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So you want to be a manager - Part 5: Why it’s worth every step
A compelling case for transitioning to management
“Irina, you changed my life”. I’ll never forget that moment. Hearing that from one of my reports left me speechless. I didn’t realize that was something a manager could do! I was in awe. This revelation became more obvious when reflecting on my own experience. The best managers I’ve had also changed my life, and I’ll be forever grateful for that.
If you’ve made it this far in this series on Engineering Management, I want to congratulate you. So far it hasn’t been the most uplifting journey, but it was necessary to first address the myths, challenges, and responsibilities that come with the role.
Now that we have the gloomy aspects out of the way, let’s talk about why switching to management can be a wonderful experience, one filled with a lot of growth, excitement, satisfaction, and joy. In this final installment of “So you want to be a Manager”, we’re discussing the ripple effects of good managers and 7 essential traits that tell you management might be the perfect job for you.
Let’s dive in!
The ripple effects of a good manager
Just like the blast radius of bad management is larger than we think, so are the ripple effects of good management.
Good managers impact people’s progression and development. They can help build confidence and motivation. They can create an environment where people feel safe to speak up and feel relevant. They can help people achieve more than they think they are capable of. What a beautiful gift!
The ripples transcend the work environment because people take these feelings of excitement and accomplishment home with them. More so, the skills someone develops at work can be very useful at home as well. When someone learns to communicate better at work, they also learn to communicate better in their personal lives. The same thing happens with setting boundaries or advocating for oneself. It is all interconnected.
As a manager, you can indeed change lives. And if you put your heart and soul into it, maybe one day in the future, you’ll look back at some of the people you helped along the way and genuinely marvel at their accomplishments. That will ultimately be your legacy.
So what are some key traits you need to have to become that manager who changes lives?
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7 essential traits of good managers
You care about people
Caring in a general sense means displaying concern for people’s well-being. More specifically, in a work context, it also means valuing people, treating them with respect, and appreciating what they bring to the table. It involves recognizing people as more than just resources to achieve business objectives but as complete individuals with their own unique interests, backgrounds, and stories.
Caring means you want people to do and be good, and requires the ability to empathize with them and treat them with compassion.
Good managers take caring to another level, where they don’t want to be bystanders anymore and want to start playing an active role in ensuring people’s success and well-being. Caring is the foundation on which good management is built.
If this is something that resonates with you, then you should strongly consider becoming a manager!
You want to help
For me, management gave me a type of satisfaction that I never really got from my engineering role. Sure, building solid software, delivering projects I was proud of, and seeing them being used by millions of people, all this is incredible and feels very rewarding. But it doesn’t even come close to the feeling of knowing that something I did or said made a difference for someone.
One of the best parts of management is not only do you get these opportunities, but you also have time to focus on doing them right, which is not something you get in a pure mentor role.
As a manager, you’ll have much more time to focus on developing people, which includes mentoring, coaching, and cheerleading where necessary. Besides that, you’ll be the person your team goes to when they have problems so you’ll be helping them figure out all sorts of challenges.
Helping also means doing the glue work needed to make the whole team successful, even when it’s unglamorous. Doing this well not only helps individuals grow but helps teams grow together.
Management is the most suitable job for someone who is ready to step into a more supportive role and wants to prioritize helping people.
You get excited about figuring out human puzzles
Humans are tricky. As mentioned in part 3, a big part of a manager’s job is dealing with “people problems”, for which there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.
You can see that as a hurdle, or you can see it as a fascinating puzzle where you need to collect the pieces and put them together to figure out what motivates people, what triggers them, and how to build trust with them.
Human puzzles become even more complex when you put them side by side. When designing teams, matching people and skill sets to projects, priorities, personalities, and timelines is a really complex problem that requires a lot of the same problem-solving skills as engineering.
If you get excited about solving these types of puzzles, consider that a good indicator that you’d be a great manager.
You want to become a super-communicator
As a manager, effective communication is crucial. From your reports to other managers, product managers, etc., you will need to interface with different business functions, and you will need to adapt your language accordingly.
It’s okay to be an introvert, you don't need to change who you are. In fact, quiet managers sometimes make for better managers because they tend to listen more. However, communication needs to be something you enjoy doing because you’ll be doing a ton of it.
You understand your ethical responsibilities
As a manager, you now have the power to hire, fire, assign performance scores, and decide who gets various opportunities. That puts you in a position of power where the things you say and do have a different weight. You can make or break your team’s success.
And as Spider-Man was wisely advised:
With great power comes great responsibility.
Your responsibilities as a manager go beyond the fiduciary obligation you have to maximize shareholder value. A manager also has a fiduciary duty towards their employees.
What this means is that it is your job to uphold the highest standards of conduct, be a guardian and a role model of the company’s core values, and take disciplinary actions when necessary, even if puts you in a conflict. It also means you become the key differentiator in your report’s job experience, and you need to act in your report’s best interest. It’s your responsibility to enrich your team’s culture. Can you do that? Would you be willing to take a Hippocratic oath for it? Food for thought.
You feel called to lead
If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader."— John Quincy Adams
For many, there is often a feeling of unworthiness that gets triggered when they’re asked whether they would want to take on a leadership role. Unfortunately, this is something that holds many potential great managers back.
There are a few indicators that I’ve seen consistently in people who grew to become great leaders. They were the people to whom all eyes turned in times of uncertainty. These people consistently took the initiative to solve issues successfully and ensured the avenue of success for others. They’re the people who spoke their minds on issues of importance and were able to bring everyone along with them.
If you find yourself having these instincts, then perhaps you too are called to lead. Are you going to take the call?
You want to be a good manager
There were many things I didn’t understand about management when I got my first report. I used to believe some of the myths in part 2, I wasn’t aware of many of the difficulties in part 3, nor the extent of the potential blast radius of doing a bad job described in part 4.
If you find yourself in that position, it’s okay, you are not alone. The reality is that even with the best preparation, some of the challenges and responsibilities of management will be fully understood only when you’re directly facing them.
The most important thing is a solid commitment to wanting to be a good manager, no matter what else is true. If you want to be a good manager, you’ll put in the effort where you need to and listen to your team when they tell you you’re falling short, and your team will be able to hear that loud and clear. This is all you need to start on this journey, the rest of the skills you can acquire along the way.
Calling all potential managers
If you have never had a good manager, I am truly sorry. Unfortunately, good managers are rare. I believe many people have accepted this reality and have found ways to navigate around it. As long as their managers are not actively causing them problems, many people do not expect too much from them.
As of today, the bar is set quite low. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
I am hopeful that this industry is going in the right direction. I’ve seen continuous improvements over the decades, but there is still a long way to go.
I wholeheartedly believe that we can make good management the norm, rather than the exception. But for that, we need to get the right people into this role for the right reasons and give them the right incentives and the proper support.
You think you have what it takes and want to get into management, but you’re hesitating? What’s holding you back? Think about it this way, there are individuals who may currently be dealing with a poor manager, and you have the potential to bring positive change to their situation. By declining a management role, you are denying these individuals the opportunity to have a competent and effective manager.
So what if you never had a good role model? It’s okay, just be the manager you wish you had, be caring, thoughtful, and supportive, and commit to bettering yourself every day. You’ll do better than most managers out there.
As we’re wrapping up this series on Engineering Management, I’d love to hear from you what resonated the most, if you have any questions, and whether there are things you’d like me to dive deeper into in future articles.
Until next time,
Your Caring Techie
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