There is a lot that goes into being a good manager. It’s not just doing check-ins and reporting upwards; it’s helping others grow into their roles (or progress to their next role, if they want to), training up newer team members, handling workloads, dealing with holidays, etc.
You are a critical component to making your team successful. If they have all the obstacles cleared ahead of them, allowing them to do their best work, you’ll have a successful team.
You can also be a blocker on your team, if you don’t juggle all of the responsibilities that come with the role, you can end up slowing down the rest of the team, causing unrest or worse – causing someone to leave.
Have you ever had a bad manager? What about a good one? What’s the difference between them?
For me at least – a bad manager doesn’t see their team as an extension of themselves. As a manager you succeed when your team succeeds, it’s that simple, a bad manager focuses on themselves only – treating their team members as cogs in a machine who occasionally fail to follow their orders.
If you want to be a good manager, you need to remember the people on your team are people first. They get upset, angry, and scared just like you do. Taking the extra time to walk people through decisions (even if they aren’t yours) can help bring them along on the journey – from experience, I know it’s appreciated.
I’m putting this first because it’s something I struggled with early on as a manager – a pivot is decided by management, and you need to get your team to move in a new direction.
When you have bad communication with your team, it causes stress for everyone.
When a decision is made, either by you or your manager/director group, bring your team up to speed as soon as you can.
If you don’t have all the required information, bring in others who do, get them in a room (or a call), and walk through the what and why. The team will appreciate it and you’ll all be able to work together to achieve whatever is needed.
Keep your head straight
If you are having a bad day, don’t make other people have a bad day.
Be a professional, take a breather, and get back to things. As a manager, you have a bigger impact on making others have a difficult time. I had to learn to control my occasional knee-jerk reactions to situations to avoid biasing my teams.
You’re setting an example to others with how you handle things and your team will (maybe unconsciously) model the same behaviors.
“I think we should do X” responding with “That’s a terrible idea” and leaving it at that is toxic and isn’t constructive to the project.
Instead, work with them to find something that’s beneficial to everyone.
Schedule time to sit down with every one of your team members individually. From my experience – once every two weeks for 30 minutes is usually good enough for seniors/principals. For Juniors/mid-level or if someone needs additional support aim for once a week.
Before the meeting, review your notes from the previous meeting, and be prepared to talk about any problem raised in previous meetings.
When you are in the meeting, take notes, turn off distractions, and focus on them. This was something I struggled with because of all of my other responsibilities – I’d find myself doing a code review or writing code while also having a 1-to-1 meeting. Don’t do that.
Everyone has their own process, but mine was asking the following:
How are you doing?
Start things off by finding out how they are feeling about things, this is a good temperature check you can use to see how moods are progressing from meeting to meeting.
If there are any serious problems raised, make sure you schedule some time with them to follow up on it and see if you can help them out with things.
Any concerns you want to talk about?
The response to this was usually, “Nope, nothing comes to mind” – BUT occasionally I’ve had problems with a direction in the project popping up here.
For example – engineer one was working with designer two and they didn’t like the direction of the design and didn’t feel listened to. So in that instance is useful to talk to your design manager counterpart and see if there is a way to coach both sides to a better place.
Talk about how they are progressing toward their next position in the company. Each role should be clearly defined (if it isn’t, speak to your discipline lead about getting a Job Family defined) and the step from one role to another should have clear requirements.
Helping someone move from one position to another by promotions will require clear, long-term evidence of performing at the requirements of the next role. If they are meeting expectations then let them know, if they aren’t then help them with coaching and find opportunities to get them to where they need to be.
You’ll most likely end up being a hiring manager as part of your roles as an engineering manager, during my time at BossAlien, we had a great process that I’ve put here and I hope it can help give you ideas for your own process.
You/directorship/management need to present a unified front to the rest of the team. If you don’t then it’s easy for people to start to feel uneasy.
Before a decision is made, be sure to respectfully communicate your feelings to management/directorship.
Consider how the change will impact your team and make sure that any potential problems are addressed before the final decision is made.
Keep things professional
This seems obvious, but when you’ve been working hard for a very, very long time emotions start to fray. But it’s important to remember we’re all human beings, it’s normal to care about your co-worker’s feelings. When you are a manager that doesn’t change, but in order to protect yourself you should try and maintain some degree of separation or you could end up becoming everybody’s emotional punchbag.
For example, if there’s something that people don’t like, but you have no control over, it’s understandable to have those feelings come out during a one-to-one – with a team member telling their manager their problems.
To help with this, make sure you encourage your team members to talk directly (respectfully) with whoever is making a decision they disagree with and check in with both sides to see if there is any progress made on the problem. If there isn’t then it might need to escalate to upper management.
We all love being told “well done” for our work, so do it!
Try and moderate how often you celebrate, otherwise, it loses its significance. Try to aim for once a milestone, regardless of the outcome of the overall milestone there are still usually significant moments for the project that your team achieved.
Something I personally regret is not giving more celebration in these moments for others on the team.
They usually kick ass, so let them know it.
Last but not least
Enjoy the role, it’s a great feeling working with a team of people who want to make something amazing with you. Listen to them, learn from them, and be prepared to adapt and overcome all the obstacles you face as a team together.
You don’t need to have all the answers, you need to be able to help support the team, have their back, and keep the rain of upper management (sometimes the team doesn’t need to know all the details of the meeting that went badly) off them so they can do their best work.