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The IC vs. Managerial Mindset

New Manager

15 July, 2021

Luca Cipriani, Engineering Manager at Jimdo, talks about how his perspective has shifted since transitioning from being an individual contributor to being a manager.

Problem

When you’re coming from a role where you’re contributing individually, you bring this quality of expertise to your position in management. You are able to understand these concerns that your engineers are bringing to you about the work. An enhanced sense of trust is shared between manager and team members when they speak a common language.

Others may view this connection as potentially being a weakness. Diving in too deep opens the door to micromanagement in some cases. This is definitely something that you want to avoid. Balancing this tendency while still maintaining a channel of communication between these two worlds is an important part of the process of becoming an effective leader.

Actions taken

As an individual contributor, you may not always have the experience or the tools to understand the real business value of the work that you’ve been assigned. You can build trust by conveying this business value to the people who you manage in terms that they will be able to understand readily. What will the eventual perception of your customers be? How does our management above regard what is being done currently?

Communicating what you’ve done and what you’re doing is key when it comes to delivery. This is sometimes neglected by people, often because engineers are preoccupied with the technical challenges of the work in front of them. It can be easy to forget the higher-level business implications when focusing on other things like this.

I encourage my reports to spend more time thinking about communication. During one-on-ones with the people that I oversee, we discuss strategies that keep people engaged with one another. It is a great feeling, seeing their progress and success during each subsequent meeting. The improvement serves as a source of feedback for me as a manager.

Looking back, I would avoid shielding my team too much from the higher-level concerns of the organization. In the past, I would try to defend them from our upper levels of management in whatever ways that I could. I put a lot of responsibility on my shoulder that rightfully belonged to others. I was stressing about progress, not realizing how much more valuable I would be as a leader if I maintained a policy of perfect transparency with my team.

This is not to say that you should not be acting as your team’s umbrella; you still need to do what you can to preserve their sanity and morale. Come together to find solutions that support the demands from above as one unit. With their support, you will be in a more favorable position to steer the department in a positive direction. Alone, doing something like this is much more challenging.

Defining the problem that your team has been tasked to solve is a key element of effective leadership. Measuring what you’re doing is an important step when trying to do this. Maintain a continuous line of feedback with your team. Communicating clearly is always the solution.

Lessons learned

  • I find that showing my team how the things that they’re doing are customer-related helps my engineers contend more authentically with the work that they’re tasked with.
  • In product companies, there are usually two different perceptions of the product. One will be the product as it exists inside of the company. The other will be the product as it exists outside of the company. For this reason, I find that interviewing my customers directly is extremely valuable. It helps me see what is familiar more objectively.
  • Setting clear goals, or communicating an objective to your team from somebody else, is also a good skill to build. Doing this properly conveys the “Why?” behind a given objective. The engineers are then more able to supply the company with an effective “How”. Give them an idea of the business value behind the endeavor. What problem are we trying to solve?

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