Advice, Leadership Development

Debunking Most Common Myths About People Managers

Managers

I am a technical and people manager. Whether I like it or not, it’s the truth. Do I like being a people manager, I hear you ask? I do like my job, the challenges, the perks and all, but I don’t like the label. Why? Because of all the myths about managers. People managers get a lot of bad rep and it just makes me cringe when I am being labelled as one.

So I thought I’d analyse all the myths about people managers and let you see my life as one.

Firstly, who are people managers? To me, people managers are those who have a team of employees reporting to them. Therefore, people managers are not just those with the word ‘manager’ in their tiles; titles for people managers could vary, one could be a team lead, a head of a department, a director of a domain, a manager, a senior manager, or even a CxO of a company. Not everyone who has the word manager is a people manager and not every manager is a people manager.

Myth 1: People managers are always the first to let go because they know nothing and do nothing

A good people manager adds value to the organisation. A good people manager inspires his or her team, leads by example and ensures productivity and efficiency from the team. A good manager sees the big picture but also understands details and makes sure there is an alignment between the organisation’s goals and individual contributors’ goals.

If a people manager who adds such value to an organisation is let go then the loss is to the organisation.

Myth 2: People managers like to micromanage

One bad apple spoils the whole bunch. This statement is pure generalization and is often caused by not having a capable team or a trusting relationship with the team. This problem should not exist if the people manager has an open and transparent relationship with his team and can trust the team to deliver. As a people manager, I’d rather not micromanage but if someone is not performing then there is no other choice. My advice is that if you are an individual contributor and dislike being micromanaged, always go an extra mile, show that you are capable and can be trusted to deliver with little or no supervision.

Myth 3: People managers have it easy

If only this was true. People managers’ lives would be easy if every employee was talented, hard working, capable, possess great attitude and communication skills. Indeed, if that was the case, people managers can just sit back and smile while their teams work happily and efficiently. When hiring, people managers are always told to hire the best talent but it’s just one part of the equation. Everyone is different. Some employees are talented but are not focused. Some are not talented but are loyal. Some are well-intentioned but are easily distracted. When people managers are lucky, every once in a while, we are fortunate to have a team member who ticks all the boxes, talented, diligent, hard-working, friendly, and helpful. Then we count our lucky stars. As a people manager, one needs not only leadership skills but also a lot of empathy and understanding of human psychology to bring out the best in people. Also, most people managers not only manage people, they also have other responsibilities such as stakeholder management, strategic planning, resource planning and program management.

Myth 4: People managers have no technical skills

Ouch. As a technologist, and someone who loves technology, I consider this an insult. All the people managers I know were once hands on technical people. People managers may not be doing technical tasks day in day out anymore, but to say we have no technical skills is taking it to another level.

While writing this article, it also made me realise one thing. I have learned so much about people and processes as a people manager in the past few years than I have ever learnt during the first decade of my career. While I will always love hands-on technical work and find great pleasure in building things, being a people manager gives me skills and experiences that I wouldn’t otherwise get if I were to just sit at my desk and code all day long.

I now have a new found respect for great people managers who are warm and kind yet firm and knowledgeable. When I look back at my career one day, I hope to feel satisfied and happy that I have done my best in whatever role that I played. So my conclusion is that being a people manager is half not as bad as it is made out to be. Regardless of bad rep and myths, every job is worth doing well and a people manager role is definitely one of them.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like to check out my latest book on engineering management. It’s a practical guide for engineering managers at tech companies.

The Engineering Manager’s How-to Guide is very targeted for engineering managers, and in this book, you won’t find generic advice like having regular 1:1’s, giving feedback, etc. Yes, those things are absolutely important, but they are not specific to an engineering manager’s role. It’s my goal to make sure this book provides a concise and actionable guide for engineering managers, the specific and niche content for engineering managers that you won’t find in other leadership and management books.