Understanding Leadership Before Becoming a Manager
4 March, 2022
Understanding Output as a Manager
It's common for technical solid individual contributors to be promoted to manager/leaders. This transition is not easy for anyone. One reason is the lack of preparation and guidance during the transition leading to a not rare situation where a great IC fails as a manager.
Another reason that makes the transition hard is that it’s challenging to measure the output as a manager. No longer is the value measured by lines of code, tickets, or features because a manager's role focuses on team success rather than the individual one.
In the beginning, management is similar to a roller coaster – there are times when you can easily see the impact of your contribution and other times when you don’t. Of course, this also depends on the individual, but, it took me years to understand my output as a leader, especially as an engineer who used to work with code.
Leadership Before Management
Individuals looking to become managers need to work on their leadership skills before transitioning. You don’t learn to be a leader because you got the title; you need to be a leader before the title. From my experience, when this order changes, the transition becomes tough to navigate for the new manager.
Many times, people receive management promotions in a pinch. When this happens, individuals usually don’t understand leadership expectations and requirements – and how the relationship with their colleagues changes. Due to this, I recommend that everyone practices their leadership skills in their current role, preparing themselves for their next position. You don't need a title to be a leader.
Interactions are Opportunities:
The difference between leadership and management is key to understanding, and it’s different in each organization. However, what stays the same is that managers are more authoritarian while leaders are comparatively visionary.
Individuals looking to receive a management promotion can take any opportunity to practice their leadership skills. To do this, ensure communication is clear and there is no judgment. For example, rather than criticizing another teammate's ideas, iterate over them until you determine if it is a solid idea or not. It’s similar to a brainstorming session; individuals don’t mock one another because they only aim to enlighten the larger goal.
To increase communication skills as an engineer, I recommend writing everything down – especially solutions, feedback, and iterations. Practicing these leaderships regularly will increase your chances of promotion and develop your skills.
Positive Role Models:
Leaders that are looking to grow should look above them at successful individuals. From these role models, team members can learn communication skills, processes, and how leaders act in different roles and situations. Even if these role models are far away from your direct report line, I still recommend taking notes on their behavior.
As an engineer, everybody knows that you deliver code. When you are looking for a managerial promotion, it is ideal to look at other successful outcomes you have created rather than code. Don't revert back to coding just to show value and don't do your team's work if you believe they are not delivering to the expectations. Make sure you guide them to where you believe they should be.
At the same time, new leaders need to delegate their previous responsibilities to their teams. If you continue to help team members on their level, they will not have the opportunity to grow, and team health will decline. Autonomy is essential for a successful team and manager.
Scale your coaching effort for your engineering and product teams
Develop yourself to become a stronger engineering / product leader
A major sign of trust, comfortability, and vulnerability is for someone you lead to be able to say something sucks.
Senior Engineering Manager at Curology
Jonathan Ducharme, Engineering Manager at AlleyCorp Nord, encourages the importance of a workplace environment that cultivates mental wellness.
Engineering Manager at AlleyCorp Nord
Viswa Mani Kiran Peddinti, Sr Engineering Manager at Instacart, walks through his experience scaling a team, product and his skills as a leader.
Viswa Mani Kiran Peddinti
Sr Engineering Manager at Instacart
Congratulations, you have just been promoted to an engineering management role. Once you are done celebrating the promotion you have worked hard to earn you might start to ask yourself, now what do I do?
AJ St. Aubin
Director Software Engineering at The RepTrak Company
Vineet Puranik, Senior Engineering Manager at DocuSign, discusses the impact of roadmaps, organization, and proper management for your teams to procure growth.
Senior Engineering Manager at DocuSign