Often I speak to tech professionals who’ve reached leadership positions but that ideally would like to get back into a more hands-on role. They’ve built their careers around being the best, so when a promotion into leadership came their way, it seemed like the natural next step. How difficult can it be to manage a team of those doing exactly what they’ve been doing successfully themselves? However, many new tech managers learn a few things along the way, with some even questioning whether it was the right move.
The reason? As a new tech manager, you may have had many years of practice in your craft, but very little formal management training or leadership experience. You may not have realized the great responsibility of people management and all of the stress that comes with it – and at times maybe actually miss diving into hands-on coding or architecture work.
Some experience leadership and realize it isn’t for them – and that is perfectly fine. Maybe you prefer a more informal leadership or mentorship type of role – helping junior developers or engineers build their skills. However, if you do want to succeed as a tech manager and perhaps make the progression into the role of a CIO or CTO one day, here are some skills that are critical to develop for success.
Don’t Do Everything Yourself
It can be tempting to want to do everything yourself – after all, you’ve been doing it for years and know what you’re doing. However, the hallmark of a good leader is the ability to delegate responsibility. Micromanaging isn’t fun for anyone – and with poor leadership being one of the top reasons employees seek new jobs, your team retention will take a hit if you can’t learn to share responsibility.
Find Time to Do the Things You Enjoy
Another quick way to burn out as a new tech manager is by completely stopping doing what you love. Sure, you have the responsibility for a project, managing your team, and meetings (lots of meetings). However, if you stop actually doing what you love, you’ll quickly find yourself to be a bitter manager. It may not be as time effective, but when assigning out responsibilities, give yourself some as well – and carve out the time. The benefits of this “hands-on leader” mentality is also keeping your skills updated.
Involve your Team in Decisions
One of the biggest mistakes of new leaders is trying to make all the decisions themselves. Not only does this add undue stress on yourself, it also alienates your team. In the annual PROTECH surveys, our #2 reason for employees taking another job offer is they felt a lack of decision making involvement in their last role. Although you will always need to make the final decision, take the time to involve your team – whether during your daily standup or special meeting. Share the problem, and gather their feedback and thoughts on the appropriate solution. The other benefit of this is hearing other thoughts and perspectives you may not have otherwise thought of. A common complaint I hear is when team managers make all technology-related decisions without consulting the team doing the work – even if you feel the chosen technology is the best choice, the team may not agree.
Understand you Don’t (and Can’t) Know it All
As a manager, it is impossible for you to know more than your entire team combined. In fact, many times the reason tech managers need to hire is to fill a gap in their own expertise. A good tech manager knows they can’t know it all – and they rely on their team’s knowledge when needed. However, a common mistake of new tech managers is to put pressure on themselves to be an expert in every area. Instead, by admitting when you don’t know something, it makes you relatable to your team and a better leader.
Share in the Praise…and the Blame
As a new tech manager, one can sometimes forget to share the recognition of a project well done. It may not even be on purpose – we are conditioned to accept success as individuals – from education to years spent in individual contributor roles. As a manager, however, although recognition for success ultimately will land on your shoulders, it is critical to ensure your team receives adequate recognition – even if it comes from you in the form of a bonus. Alternatively, when it comes to failure, our first instinct is to look for external instead of internal causation.
Getting a poor grade in college was the result of a loud roommate or a tough teacher – we didn’t want to accept the reality of it being due to our own lack of studying. However, as a manager, it is really important to not simply push the blame on to our own team or an individual and overlook the role you may have played. Even if it’s clear that someone made a critical mistake, how can you make sure your team is better trained in the future to avoid a repeat? How was that mistake able to have such a large impact? Playing the blame game won’t make you a respected and strong tech manager, it will only alienate you from your teams.