One of the things that all new managers who move from leading a team of engineers to leading managers have in common is, well, frustration. One such manager once compared his first experience to being stuck in a never-ending double pendulum – difficult to control and very energy consuming at first.
Technical leadership coach Marcus Blankenship asked three engineering leaders how they’ve experienced the transition and here are some of the key takeaways that they’ve shared:
Start with being a really good frontline manager. If your peers don’t see you as a role model, you’re in trouble. Stakeholder management skills are another must. You need to be able to rely on your managers’ capacity to bring together the right people at the right time. (Rich Archbold, Senior Director of Engineering at Intercom);
Build environments where there is clarity around roles and feedback is welcomed and appreciated. Managers need to feel free to figure out and use their own style to solve issues and handling their own teams while not straying too much from the story you want them to be telling. (Ian Nowland, VP, Engineering – Metrics and Alerts at Datadog)
Get good at coaching. As Charity Majors, CTO at Honeycomb.io, puts it – “figure out how to help you managers use their own strengths to solve problems”. Managers can achieve the same goals using a variety of strategies and some of these might be very different than your own. And that doesn’t mean they are wrong.
Build relationships. Both with your team and with those above you. One of the important roles of any managers is clearing roadblock for their teams. Invest in building those relationships and become your teams’ best advocate.
Get good at and comfortable with influencing others and gain trust. Weather is from being so good at your job that others can’t ignore you, from constantly showing up and getting things done or from not shying away from rally connecting with people, trust is essential. Using David Maister’s trust equation (The Trusted Advisor), Ian Nowland (Engineering – Metrics and Alerts at Datadog) points to trustworthiness as the result of putting together credibility (do others believe you when you say something?) with reliability (can people depend on you?) and intimacy (do people feel safe around you?) and divided it all by self-interest (does your ego get the best of you or can others become subjects of your focus?).