Things we wish we were told, but learnt the hard way :)
Hi, we're Aaron & Amy! We’ve been managing tech teams for a combined 12 years, and over this time have learnt (often painfully) what does and doesn’t work. Chatting over coffee, we discussed what we’d say if we could travel back in time and give advice to fresh-faced versions of ourselves, just as we were stepping into management roles for the first time.
Focus & ruthless prioritisation
Spending too much time on something that’s no longer your job means you’re spending less time on the things that you should be doing.
One of the most difficult parts of becoming a manager is learning to let go. Earlier in your career you were rewarded for doing things. Sometimes the more you managed to do, the more reward you received. But now you’re a manager you have different responsibilities and different priorities. Spending too much time on something that’s no longer your job means you’re spending less time on the things that you should be doing. As a manager your job is to be the multiplier for your team, magnifying their energy and success rather than just contributing to it.
Learning to delegate allows your team to take on more responsibility and learn. It also allows you to hand over some work and make space for the whole new set of work that management brings with it. Become comfortable leaving some things undone, but make sure you’re leaving the right things. Focus on the ‘one thing’ that moves everything else. Your new role is about guiding, inspiring, and unblocking your team.
Demonstrate and reward the right behaviours
If you promote someone who regularly misses the team standup don’t be surprised when the rest of the team also starts turning up late.
As a leader you set the bar. Turning up late, forgetting meetings, or simply taking things easy tells others that this is fine. Make sure you’re OK with everyone in the team imitating your behaviours before demonstrating them.
If you promote someone who regularly misses the team standup don’t be surprised when the rest of the team also starts turning up late. The behaviours people exhibit are at least as important as the work they produce. Take care to reward, and encourage, the ones you want to see.
Difficult conversations will always be difficult, but they are also the most important.
Successful management relies on good communication. Starting out it can feel uncomfortable to sit someone down and tell them they could be doing something better. It can also be really uncomfortable to sit someone down and point out all of the things they’re doing brilliantly. It feels unnatural, like you’re stating the obvious, but you’re not.
Sometimes you’ll need to have difficult conversations that neither you nor the other person really wants to have. Performance reviews where the recipient doesn't agree with your rating, resignation conversations, or even harder, disciplinary conversations.
Difficult conversations will always be difficult, but they are also the most important. If you really want to help someone improve then you need to start out by giving them honest feedback and clear expectations. After that, work together to find the best approach. You won’t always be liked by your team but make sure you’re always respected for having been honest, and trustworthy.
Coaching & mentoring
If you find yourself talking for more than 50% of a one to one meeting then you’ve failed.
Management isn’t all about keeping people in line, real management is about helping people achieve their goals. Learning a couple of good opening questions (try “How’s life?”, or “What’s going on?” to get things started) and then actually listening will make a great start. Follow up with genuine questions to understand the other person better. Just because they remind you of someone else doesn’t mean they are the same as someone else. Treat everyone as the individuals that they are.
Most importantly, stop talking!
Everyone needs space to talk, some people need space to think before they talk. If you find yourself talking for more than 50% of a one to one meeting then you’ve failed. Ask a question, wait for the answer. Repeat. If you have someone who isn’t used to talking, or seems to be holding back, ask them “and what else?” to keep them thinking and talking.
Have the courage to be vulnerable
Say when you’re stuck, let the other person see you as a human and help them to bring their own ideas for unblocking the issue.
If you’re stuck working through a problem with someone in your team, it’s OK (and useful!) to be honest and vulnerable about that. Have the courage to say when you’re stuck, let the other person see you as a human and help them to bring their own ideas for unblocking the issue.
There will always be times when someone in the team has a question, or makes a request that you’re not sure about. When it happens be honest, tell them you don’t know the answer. Then go and find out so you can help them.
When life intrudes on work accept it and deal with it. We all have lives and all have times where work needs to take a backseat. Show your team that you respect yourself and know when to put yourself first. You’ll feel better and your team will see that they too can take time to handle their own situations should they arise.
Keep it human (you don’t need policies for everything)
Just do the thing that feels right to treat people kindly and decently.
If you don’t know the right answer then choose the human answer. An awful lot of management is reacting to situations, most of which won’t or shouldn’t need a policy to handle. Not sure what the policy is for x, just do the thing that feels right to treat people kindly and decently.
"Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position." - Brian Tracy
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