As I complete 15 years in the software industry, I now feel I have learnt enough by my experiences that I can finally share some advice with folks new to management roles or the software industry in general. I have been mentoring a lot of folks at work over the years and have a decent chunk of knowledge to share. In this Passing it forward series, I intend to share experiences, advice, techniques I have relied on to grow in my current organisation as well as ensure the growth of others.

Although my current title is Director, Engineering before I reached this position, in 2014-15 I was an Architect. I was responsible for writing code to build a platform to design RESTful services in next gen TIBCO BusinessWorks. However during that time a great opportunity came up and my manager encouraged me to try my hand as an engineering manager instead of writing code. I was already leading a few meetings with our support teams and other cross functional teams and I thought this would be a good move. Looking back I think this was one of the best decisions of my career. As a people and engineering manager you end up contributing a lot more to the organisation. Below are some rules of management I learned along the way in my journey of learning how to be a good manager. These are in no particular order but something I kept in mind while I continue to learn how to be an effective and good leader.

Remember: Even if you are a manager your end goal is to become a leader !

Rule 1 : Find a manager who you look up to and ask for help

If you are new to management, I highly recommend finding a manager who you know and trust to help you to become a good manager. This could be your manager, a peer or someone in your organisation. Approaching such a person might be intimidating if you are an introvert but their experience will give you invaluable knowledge. Learning from others experiences is very important for you as a newbie. First hand experiences will always provide clarity. Having a goto person when you need advice is always helpful when you are new.

Rule 2: Find sources of knowledge e.g. books or courses

I believe firmly in learning from experiences of great managers. This however was not limited to my organisation or even the software industry. One of the first books on management I read was by Sir Alex Ferguson the legendary coach of Manchester United Football Club. I love Man United and seeing how Sir Alex dealt with different personalities whether it was growing Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney to their full potential, contract negotiations, team composition or how to integrate youth in your teams – there was ample evidence that this manger had been there done that. So, read read read! Here are a few books that I have read which have helped me.

  • Leading: Learning from Life and My years at Manchester United by Sir Alex Ferguson
  • How to win friends and Influence people by Dale Carnegie
  • The five dysfunctions of a team by Patrick Lencioni
  • The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni
  • Radical Candor by Kim Scott (highly recommended)

Now that I think of it, I will probably add a new post with all my recommendations since its a pretty long list! I also watched some videos by Simon Sink who articulates very well about leadership and has also written some great books.

Remember to build your own management style by learning from other managers. Listen to everyone and do what you think is right. Ultimately you should be able to justify your decisions and not point to others when the going gets tough!

Rule 3: Talk to your team regularly, plan for their growth

As a manager and a leader, its not only the company that has expectations from you but also your team(s). As part of the learnings I had, the most important one was to keep your teams motivated and focussed. Some members are motivated by challenging work while some may need better work life balance. Some might be happy with their compensation while others might not. The only way to know what goes on in your team is by having frequent 1x1s with your team members. I recommend at least once a week. If that is not possible at least once in a fortnight. And for heaven’s sake don’t make this a status meeting! Far too often I have seen 1×1’s become status meetings and lose their value. I highly recommend Kim Scott’s approach mentioned in her book Radical Candor to hold effective 1×1’s.

Plan for you team’s growth. As a leader and manager you are judged on how well your team does and not just what you contribute directly to the company. In order to grow you need to find a successor at some point for your current work. The only way to find who your team might accept as a successor is to engage with your team members and understand them. Plan for promotions and set clear goals and paths for your team members. Communicate what you expect from them just like they communicate what they want. Checkpoint how they are doing when you meet so that focus on goals is not lost.

It’s been said more than once I will repeat it here again, praise your team in public but only reprimand them privately. Be genuinely interested in their growth and what they share with you. Human beings are intelligent and know when you are faking it. If you don’t like talking to people may be being a manager isn’t the right fit for you.

Rule 4: Formulate strategies on how you will achieve company goals

This is extremely important. As engineers (especially when I was a junior) we sometimes don’t pay attention to what’s happening in the company at a larger scale. As a leader this now needs a lot of attention. Most companies have OKR’s(Objectives and Key Results) defined at the beginning of the year. Understand what your teams goals are and formulate strategies on how to achieve them. Ensure that you talk to your managers / upper management to understand your goals and formulate individual goals for your teams. This might sound like a lot of unnecessary paperwork but spending a week or two on planning in the beginning of they year will save you a lot of time when you and your team are executing the goals.

Rule 5: Understand finance

This took a lot of time for me to really get into. In India we don’t really get any financial education so when my CFO was talking about EBIDTA, top line, bottom line, gross profits I was staring at the slides and looking at the colours. Later on when I started reading and watching YouTube videos I finally understood what they were talking about. As a leader, you NEED to know how you company is doing financially and when your engineers ask questions you should be able to look at the numbers and explain those to them. This helps a lot in discussions especially when you start getting deeper in finding out hiring budgets, restrictions or when cost cutting measures are being put into place. If you don’t understand finance you will always use emotional responses to answer questions. Remember ultimately your company is a business and you must understand how the business works (no pun intended to BW)

Rule 6: Champion change!

Once you are a little settled in your role you must take a step back to understand where improvements can be made in current processes. These could be as simple as taking a stock of what laptops your teams use to how your teams plan. For example, when I took over BusinessWorks we were following a custom TIBCO PLC for building and shipping products. Agile was the new buzzword and along with our certified Scrum master we developed a multi month plan to adopt and move to Agile methodogly and adopted SCRUM as our process for engineering and shipping products. It was an uphill battle but we knew what we wanted to achieve and stuck to our task. Similarly have meetings with your teams to understand what their problems are relating to work and if they can be solved. When you identify problems try to talk to other managers or peers to understand if they face similar problems and have solutions. They might actually join your mission to fix a problem and then it can be tackled at a much bigger scale than just your team.

Don’t be afraid to fail. Even if you fail don’t be afraid to call out failure and try something new. It’s not necessary that the solution chosen will always fix your problem. Remembers failing is okay as long as you keep trying and eventually solve your problems.

These are just some initial thoughts and I will continue this series on management techniques I have learnt in the new post.

To be continued …