We've just launched plato for individuals

🔥

login


Google Sign inLinkedIn Sign in

Don't have an account? 

Managing a Manager for the First Time: Things I Learned the Hard Way

Managing Expectations
New Manager of Manager
Delegate

28 August, 2020

Catherine Miller, VP of Engineering at Flatiron, taps into her own experience of managing a manager for the first time and shares some key lessons from her concerted effort.

Problem

A year after I promoted my best engineer to a manager of the team I had been running, the team started to perform poorly--engineers on the team were unhappy, they struggled to make progress on big picture improvements, and the team culture was far from good. It was hard to onboard a new person on the team or entice new engineers to the team.
 

It was only in hindsight that I realized how unclear I was about my expectations and the things that I cared about. After going through that experience, I came up with an explicit set of expectations and became very transparent to all of my reports what I care about and what I would hold them accountable for.
 

Actions taken

I stepped in too late trying to coach my manager. As I usually do, I had been letting him set the agenda for our 1:1s, which made our conversation focused on tactical and technical problems. One major switch was for me to start driving the agenda and try to address issues I was hearing about in my skip-level meetings. Unfortunately, by then it was too late to course-correct.
 

The end result was that he decided to transition away from management and moved to a new team in the company. That failure was a helpful catalyst to my own behavior change: now when I have a new person starting in a role, I am exceedingly explicit about things I care about, particularly those things that are not purely technical.
 

It is obvious that I want a healthy sprint velocity and external commitments to be met, but it is somewhat less intuitive that I care just as much about every engineer on the team being able to articulate the team vision, and feel that their career is moving forward.
 

I created an expectation template that evolves over time with every new person coming in. It is a clear list of what great team leadership looks like. It includes obvious items like meeting deliverables, but also other important things like team culture and happiness. This document ensures that my managers and I are aligned and have the same goals.
 

Lessons learned

Don’t assume that you and your direct reports are aligned on everything. Be explicit as a manager what you care about and what you don’t care about. This can change over time and should be discussed regularly but to ensure consistency and transparency, put it in writing if you possibly can.


Related stories

Balancing Tech Debt and Feature Development
14 September

Mason Mclead, CTO at Software.com, delves into how to take care of tech debt while pushing out new features and products.

Managing Expectations
Dev Processes
Mason Mclead

Mason Mclead

CTO at Software.com

Get More Done by Working Less
14 September

David La France, VP of Engineering at Kenna Security, explains how managers can level up their skills and scale in their roles by learning to work less, but smarter.

Personal growth
Delegate
Impact
Productivity
David La France

David La France

VP Engineering at Synack

Managing Managers: A Lesson in a Mindset Shift
30 August

Ashish Agrawal, Senior Director of Engineering at Medallia, highlights key differences between managing managers and managing ICs emphasizing the importance of a mindset shift.

New Manager of Manager
Different Skillsets
Ashish Agrawal

Ashish Agrawal

Sr. Director of Engineering at Medallia

Managing a Manager for the First Time: Things I Learned the Hard Way
28 August

Catherine Miller, VP of Engineering at Flatiron, taps into her own experience of managing a manager for the first time and shares some key lessons from her concerted effort.

Managing Expectations
New Manager of Manager
Delegate
Catherine Miller

Catherine Miller

VP of Engineering at Flatiron Health

How Clarity Can Help Retention
30 August

Brad Henrickson, CTO at Scoop, explains how an added level of clarity on processes and roles helped him retain one of his highest performing engineers.

Career Path
Company Culture
Managing Expectations
Retention
Brad Henrickson

Brad Henrickson

CTO at Scoop

You're a great engineer.
Become a great engineering leader.

Plato (platohq.com) is the world's biggest mentorship platform for engineering managers & product managers. We've curated a community of mentors who are the tech industry's best engineering & product leaders from companies like Facebook, Lyft, Slack, Airbnb, Gusto, and more.