I first had the taste of being in a managerial role in 2007-2008 when I took on the role of IT manager/team leader for a medium sized online agency. I lasted at that role for exactly a year and it required a lot of discipline from my end to stick around that long because I didn’t want to seem like a failure by quitting so early.
I am now in a managerial role again, after almost 10 years. And this time around, I’m happy to report that I’m doing much better and dare I say, enjoying the experience.
For those transitioning into a people manager role from an individual contributor role, I would like to share my experience and five things I wish I knew back then so you can learn from them and your transition is an easy one.
1. Trust is important
Being in middle management is sometimes like a filling inside a sandwich. We are in between frontline employees and senior management and therefore need to be able to manage both upwards and downwards. Trust is very important in this role; trust in the senior management’s ability to make sound decisions and trust in the direct reports’ ability to execute things and handle day-to-day operations. When we have trust, we wouldn’t be feeling the constant pressure and carrying weight on our shoulder. Besides, having trust enables us to be more supportive and positive. We need to trust in people and processes and believe that we can achieve great things together.
2. Effective communication is crucial
Middle managers are often the bridge between senior management and frontline employees. Therefore, we need to learn to communicate effectively, clearly and convey messages in both directions. Effective communication also means timely and clear communication. When decisions are made, we need to understand rationale behind these decisions and be able to explain them clearly. Clarity and timeliness are important not only in directing others, but also in managing expectations. Knowing an appropriate medium to use, be it email, written report, face-to-face meeting, or phone call, is key in ensuring that there is little to no room for misinterpretation.
3. Planning is as important as doing
When I was an individual contributor, I took great pleasure in getting things done, and being on the ground to execute tasks. When I first became a manager, I missed that, and I missed that a lot. I felt that if I wasn’t doing any hands-on work, I wasn’t being productive. It took me a while to understand and accept that planning, strategic thinking and making sure other people can deliver and execute on my behalf is equally, if not more, important for a manager. After all, if we are able use the power of more people, more things get done in the end.
4. There is always room for development
There is a saying that the more you know, the more you know you don’t know. It is very true and quite comforting because learning is my passion and I never want to stop learning and growing. I used to worry that as a manager, I would no longer have up-to-date technical knowledge and become obsolete. However, over time, I’ve come to realise that I am still learning and expanding my knowledge everyday as a manager. And technical knowledge is not the only knowledge we need to make our mark in this world.
5. It’s ok to fail as long as I learn from my failures
I hate to say I am a perfectionist but many personality tests I have taken thus far have revealed that I am one. As such, I don’t like failures and I want to get things done perfectly the first time. Being a manager means that sometimes, we need to think and make decisions on our feet without much preparation. I was not comfortable with the fact that I could be making wrong decisions or saying wrong things that affect not only myself but also other people. However, I have come to accept that it is ok to make mistakes as long as I learn from my mistakes and do everything in my power to correct them or learn from them. So for example, these days, I make quick decisions with information I have at hand but I am willing to change my decision as I gather more information or stand corrected and not beat myself over it.
To those who are looking to become a manager and think they will be good at it, I say more power to you and I wish you all the best. To those who are not sure if they want to become a manager, I say give it a go because you never know until you try and there is really nothing to lose. If you like it, then you’ll be glad that you give it a try. If you don’t like it and go back to being an individual contributor, you’ll have gained an invaluable experience and that’s a win too. And who knows, you might be ready to come back to it again at a later time like I did and enjoy it second time around.
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.