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Developing Leaders Using A Fail Fast Mentality

Handling Promotion
Personal Growth
Coaching / Training / Mentorship
Career Path
New Manager

17 May, 2018

Shyam Sundar
Shyam Sundar

VP Engineering at Proofpoint

Shyam Sundar talks about how he uses a fail fast mentality when developing people into managers internally.

Problem

While there will be times when you need to hire from outside, for example when you want someone with significant experience, it's really important for you to think about developing leaders from within first. To be a good manager, in addition to having strong technical skills to command respect from your team, you need a high emotional quotient, and to work well with people. When I was working on creating a data science team, I saw someone with a lot of these positive traits.

Actions taken

You should apply the lean startup fail fast mentalities to these kinds of transitions, because someone may have a certain perception of what being a manager means, but until you have been one you are unlikely to fully understand the role. However, having a whole team report to a new manager can result in negative results, especially if the person ends up not enjoying being a manager. I provided the potential manager with a new hire who could report to them for two to three months. The potential manager was put in charge of managing the new hire for a small project. I then checked in with them periodically. This gave them the chance to say if they wanted to go back to being an individual contributor they could choose to do so without much damage.

Lessons learned

One of my strengths as a leader is developing individual contributors into managers. As a manager, it's your job to pick up on the various skills of the people in your team. However, even if they have these skills, it's also important for them to enjoy the role. By using a fail fast approach, you can minimize the damage if the potential manager doesn't enjoy their management role.

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