I took part in a very interesting discussion today. We were talking about criteria we should use to appraise leaders and managers in the organization. The most surprising part, at least for me, was discussion about notion of line manager among disputants.
It came out that we considered average functional manager as anything between pure-manager to person who does 90% of engineering work mixed with 10% of managerial tasks. That’s a variety of options, isn’t it? As you may guess I supported rather the former than the latter.
Well, if I’m such an opponent of letting people do what they used to do before they were promoted to management, likely coding if we talk about software teams, what I think they should do all day long? In other words what is, or should be, the role of manager.
This vague term describes first and most important trait most managers should have and only few have. If I’m a team member I expect my manager will show leadership and charisma. I want to be ignited to follow his ideas. I need to be sure he knows why and where we are heading. I have to see him around when problems arise. I eager to be managed by someone I’d like to follow even if no one told me so. A good manager is also a good leader but these two are not the same. What a pity it isn’t common mixture.
Help newcomers with learning the organization. Help inexperienced with gaining experience. Help everyone with growing. Help those with problems with fixing them. Easy? No, not at all. First, you need to know who needs what. Then, you need to know how to reach people so your helping hand won’t be rejected. Finally, you need to work carefully and patiently sharing your knowledge in experience in a way which doesn’t frustrate or dishearten people. Repeat when finished.
As a line manager you have some senior management over your head. This is a bad news. Actually there’s usually a lot of crap flying over there and, because of the gravity, it’s going to land down on heads of your team. There will be blame games. There will be pointing fingers. It is your time. Be a shield. Take enough bullets on your chest for the team. You’ll earn respect. You’ll earn a bunch of loyal followers. And that’s how you earn your spurs.
As a manager you’re also an advocate. Devil’s advocate to be precise. You have to present and defend different decisions made up there, in the place where only C-level execs are allowed. Sometimes these decisions you won’t like. But for your people you’re still the face of the company so don’t play the angry boy and act like a man. We don’t always do what we want. After all, they pay you for this, remember?
Sometimes everyone needs a kick in the butt to get back to work at full speed. It would be quite a pleasant task but unfortunately kicking butts is used as a metaphor here. It’s all about motivation. And I have a bad news here, there’s no easy answer for a question what motivates people. You have to learn each of your people individually. Oh, forgot to mention, it takes quite a lot of time to learn what drives all these people.
Yes, an adviser. Not a decision-maker. At least not unless you really have to make a decision by yourself. People will come to you asking different things. Well, they will if they think your opinion may add some value and you’re capable to understand what the hell they are talking about. Of course you can guess or shoot or use magic 8 ball but you better learn (oh no! more learning) what the problem really is and help your team to solve it. Note: it is different than solving it for them, even if you know the answer. If an association which comes to your mind is delegation I must praise your reasoning.
Now if you are done with those and still have enough time to keep up your outstanding engineering skills, please do Mr. Anderson. Unfortunately chances are good it is enough to fill more than a full working day so you’d have to choose between focusing on your management or technical skills.
And if you happen to spend two third of your day coding, well, I dare to say you aren’t a manager I’d like to work for. Your people would say the same, but you don’t talk with them so you don’t even know. After all there’s no time to chit chat, you have to code, right?