I am grateful to have had the opportunity to manage teams for several years. Moving from being a full-time engineer to a management position is something that many people have gone through and can say is not easy.
A week ago in a conversation with a coworker, we talked about Leadership and how I learned to do what I do. That left me thinking (a lot) on this bumpy trip. I want to share some tips/ideas/bullet points or whatever you want to call it about this journey on becoming a manager (and trying to become a better leader for my team).
Professional / Personal Growth
Help people to grow and change. Sometimes is difficult for some people to have a clear vision of what they want from their job. You have to actively help your team to think about it and put a plan in place (1:1 are very important on this matter).
Helping engineers to grow is not just sending them to training. You can give them new challenges and challenging assignments that will put them outside their comfort zone. It’s important to provide a safe place where they can fail and learn.
Another way to help them in their professional growth is to let them select what project they work on. In the last 6 months, we changed teams twice and gave those teams the chance to pick what they were going to work and the result was (and is) amazing. Engineers learned about new technologies and got deep knowledge of different parts of the business.
One of the most satisfying things about being a manager is to see people grow individually and collectively.
Learning / Teaching
Everybody in your team should be a mentor and should feel confortable teaching and helping other people. As a leader you should be the number one sponsor of this behaviour and this activity should be part of the culture of the team.
The other side of the story is to create an environment were learning / teaching happen organically. In our case we have 2 meetings with very different purposes:
- We conduct a bi-weekly, 1hr, “Engineering Meeting” for all engineers in our department (+ guests). This is a structured meeting with a predefined agenda with the purpose to spread knowledge or have an open discussion about big themes, for example, arquitectural changes, new technologies, performance improvements, business processes, etc.
- Then we held a non-mandatory, 30 minutes, twice a week, first time in the morning, unstructured “Engineering chats”. The idea of this is to discuss issues related to the current sprint, for example blockers, software design, tests, etc.
Check Cal Evan’s book “Creating a Brown Bag Lunch Program”, it will give you a good starting point to put your team in a Continuous Leaning cycle.
1:1 & continuous feedback
Have regular 1:1 meetings with your direct reports. The best way of doing it is to schedule a recurring meeting in your calendar (at least 30 minutes).
Take notes and get prepared (I use Evernote to track all my 1:1s, read the last meeting notes so you can follow up).
Give and get feedback on yourself. Giving feedback is easier that receiving it but, if you ask for it every time it will feel natural and your team will be confident to give you sincere feedback. Ask for feedback from other team members too. It’s a good moment to talk about their relationship with others and how teams are working/performing. Ask your direct report if there is anything that you can help them and how.
As a leader, your attitude will shape how people feel about the organization. Be confident even in difficult situations. Stay calm and positive. Just think about it, the mood of your team is a faithful reflection of the attitude of its leader. Be passionate, positive but honest, don’t fake it either.
Delegating helps you to focus on what is required for your leadership role, it’s not easy but it’s something that you need to master to became a successful leader. It’s important to understand that you are not delegating tasks because you don’t have time to do them. You are delegating because you really accept that there are people in your team more capable than you to perform those tasks.
Delegating implies accepting that things can be done differently than one would do.
Remember to build a team with people smarter than you.
Inspire (don’t instruct)
Last but not least, always inspire your team, even inspire other engineering teams. Inspiring engineers is a full-time job and it’s not easy. Give your team a vision and provide them a map. Show them the path, be sure that they understand the why they will handle the how.
Management is hard but leading a team is harder, however leadership skills can be learned. Leaders are not a different from others, they are people who were given the opportunity to lead.
I hope this tips can help you to became a better Leader.