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Learning to Step Back as a Manager

Coaching / Training / Mentorship
New Manager

17 September, 2021

Alexey Novak
Alexey Novak

Director of Engineering at Rose Rocket

Alexey Novak, Director of Engineering at Rose Rocket, articulates the key differences between performing as an IC and leading ICs as a manager.

Problem

Most engineers who go on to become managers were usually superstars in their field before being promoted out of it. They are usually the most knowledgeable engineers in the department, but the best engineer does not always amount to the best manager.

Despite this, companies will often fall into this pattern, not necessarily without good reason. The inclination for engineers to always want to solve everything in front of them translates well to the role. However, the mindset does tend to hinder their ability to delegate.

They say that if you want something done right, you need to do it yourself. These types of managers feel the trust of the company weighing heavily upon them and do not want to fall short of expectations. However, this is obviously not a sustainable way of working if you are part of a large organization.

Actions taken

In a general sense, I try to be accommodating to people. “Let me help you here. What else can I do for you?” But this can be problematic as a team grows. You cannot physically do every single job yourself, even if you want to. It’s like being an overbearing parent, always doing everything for your children and preventing them from learning and developing those new skills on their own.

There is a phrase: a manager who sucks all of the oxygen out of the room. When you take every task and responsibility for yourself, there is nothing left for anybody else. A good role model for the type of manager you want to be is a sports coach. You never see the coach playing on the field with everybody else; they’re on the sidelines, working with their team.

It’s likely that the coach was a very talented player in the past, but now their efforts are being focused elsewhere. They point out when they see somebody struggling or out of line. They help each player improve their form and performance. The coach shows them how it’s done, only to step away so that they may do it themselves.

This is what the manager should be doing. They give bits of advice to everybody. They coach them so that they may find success themselves on the field. There can be many outside forces influencing each player, and it’s your job to keep your team focused on the game. You don’t need to micromanage them. You just need to always be providing that constant supply of support as they produce and excel.

Lessons learned

  • Delegation solves a lot of problems. You deprive people from opportunities to grow by doing everything yourself.
  • Managers should seek uninterrupted work for their team, yet the world of business is full of interruptions. There are product managers, there is a roadmap, always something else. You need to be able to shield your people from these distractions.
  • In a world where things are constantly changing, you, as a manager, need to be flexible. In order to maintain this flexibility, you need to be willing to experiment. Try doing stand-ups or retrospectives differently. Plan your sprint differently. Find the way that works best for you and your team - what works for one team might not work for another.

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