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The Road To Becoming A Manager
Many managers start out in a technical position, especially in engineering fields. In the beginning, he starts out with no knowledge of what to do and depends on other people for advice, help, and motivation. Then, as he gathers experience, he begins to carry his share of the load. He manages his own stuff, so that a supervisor doesn’t need to constantly look over his shoulder. Eventually, whether from other people leaving, or his own experience expanding, he knows more than the average person around. Other people now come to him for advice and direction. Naturally, he gains some leadership status as others value his opinions highly. At this point, he may become promoted to the position of a manager, where he starts managing other people.
Being A Manager And Being Managed
While this seems like a natural progression, there is a huge jump in the skills required between a technical lead and a manager overseeing the project. I know this because I am currently in both positions. I work as software engineer at BEA Systems, in charge of my own code base. Having to deal with a supervisor and manager every day, I know how it feels to work under someone. I also feel extremely privileged to have the opportunity to observe how a manager deals with problems effectively without demoralizing the group or hurting people’s feelings. On the other hand, in my spare time, I have a few investments in relatively large forums. In a sense, this is managing a community of people, having to coordinate promotions, fix problems with the website, expand the content, etc. In this role, I am the manager, and need to motivate people to contribute towards the site, especially since they have no monetary incentive.
The Skills Of A Manager
Unfortunately, the most important skill of a manager is vastly different from that of a technical lead. The technical lead’s primary responsibility is to act as a source of information for other people in the organization. He knows tons of stuff, so other people come to him if they have any questions about “what to do now” or “how to do it”. He also helps by giving input into the overall plan (from a technical perspective) or may even be responsible for the direction that the company takes. However, he does not have to worry about the most important skill that a manager needs: the ability to motivate people. Without this skill, all his other skills are completely useless. I think an old saying applies very well here: “A plan is useless if there is no one to follow it”.
Transitioning Into A Manager
One of the greatest mistakes in transitioning from a technical person to a manager is the failure to develop this very important skill. I have personally experienced the effects of a lack of motivation from both perspectives. At work, I had a manager who was the most competent person I have ever seen in terms of technical ability. However, working under him, I was always made to feel inadequate. Whenever I didn’t know something, my opinions were generally not as good as his and hence not listened to. I always felt rushed, and felt uncertain whether to ask for clarifications on things I wasn’t clear about. All the time, I felt like I needed to have an answer right away, and wasn’t able to think at my own pace.
Similarly, when we bought a forum as documented in Seven Mistakes In One Day, I made similar mistakes by telling the current members that we bought the forum as an investment and to make money from it. That statement, combined with other factors, de-motivated a great deal of the people on the board and caused about 25% of them to leave and start a competing forum.
The Effects Of A Lack Of Motivation
As a result of feeling not as adequate as my supervisor, my natural instinct was to “check with him” before I do things. If I have problems, I would ask him for solutions on what to do. I would be afraid of making a mistake because that would make me seem incompetent in front of my peers. All of these factors add up to an employee who, instead of being more independent with his work, becomes more and more dependent on the supervisor.
When employees don’t feel free to make mistakes, they can no longer effectively express their opinions. We can see from My Partner’s Not Doing Enough Work that these ideas expressed by employees, even if wrong most of the time, can result in dramatic increases in productivity for the company. By making employees afraid, their creativity and growth is stifled. Not allowing them to make their own mistakes will make them more and more reliant on the existing resources, further taxing them.
For example, let’s say because I feel inadequate, I am extremely afraid of being fired. Now, say some problem comes up, which may be kind of important. Had I been feeling confident of my abilities, I would have gone right ahead and tried to fix it myself. Then, if my supervisor finds that there are a few minor mistakes, I’ll just make a few tweaks and everyone is happy. We would have a good product, I would have learned from my mistakes, and my supervisor wouldn’t have had to spend much time on it. However, afraid of being fired and being wrong, I may instead directly go ask my supervisor for a solution. Not only does this take up more of his time, I wouldn’t have learned anything! Next time this problem comes up, I’ll have to ask him again.
How To Be A Good Manager
First, realize that nobody has to be there working for the manager. Sure, maybe they may stay because they urgently need money in the short term, but they are able to leave relatively quickly, taking along all the experience and training that will take years to replace! They can go elsewhere where they can get paid and enjoy the work / have fun. Therefore, a manager’s first job is to make the employee as comfortable as possible. Find out what motivates them, what they’re excited about, and what they’d like to accomplish at work.
Then, use this knowledge to motivate them as much as possible! Schedule events that allow the team to bond. For example, the current manager of the group at BEA Systems bought us a Wii. Normally, I wouldn’t stay late on Friday afternoons. However, given the opportunity to kick my coworkers’ butts, I sometimes don’t even go home on Friday nights. Stuff like this helps tremendously with instilling feelings of being on a team, making people unafraid to voice their opinions.
When it comes to work though, a manager should make his expectations clear. For example, if he expects someone to finish some portion of the project, he should assign it and then leave the person alone to work on it. That means even if that person doesn’t do it as well as the manager! That’s probably the biggest caveat from going from a technical lead to a manager. Being the best technical person on the team, it is easy to want to constantly fix every detail because everyone isn’t working up to the manager’s standards. However, this constant fixing not only increases the insecurity in the workforce (since it shows a lack of trust in people’s skills to produce a good product), it also does not allow the person to learn the reasoning behind this mistake and grow as a person.
People will be making mistakes. As a good manager, we should let them, even though it is at our expense. That is the only way they’ll grow in the long run and gain the necessary skills and motivation to work effectively within the company. After all, haven’t we all made mistakes and learned from them to get where we are?
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