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Managing Managers: The Three Don’ts

New Manager of Manager

21 September, 2020

Adam Bauman, Engineering Manager at Quizlet, shares his Three Don'ts for successful managing managers.

Problem

Managing managers is completely different than managing ICs. It is not only a different job, but it requires a different skill set. Replicating your approach to managing ICs -- no matter how successful you were -- is not a way to go. Instead of providing an extensive list of what a first-time manager of managers should do (and indeed, many things will be on their plate), I will share my three mandatory Don’ts.
 

Actions taken

These are my three Don’ts:
 

  • Don’t impose your style
    Don’t have any expectations that your managers should manage their teams the way you would. If a manager would approach me asking me how I would address a particular situation, it would be a mistake to tell them how I would do it. Instead, I would ask them what they would do or what they would be un/comfortable doing.
    For example, I like to bring humor into tense situations to lighten the mood and make people understand it’s not a live-or-die situation. There are managers who don’t have that ability and are not comfortable with it and when they try to put in humor that can have an adverse effect.
  • Don’t interact directly with their reports
    Avoid interacting directly with your manager’s reports and undermining their authority. By doing so you are not only subverting their authority but more importantly, you are not allowing them to grow as managers.
    In one instance, I used to manage a manager who left, and in the meantime, I took over their managerial responsibilities. We decided then to promote someone from the team to a new manager. Because I was managing other ICs, people from that team would still come to me with their problems. They were skip-leveling up to me without going to their manager first. Though I appreciated their trust I would tell them to talk to their manager first because that was the way to help their manager grow.
  • Don’t reveal all you know Know when is the right time to share information. Transparency is key to healthy company culture but it is also about sharing the relevant information when the time is right and with respect to the privacy of other individuals.
    For example, when I was managing ICs I would only share their reviews or information about their compensation with them, and not other ICs. When I started managing managers I had to figure out what was appropriate to share because the scope of my responsibilities became larger. You would have to decide on a case-by-case basis; for example, when is the right time to share information on the prospective reorganization and potential layoffs with my managers?
     

Lessons learned

  • Don’t force your style on someone else. Your style may not work for another manager and you should encourage them to explore and come up with their own style. Also, have them talk and learn from other managers and have them be exposed to a variety of styles.
  • By bypassing the boundaries of your direct responsibilities and undermining another manager’s authority, you are also not letting them grow and become successful in their role. Also, you should nurture their trust and avoid eroding it by having separate meetings with their reports.
  • Though transparency is a cornerstone of any successful organization, transparency is all about knowing when to share what and to whom. As you advance in your career, it becomes exceedingly important as you will have greater access to information along with the power to disseminate it.

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