How New Managers Fail Individual Contributors

1. Doing all the technical design work yourself

You’re just coming off of being an IC or maybe a tech lead, so you are still pretty deep in the technical details (especially if you’re now managing the team you were working on). You might still be writing some code, which is fine if you’re managing a very small team. But it is critical that you step back on the technical decisions to make room for the team members to own things and grow.

2. Doing all of the project management yourself

This one you would probably love to give up, I know. If you have a very small team, as a manager you’re the right person to do most of the project management for the team. But for their career growth, your technical track folks also need to learn how to run projects themselves. The more senior you get on the technical track, the more that you will be expected to understand not only how to solve really hairy technical problems but how to break down the solution into milestones, and even into projects that can be worked on by multiple people.

3. Neglecting to Give Feedback

Many new managers are comfortable giving technical feedback, and uncomfortable giving other kinds of feedback. They freely criticize the design and technical work of their team, but they don’t challenge their team members on other growth areas like collaboration, communication style, or project ownership. The result is the impression that management is the way to have technical authority over a group, which leads ICs to wonder what the technical track is even for.

4. Hoarding information

You’re now in a position where people will naturally pass information on to you. You may be in more planning meetings with the product team, or staff meetings with your boss and peers, and you may become the person who gets pinged directly when someone has a question or request for your group. This means that you’ve now got a lot more details about what is going on around your team, and this information is critical for you to lead your team well. You must distill this information and then communicate it to your team in a way that helps them understand their work.

5. Focusing Too Much On Your Personal Output

As a manager, your output is not measured by your individual work. Rather, your output is measured by the work of your team and the people that you influence. The work you choose to do, and the work you choose to neglect or delegate, will lead to amplified outcomes in both positive and negative directions.

Conclusion

New managers, make sure that you aren’t trying to be a senior engineer who has direct reports. If your heart is in the code and systems, perhaps you should be on that technical track yourself! Otherwise, remember that your job is now about generating leverage by developing your team, which means delegating the technical work to them while helping them identify other skills they will need to successfully grow as an engineer. If you can do this, you’ll have a bright career in management, and a loyal group of amazing senior individual contributors to work with in the future.

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Camille Fournier

Camille Fournier

Author, “The Manager’s Path.” http://amzn.to/2FvjeHH Distributed systems, dysfunctional programming. camilletalk.com, elidedbranches.com