· 8 min read

Six things you should know about Managing

In this blog post, I share six key lessons I've learned from my journey into management. You'll discover the challenges of transitioning from hands-on work to leading a team, the importance of avoiding micromanagement, and how to prioritize team outcomes.

In this blog post, I share six key lessons I've learned from my journey into management. You'll discover the challenges of transitioning from hands-on work to leading a team, the importance of avoiding micromanagement, and how to prioritize team outcomes.

Most managers I’ve met, including myself, didn’t exactly choose their roles. Instead, a series of events and circumstances led them there. The story usually goes like this: they were skilled individual contributors, their colleagues or bosses recognized their good work, and suggested they try managing. So, they gave it a shot, and a decade later, they’re still at it. My journey was pretty much the same. After years of being a solid individual contributor, the chance to manage came up, and I decided to give it a go. And guess what? Many years later, I’m still here, learning new things every day and, most of the time, enjoying it.

In this blog post, I’ve gathered six things I’ve learned over time that I wish someone had told me earlier in my journey. Hopefully, these tips will not only help individuals stepping into a new management role, but also serve as a good reminder to those with experience.

#1 You’ll suck at it… initially

One thing to quickly realize is that after becoming a manager, you will not longer be doing the things that made you successful. Those things that made you the great performer, like coding, designing, architecting, will not longer be your daily bread and butter. Instead, your job now is to help others do those things really, really well.

Your job now will be communication, communication, and more communication. Then recruiting, hiring, firing, managing budgets, conducting reviews, holding 1 on 1 meetings, meetings with other teams, representing your team in meetings, and more meetings. You’ll also, add some conflict resolution, setting goals, mentoring, dealing with political BS, and asking more than once per day, “How can I help you?“.

If you’re still doing all the cool things you used do on your old job when you were not an manager, then you’re probably doing it wrong. You now lead a team of people doing what you used to be good at. So, a minimum of 80 percent of your time should be spent managing. If this isn’t happening, then you’re not getting the job done correctly. Managing is the job now, and it’s a tough one.

These new manager skills don’t come with a user manual. And no, you’re not born with them or have them as your “talents”. It’s a learn-as-you-go journey, where you’ll need to constantly educate yourself, hopefully by reading a ton, attending classes, tuning into podcasts, and, if you are lucky, surrounding yourself with a wise circle of mentors who can guide you.

Be okay with discomfort and understand that, just like learning to ride a bike, developing these skills will take some time (and possibly a few metaphorical bruises). So strap in and enjoy the ride!

#2 Beware of Micromanagement, Prioritize Outcomes

Your job is for the team to produce great quality work, that’s it. Sounds simple no?.

But it can quickly turns into micromanaging if you start laying out a step-by-step playbook on how to get there. This is likely one of the first traps new managers fall into (and the experienced ones too), and it’s one that needs to be taken pretty seriously as will quickly deteriorate the inner workings of any team.

As a manager, you should focus on ensuring the team produces the best possible product. The outcome is your business. How the team achieves that outcome is the team’s business.

When you focus more on the team’s work procedure rather than the actual outcome, you’re going into micromanagement. (Of course sometimes it turns out that the process is flawed and leads to bad outcomes. In that case, the manager should feel free to dive in and revise the process. That’s the manager’s job, too.)

Concentrate on the team outcomes, focus on communication and establishing clear expectations, rather than dictating how tasks should be done. Empower your team to find their own best practices and solutions, and make sure they feel supported and heard.

Ensure your expectations are clear, and speak up when something isn’t good enough.

#3 You are not just responsible for the work, you are responsable for humans

That can sound pretty obvious —yes, yes, that’s the whole point of the job—it’s a difficult thing to grapple with when all of a sudden eighty people are looking at you, expecting you to know how to lead them.

People come first, which means you are now responsible in many ways for their careers, their growth, and the opportunities that they are presented with, as well as how these match with their skills, etc.

Your 1:1 meetings are probably your best tool to get the most out of your new responsibilities. Pair this with good listening and transparent, candid feedback, and you will be off to a good start.

In the medium to long term, your responsibilities are to consider how to position the individuals on your team to excel at what they do, and how to create the opportunities to make that happen. This means giving responsibility, but also supporting with training, providing them with tough feedback, paired with support and suggestions for improvement, challenging directly but caring deeply.

Remember, your success no longer hinges solely on your individual achievements but on the collective success of your team. You should aim to create an environment where your team members feel valued, motivated, and empowered to take initiative and make decisions. Their success should be your success. The best managers are those who are happy to be outshone by their team.

#4 Embrace Honesty as your Prime Strategy

What is your management style? Take a moment to think… You might come up with descriptors like analytical, strategic, radically candid, reserved, or enthusiastic. If you had asked me this question a few years ago, I would probably have said something like candid and motivating. Now, my preferred style is honesty. Honesty in delivering the uncomfortable, hard truths that need to be said. Honesty in providing feedback after each meeting, if necessary.

Honesty in admitting my own mistakes and saying I am sorry several times. Honesty in sharing the broader context and the ‘why’ behind decisions.

Honesty, as a tool for clear communication and mutual growth. Honesty is key, even when the situation isn’t ideal. Don’t shy away from telling them the hard truth. Begin the conversation positively, smoothly transition into the main subject, but don’t ignore the crucial issue at hand. Remember, even when critiquing someone’s work or behavior, your intention is not to hurt, but to help them. Every word should come from a place of caring. Share what’s hindering their progress and then devise a plan to address it together.

Honesty is one of the best tools I have found for managing, and it’s something that I can also expect from others if they see it in my behavior, which makes for a much much better working environment.

#5 Say “Help Me” more often

New managers, especially, tend to think that they are supposed to behave in a superhero type of way, where they know it all and everything is under control. Imagine Mr. Incredible from Pixar.

The fact is that most managers don’t know all the answers. A lot of the time, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m okay with accepting that. But with that feeling, I have learned to say “Help me” more.

If you are a new manager, you can also simply tell people upfront: “I’m doing this for the first time. I’m still learning. Please tell me what I can do to make things better.”

That’s it. But that’s a big mindset shift. I’ve observed numerous individuals freeze, terrified that everyone will know their truth, that they don’t know what they’re doing.

If you’re new to management, it’s important to be honest about your inexperience. Pretending otherwise will not fool anyone and can lead to further complications. If you’ve been promoted to a managerial role, it’s likely you’re overseeing individuals who were once your peers - peers who trust and respect you. Maintain that trust by being transparent. (See #4,) and tell everyone where you need their help, and how can you also help them.

#6 The “Why” comes first

Start with Why by Simon Sinek is one of the best books I’ve read since becoming a manager. I highly recommend it to everyone. One quote that always stuck with me is:

Great leaders…inspire people to act…Those who truly lead…create a following of people who act not because they were swayed, but because they were inspired.

For me, a lot of time and thinking goes into figuring out ways that I can better explain a concept or a piece of work, maybe through storytelling, a workshop, or a written document. Always emphasizing the importance of the why.

If you don’t understand the “why”, it’s your responsibility as a manager to figure it out. Prioritize the user and ensure all details are clear. If you have the opportunity to work with a product manager, ensure that the collaboration is effective, and that you both are working towards clear, measurable outcomes that everyone on the team supports. Examining the product and caring deeply about the quality of what your team is producing is not micromanagement. That’s exactly what you should be doing.

The ultimate goal of starting with ‘Why’ is to inspire action. When your team understand and believe in the ‘Why,’ they are way more motivated to act, and to follow on that vision.

Remember, true leadership is about inspiring others to believe in a shared mission. Start with ‘Why,’ and you’ll see your team not only motivated but genuinely invested in achieving your collective goals.

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