Making the jump from individual contributor to a manager of people.
6 December, 2017
For the first part of my career I was an individual contributor. As an individual contributor it is easy to see the things that you have accomplished at the end of the day. Moving tickets forward, solving gnarly technical problems, I became addicted. Over time I had conditioned myself to view those accomplishments as the value I brought to the organization. Even in a team lead role, I still had my share of individual accomplishments. As I moved deeper into management and became better at my new job, it became more difficult for me to feel this sense of personal accomplishment. Often times, I would catch myself jumping back into an individual contributor role in order to get have something to point to that allowed me to say, "I did that".
I decided that in order to succeed in my new role, I had to change my value system. The organization no longer needed me to be coding. Instead my new role was to be a facilitator. I needed to value listening to my team members. I was now expected to remove the barriers keeping them from being productive, to motivate them, connect their efforts to the business goals, and to amplify their contributions. Rather than valuing myself on individual contributions, I needed to learn to be a team player and take pride in what we could accomplish together. Additionally, my role was no longer to seek personal credit for the things I accomplished but instead to ensure that the team got credit for the things they were able to do. While these changes were beneficial, they didn't stimulate my dopamine centres in the way that solving a gnarly coding problem at 3am used to be able to. For that I needed something more. After a bit of soul searching and conversations with my team, I found that I could get this kind of satisfaction by helping team members map out and achieve their own career goals. Since then, one of my personal aspirations for any role I've taken has been to make myself obsolete. Things that only I can do are an anti pattern and a sign that I'm not elevating and enabling my team to be successful.
Jumping back into the individual contributor role to feed my need to say "look at me" is taking an opportunity away from my team. While it might make you feel good about yourself temporarily, you should question your motives. Are you taking opportunities to succeed away from those you should be amplifying? Additionally, what does your team think about you when you do that? It's great to assist when your people need help, but jumping in without being asked is often a sign that you're ignoring other important aspects of your role.
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