The reason why I became a manager is simple. I thrive on helping others succeed and do their best work. I am also a believer that this should be a core part of the motivation for anyone to become a manager. In this article, I will outline what I’ve learned over the years about the responsibilities of a manager.
Keep in mind that I am documenting my journey and I hope to look back at this in time and have many other things to add and even correct. If you have any feedback, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
This is quite a lengthy topic and thus I have decided to split it up into several parts. In this article, we are going to explore the topic of managing individuals. Let’s do this!
Management is the balance between two things. Delivering and doing so in a sustainable manner. This is a gross oversimplification and there are many intricacies involved but we’ll use this as a starting point.
What worked for me is to start with empathy and follow the saying “Seek first to understand then to be understood”. Everyone is different and that’s what makes this job so interesting. There is no silver bullet and what works with one person might backfire horribly with another.
That is why as a manager you have to have multiple tools at your disposal. I would like to introduce to you a practical starter kit for managers. And here are the 4 tools we’ll look at in more detail:
One of the most important tools you have at your disposal as a manager are 1:1s. You should be doing them, no excuses here. First, let's start with establishing the following. 1:1s are for the person you are managing, it is their time, not yours. They are not status report meetings. That can be done in another meeting, or better yet asynchronously.
I usually start with some questions about what the other person finds important. Establish a norm of mutually sharing radical candor and praise. Learn how they like to receive feedback. Understand what motivates them and what discourages them. Do they want to grow fast or do they prefer to move methodically? I think you get the idea, get to know that person better in order to make the most of their valuable time.
Next, I work with them to create a plan for their career development and set actionable, measurable goals. I highly recommend starting with a 30/60/90-day plan. But don’t stop there. This should be something you do throughout your time supporting that person. I like to do a more thorough check every quarter and at least monthly talk about goals and their progress. And write everything down, this is very important!
Finally, don't forget that we are all human. Ask them how they are doing and get to know them as a person. Talking about non-work related topics is extremely underrated.
The next important duty as a leader and frankly any high-performing employee is delivering feedback. Learn not only how to give and receive feedback but also be able to coach people on how to do these things effectively. I would highly recommend diving deeper into this topic. A great read on the topic is the book Radical Candor by Kim Scott.
When it comes to feedback I like to follow the principle of sooner and smaller not later and bigger. I would discourage you from waiting to see several occurrences before you start talking with people. The way I measure success here is if during the annual performance review there are no surprises. The word feedback often has the connotation that we are talking about constructive feedback. Positive feedback or praise is equally as important and it should not be neglected.
Lastly, remember that the goal of giving feedback is simple - to positively influence future behavior. Use this as a filter next time you are about to share feedback with anyone. I will leave you with one of my favorite ways of delivering feedback. The SBI model.
I love doing this so much! As a leader, you are also a multiplier. If you spend 1h making someone even 1% better, that is a great use of your time. The better you do this and the more people you influence, the easier it will be to grow in your career.
That said, you will have times when the person you are managing will need to acquire a skill that you are not very familiar with. I work as an Engineering Manager and I can tell you, it is impossible to know everything. As a manager, you need to be able to coach someone on topics that you are not an expert in. I was fortunate that very early in my career as a leader I had to coach more experienced engineers on my team and trust me, they knew a lot more about their area of expertise than I did. So what should you do in that case?
Start by listening very intently and asking questions. In my opinion, teaching someone how to do something has its place but what is even better is to teach someone how to learn to do something on their own. This creates autonomy and the next time that person has a similar goal or problem, they will know what to do on their own. I constantly try to find ways like this to become obsolete. Of course, you will still be needed to hold that person accountable for achieving their goals so you are not out of the hook completely.
The last tool I present to you is delegation. If you juggle between personally contributing and managing you will find that you won’t have enough time to do everything that is expected from you. In order to get time back, you can delegate some of the tasks you have. This is actually an awesome opportunity for the people you work with to level up. The way I judge if I have done this right is I ask myself. Can I take 2 weeks and not worry about my team? What about a month?
One key concept of delegation is to understand that metaphorically you have big balls and small balls to juggle. Those represent the tasks you have to do. When looking at things to delegate, keep in mind that some of the small balls for you might be big ones for the person you are delegating to. Additionally, keep in mind that task assignment is not the same as delegating. You must pass the ownership of that task to the other person and let them be responsible. When you do that, don’t forget to support that person, until they can do it autonomously.
This is in no way an exhaustive list but simply a good start for managing individuals. More often than not those individuals are part of a team. This is where things become even more interesting! Stay tuned for part 2.
Hopefully, at least someone can find value in reading this article.
Keep a growth mindset and take care!