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Empowering the Leaders of Tomorrow

Handling Promotion
Career Path
New Manager

26 May, 2021

Kiranbir Sodhia
Kiranbir Sodhia

Director of Software Development Engineering at Microsoft

Kiranbir Sodhia, Director of Software Development Engineering at Microsoft, shares his experience of empowering successful leaders in his team.

Problem

At the end of 2016, I found myself with 15 direct reports. I knew that I would need to quickly find another manager who could help support the individuals on the team. After eight months of a lot of 1:1s, I found that manager. He was someone who spoke up for his teammates, mentored them as needed, and picked up responsibility when it was needed.

What surprised me was three months after announcing his new role, I had four of my team members ask me how they could grow into managers. That's a tough question to answer when you now have four people who want to be managers and you don't need anymore.

At first, I tried to be supportive as I was worried about attrition, but I knew in the back of my mind I couldn't keep up this charade and it was dishonest.

Actions taken

Ultimately, I asked each of them why they wanted to be a manager besides it being potentially the next stage of their career. They told all informed me that they wanted to mentor junior individuals. I made it clear that you don't have to be a manager to be a mentor. In fact, everyone on our team should be a mentor. We knew that our team would scale over time, but I needed a reason to determine why one person should be a manager. I told them that giving me a reason why would be their first step into growing into that role.

One individual told me he was enrolled in engineering management courses and that demonstrated his passion for this.

  • The other individual shared an idea with me that they felt needed more people to execute.
  • The remaining two resigned within six months.

Through this process, I learned a lot. The two individuals who couldn't find their reasons nor had the patience were never fit to be leaders. If you don't have the patience for your own growth, how will you have the patience when your future team members need growth.

With these two individuals leaving, I needed someone to take on their work. I needed someone who had some management experience. This is where the individual who took engineering management courses stood out. I offered him the opportunity, he offered me a plan, and he's been a successful manager for three years now. He was patient, he used his time to build his experience, and when the opportunity arose, he was the most qualified. Finally, with all of the chaos and ambiguity in tech, he was someone who could use his learnings to bring clarity.

A year later, the individual who had the idea that needed more resources got his prototype to the point that I wanted to make more of an investment. I gave him the opportunity to hire some interns. They did a fantastic job, and even more, interns outside of his team wanted to work on this project. He became a manager within 3 months and eventually, one of the interns outside of his team ended up joining his team as a full time engineer. He was patient in pursuing his idea. More than anything, he brought energy to the team.

Now when I look at the three different individuals, I realize that they became managers for three different reasons. It’s safe to say that there are multiple paths to being a manager. There are no strict rules for becoming a manager. It is not about being a strong communicator, or being a mentor, but there are different ways anyone can grow themselves to become a leader.

Lessons learned

  • Throughout the process, I learned that the two individuals who could not find their logical reasoning or patience were never fed to be leaders. If you don’t have the patience for your own growth, how would you have patience when your future team members are going to ask for their growth? Be patient for all that is coming together.
  • You must be a mentor to be a manager, but you do not necessarily have to be a manager to be a mentor.
  • Even though you might find someone fit to be a manager on your team, they ultimately have to justify why they want to be a manager. This could be because they felt experienced in this area, or they might have a bigger idea for the team. They have to drive their reason for being a manager.
  • It is my responsibility to bring my teammates the opportunities, but they also have to have patience in the process. That is how teams can scale from zero managers to four managers over time.

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