I called my manager: dad. Now what?

Sometimes being a manager feels like being a parent, at least I think it does, as I am not a parent. Or a manager. Kidding, I am one of those two.


Think about it; you have to set people up for success, whatever that means. And god forbid you set them up for failure. Whatever that means. Meanings aside, you need to ensure they are happy, accomplish their goals, and make just the right amount of mistakes, so they grow but don't break. All of that without hearing you.


OK...


If you are a reasonable human being, they will try to listen to and pay attention to what you are saying, but they won't hear you. It is hard for an entry-level software engineer to understand the difference between a mid-level and a senior. Even if you talk to them about the impact, autonomy, and problem complexity level, they are not in your head and cannot judge things by your experience.


Sometimes being a good manager is something that the other person cannot tell until they look back and analyze the events retrospectively. You will ensure they don't engage alone in tasks that are too critical, which leads to anxiety, or that there are enough experienced peers to support them when they need it. You will make sure they share what they are thinking about doing and possibly deny a few of them, even if they don't understand why that path is not the best.


Sometimes folks look at the career progression ladder and try to nail something expected from several levels above without covering the basics. It is your job to discourage them from pursuing the hardest and focus on the more easily achievable step instead.


Obviously, there are bad managers out there; we all know it. The worst ones will sometimes be indistinguishable from the good ones, especially if they are equally good at communication and other soft skills.


You can be a good manager if public speaking is not your best quality, but you absolutely cannot be a good one if you do not care. Good managers care.


I would rank the qualities of a good manager in the following order:

  1. You care.

  2. You understand what is needed for one to succeed in their goals.

  3. You gather data, communicate well and share information transparently.

You know what? Points 2 and 3 can be consequences of the first one. By caring, you will work on filling the gaps. Just like a parent would, a good one at least.


Shadow work


Do you remember the "what you do when nobody's watching" conversation? A manager is like that, except people are watching. But not really watching. The organization sees the results (at least they should), and you don't bring them as a manager, not directly. Sometimes my job is to be a good version of lord Varys, and let's be honest; he was already one of the good ones.


Yes, you need to inspire, gain trust and be the face of the team when the team needs you to be, but none of these things get results for the project or people's career progressions.

  • You must be a strong leader so the team feels safe and inspired.

  • You must communicate well to sell the achievements, and the team gets the proper recognition.

  • You must demonstrate vulnerability so there is psychological safety and people aren't afraid of not knowing or making mistakes.

But it is also important that they work on the right things, with enough resources and at the right time. I value this now. Maybe more so than I used to value it before. Having a Master of Shispers covering your back makes a lot of difference.


The funny thing is that I had to know it worked like this before becoming a manager. I used to think that anything that happened to me was 100% my doing. And yes, I am responsible for my growth and career progression, but a good manager can really speed things up.


This is one of the greatest things about life, I suppose. You never know how your view on things will be in the future. If you live long enough, your perception will change in unpredictable ways. That is gold.