I was the first engineer and 3rd employee at a company that grew from a problem statement to a team of over 550 people with a 1.3b valuation in 3 years. I moved from being the only engineer to managing managers of engineers. The company direction shifted, my manager and peers shifted (many times!). The changing definition of ‘good’ gives me that dizzy feeling like after you stop spinning and wobble around - everything is moving and it is hard to tell which ways is up.
This is my attempt at writing out a few things I think are ‘up’.
Like many engineers who move into management, I had absolutely no ‘practice’, ‘management training’ or ‘mentorship’. My experience is merely that I got annoyed with inefficient process and then tried to fix them at a few prior companies. That experience landed me in various management and leadership roles.
From the outside, I imagined 'people management' as a deliberate set of actions to grow employees and multiply the effectiveness of the team. However, this has not been my experience. At a high growth company like Cityblock Health (in year 2, the team grew 700%), management is reactive. In any given quarter, the estimates for headcount, budget or business needs may be off by many multiples. It was not possible to consult a variety of materials, internalize the lessons and then enact a forward looking strategy. As a result, I reactively sought advice came from trusted peers and friends around problems as they arose.
My top recommendation for a manager of managers would be to build a network of peers you can call for advice (and who you support in turn). There is no replacement for a good peer network. I deeply wish I had done that more. Today, I use Merit. In the past I used Orbital Studios and had a management coach.
I've broken a few lessons into three general categories based on the three directions you need to face as a manager: up, inward and toward your team:
Small things to remember
- Always work to make yourself irrelevant.
- You always can solve other people’s problems if they are also your problem - no matter what lack of autonomy you feel. Make sure your team knows this.
- Be a force of unbending consistency.
- Relationships are far more important than you imagine.
- You can only fully control yourself.
- Remember the 5 factors of effective collaboration from @Camille Fournier
- Are you talking to one another effectively?
- Do you know where you are going?
- Do you know how you are getting there?
- Do you know how to tell of you are getting there?
- Have you done the work to make sure your team can actually get work done?
Short books with actionable information and/or frameworks
- The Manager's Path
- The Making of a Manager
- The Art of Leadership: Small Things Done Well
- The Managers Handbook
- A short list of articles and tips