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Advice for first-time managers

This post lists the key insights from this article, from 2 engineering leaders, Aaron Randall and Amy Phillips.


Things we wish we were told, but learnt the hard way 🙂

Focus & ruthless prioritiation

Spending too much time on something that’s no longer your job means you’re spending less time on the things that you should be doing.

As a manager your job is to be the multiplier for your team, magnifying their energy and success rather than just contributing to it.

Learning to delegate allows your team to take on more responsibility and learn. Focus on the ‘one thing’ that moves everything else. Your new role is about guiding, inspiring, and unblocking your team.

Demonstrate and reward the right behaviors

If you promote someone who regularly misses the team standup don’t be surprised when the rest of the team also starts turning up late.

As a leader you set the bar. Turning up late, forgetting meetings, or simply taking things easy tells others that this is fine. Make sure you’re OK with everyone in the team imitating your behaviors before demonstrating them.

The behaviors people exhibit are at least as important as the work they produce. Take care to reward, and encourage, the ones you want to see.

Difficult conversations

Difficult conversations will always be difficult, but they are also the most important.

If you really want to help someone improve then you need to start out by giving them honest feedback and clear expectations. After that, work together to find the best approach. You won’t always be liked by your team but make sure you’re always respected for having been honest, and trustworthy.

Coaching & mentoring

If you find yourself talking for more than 50% of a one to one meeting then you’ve failed.

Management isn’t all about keeping people in line, real management is about helping people achieve their goals. Learning a couple of good opening questions (try “How’s life?”, or “What’s going on?” to get things started) and then actually listening will make a great start. Follow up with genuine questions to understand the other person better. Just because they remind you of someone else doesn’t mean they are the same as someone else. Treat everyone as the individuals that they are.

Have the courage to be vulnerable

Say when you’re stuck, let the other person see you as a human and help them to bring their own ideas for unblocking the issue.

If you’re stuck working through a problem with someone in your team, it’s OK (and useful!) to be honest and vulnerable about that. Have the courage to say when you’re stuck, let the other person see you as a human and help them to bring their own ideas for unblocking the issue.

Keep it human (you don’t need policies for everything)

Just do the thing that feels right to treat people kindly and decently.

If you don’t know the right answer then choose the human answer. An awful lot of management is reacting to situations, most of which won’t or shouldn’t need a policy to handle. Not sure what the policy is for x, just do the thing that feels right to treat people kindly and decently.

“Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position.”

Brian Tracy
3 min​ read

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