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Leading a Team With a Different Area of Expertise

Handling Promotion
Leadership
Delegate
Career Path
New Manager
Health / Stress / Burn-Out

7 December, 2021

Harry Wolff
Harry Wolff

Director of Engineering at MongoDB

Harry Wolff, Director of Engineering at MongoDB, describes how he successfully learned to delegate and have transparent conversations about managing a team outside his area of expertise.

Managing a Team With a Different Field of Expertise

Throughout my entire career, I have worked as a UI engineer. My transition to managing a full-stack team of engineers provided a new challenge to tackle. A good deal of my team had more domain expertise in Java than I did. Before this challenge, most of my experience was managing a front-end team.

Overcoming the Imposter Syndrome

Acknowledgment:

My lack of knowledge and inexperience in Java forced me to find alternate methods to succeed as a manager. I was honest and upfront with my team, sharing where I could engage with them technically and where I could not. Rather than worrying about the integral details about how Java works, I fell back to fundamental software principles, concepts, and universally applicable ideas.

Delegation:

The discrepancy between my technical knowledge and my teams' contributed to my current skill set. I was challenged to improve my delegation skills when dealing with technical matters out of my understanding. My team had to carry out projects where I couldn’t act as the lead engineer, forcing me to contribute my general software knowledge rather than my software skills.

Learning to leverage my team’s individual strengths increased autonomy. Another major benefit was the empowerment that team members felt after leading our group to a successful outcome. I relied on my interpersonal skills to connect myself with the team, allowing myself to take actions my team was carrying out without specific technical knowledge.

Transparency:

Transparency has been my biggest strength as a manager. Whenever anyone had a question regarding Java, I never hesitated to tell them I didn’t know the answer. However, the conversation didn’t end there as I followed through to find a third party that would be able to provide my team members with a solution.

During one-on-one’s, I owned the fact that many team members were more senior Java engineers than myself. Acknowledging that fact head-on helped make conversations more productive.

The Importance of Transparency

  • Without honesty, fear can consume you as a manager. By worrying about how you are perceived, you are more likely to make irrational decisions and choices. Having transparent conversations relating to technical aspects of a managerial role will benefit the psychological safety of yourself and your team.
  • Understand that being a successful manager is less about your technical abilities and more related to people and interpersonal skills. By learning to delegate and communicate effectively, you can diminish imposter syndrome and productively lead any team.

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