would share with the new manager. There is no universal recipe; it is more a matter of a single-case judgment.
The whole situation reminded me of two real-life situations. One is a parent-grandparent relationship where one is more lenient than the other and becomes more forgiving to mistakes a child is making. Another applicable situation is the one of being intermittently being a good cop and a bad cop. On some days, I would be demanding and strict; on other days, I would have a new manager taking on themselves to be a bad cop.
Another thing that I was careful about was not to impose my management style onto a new manager, especially if they were first-time managers. I would let them first try their intrinsic style, and only if that didn’t work would I offer some coaching. It would still be the least directive and mainly suggestive, “If I were you, this is what I would do.” But I wouldn’t solve things for them. I want to empower my manager, not diminish them.
- Don’t impose your management style on other managers. Managers need to find their own style that resonates with their personality and values and can also be adjusted to their team’s needs. This is one of the main differences between managing managers and managing ICs, who will not be impacted if you impose your management style.
- Don’t abandon the team. Relationships take time to be built and are a cornerstone of any team’s success. Though you will have new responsibilities, use skip levels to maintain the relationship.
- Have regular check-ins with the new manager and focus on where you want the team to be. You are no longer responsible for day-to-day problems on the ground but for implementing strategy (for example, how to make the team more effective). Focus on what is next and what the team needs to do to be able to grow in the next six months. Let the new manager focus on sprint goals.
- Set up regular check-ins and milestones with your managers. That would keep you informed and updated without having to gather input from the ground. It can also be a dashboard if you want to reduce interaction.
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