How to Be a Better Manager
16 November, 2020
Many years ago, I founded a startup together with my partner. We had a small team of developers and were struggling to motivate them and push them forward to the best of their abilities. Our attempts to motivate them didn’t work out and while I was immensely enjoying managing people, I didn’t have an idea what I was doing, or rather, how to lead them and get the performance I’ve expected from them.
That eventually led me to study business administration and learn how I could become a better manager and successful leader.
Many years later -- and with knowledge and experience under my belt -- I reflected on the problems I encountered in my early, startup days and understood how our management structure was not the right one for the goal we wanted to accomplish. The team was managed by a person who didn’t share our vision and didn’t understand what we wanted to do. Much later I realized that a great manager or leader should be able to clearly and succinctly convey the company’s vision and goals to their employees and be able to get them into buying it.
As I was trying to expand my knowledge as a manager, I read and was greatly inspired by the book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by James Collins who discusses what is the best reward to motivate your developers. His answer to this ever-lasting dilemma is that it doesn’t matter as long as you give them something. Being a good manager and being able to motivate people is something that comes with experience and even if you are naturally gifted you have to hone your talent.
Being a manager is a unique and separate profession different from being a developer. In many companies, high-performing developers are promoted to managerial ranks without being specifically trained for that. I experienced this first hand when I was to pick my successor for the first time. I picked a person who was highly motivated but who was not the right fit for the role. He didn’t work out and left a few months after. Merely promoting the most hard-working developer is twofold detrimental: first, you will lose a good developer, and secondly, you will get a lousy manager who would either leave or create a mess.
I am an average developer and I didn’t become a successful manager because I was a good developer but because I acquired and worked to further improve certain skills that are crucial for being a good manager. Good managers have to have exceptional soft skills, particularly communication skills, emotional intelligence, good listening skills, and above all to be a visionary who is confident about what they try to achieve.
A good manager should also have good ideas. But your mind is not tabula rasa that is suddenly experiencing a surge of ideas. Instead, you should learn new things, read articles, watch videos, be inspired by what other people did, and heavily invest in nurturing and maturing those ideas.
Ego is the sliest enemy who can sabotage your efforts to become a successful manager. As a developer, your ego can make you do silly things but that won’t have the same impact as when you are a manager and when it can affect people and projects on a much larger scale. Also, it is often ego that is responsible for making people want to become managers because they associate it with respect and power, but if that is their sole motivation they would soon become hugely disappointed.
- In the world of management knowing what to do comes mostly from experience. Nothing can replace the lived-through experience and managers with two years of experience and ten years of experience are a world apart.
- Many developers fail to become good managers due to their lack of soft skills. The combination of being a technical person and having soft skills is rare and focusing on one rather than both is a more promising scenario.
- As you become a leader, you will have to put your ego aside. It won’t be about you anymore but about other people and the business. As a manager of a team, you are not just taking care of people on your team, but you should make sure that your team is providing a certain value to the company. Our service as a team is to provide the best technology to the company so that the company can best sell its product. A humbling point of view should lead managers, make them content staying in the back.
- A good manager will also have to manage different stakeholders and deal with their requirements. Most of the companies I was brought in suffered a great deal due to the lack of trust between the business on one hand, and Engineering, IT, or Product on the other. A good manager should restore trust and build a rapport among different stakeholders.
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