20 Things I Learned as a New Manager

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When I switched career paths by becoming a software development manager/leader, I didn’t understand completely the journey I was about to embark on. Management had never been on my radar as something I wanted to do. Luckily, the people I worked with were very patient. With that said, 20 things I have come to recognize during my time in management, in no certain order:

  1. The best intentions will almost always go awry. Own up to your mistakes immediately and move on. Always take ownership of everything you do, right or wrong.
  2. Trying to make something happen is nowhere close to as good as creating the right conditions to allow something to happen
  3. Finding good people is hard, keeping great people is even harder
  4. Give the whole picture or don’t give any at all — partial information leads to anxiety or misunderstanding
  5. Keep the big picture in mind and only change what needs to be changed
  6. It is almost always better to wait and plan than to act/react quickly to tricky situations and have to adjust on the fly.
  7. It is almost always better to let your teams work it out themselves than to get involved directly.
  8. Hire for culture over talent, hire for raw talent over experience. Given two technically equivalent potential hires, hire the one with better soft skills.
  9. Sincerely saying “Thank you” and “Good job” is sometimes more important than any bonus.
  10. Challenge people to perform above what they think they are capable of doing — sometimes it is better to throw the hardest tasks at the people who have the least amount of experience in that task.
  11. People change. Constantly. A bad employee can become a great employee, a great employee can become a complicated employee. 99% of the time, people have good intentions but bad execution.
  12. Have patience, all things change with time and some applied effort.
  13. Authority is best displayed through influence, not direct intervention.
  14. Don’t be afraid to intervene when it is needed.
  15. Never take credit when you can give it to your employees. Use “we” when talking about successes. Use “I” when talking about failures.
  16. Stand up for your employees, not because they are weak, but because they are too important to be pulled into any politics of your office. Be their advocate at all times, but don’t defend indefensible actions — take ownership of your employee’s missteps and address them.
  17. Talk less, listen more. Act on your promises and don’t promise anything that you aren’t sure of — offer to try when you aren’t sure.
  18. Be involved and smile. No one likes an out-of-touch moody boss.
  19. Try to stay in shape and eat healthily; there’s no time for being sick.
  20. Don’t manage, lead.

No one is going to thank you for doing a good job — it’s the equivalent of saying, “Thanks for not screwing everything up” or “Thanks for doing your job.” But when you look out over your teams and your department, if you have done things right, things will begin to hum like a well-oiled machine. If you are doing things wrong, you will spend your days putting out fires.

Be honorable in your actions and do the right thing. Your focus should be on the careers of your employees, not your own career. Doing right by your employees and getting things done will naturally advance your own career. Remember, there is only so high you can climb, with each step becoming more precarious than the previous step. Get solid footing before trying to climb another rung. It is easier to climb when people are helping to push or pull you up.

Remember that family and friends are more important than any job. That’s true for you and the same holds for your employees. Make sure that you unplug on your days off or at least as much as possible. You will undoubtedly change jobs, but if you are not careful, you may inadvertently change your relationship and friends. Give them focus, spend time with them.

Be part of something bigger than yourself, a community if possible. Volunteer when you can. Compassion is not a limited resource, but rather the opposite — your ability for compassion grows the more you use it. Being a more compassionate person will make you have more empathy for those you manage. Remember, that compassion is not loving and it can be extended to those you dislike or distrust.

Finally, spend time with yourself. Find something you love outside of work and family. Learn to unwind — meditate. If you are a person of faith, develop a relationship with your deity/deities. If you are a secular person, deepen your relationship with nature and the indiscernible place you hold in the universe. Appreciate that all things pass and that your time is limited. Determine how you will want to be remembered by your friends and family which is never based on money or power.

Be happy. Be kind. Be compassionate.

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