“Empower don’t micromanage, but also be productive and result oriented. Deliver on time, and under budget, while building happy and fulfilled teams. Grow your career but also grow your team members’ careers.” – Seems like a bunch of oxymorons.
But these are some of the responsibilities of a manager. As you can see, there are managerial tasks intertwined with leadership concepts.
Abstract leadership concepts are hard to follow for new managers or any manager. So how do we adopt the idea of Management Through Leadership, and start combining management and leadership to influence a great outcome without controlling every aspect of the journey?
I believe these first 3 steps can help you to start managing through leadership.
Step 1: Are you managing through leadership already? Is management/leadership for you?
Let’s start with a simple test:
Does your current job as a Middle Manager feel a little too easy, especially if you’re new?
If the answer is yes, you might still be doing instead of managing or leading.
Here’s what I mean by that: As I mentioned in my intro post, most middle managers get promoted because they are good at doing their jobs. In my industry, it’s software engineering. If you get promoted to management, and you’re still focusing on coding and engineering tasks only, your role will feel easy because you are still performing your previous role.
You will soon realize that your team, the people you’re responsible for, expect more of you.
Let’s complicate the test a little:
- Does your team make progress without needing your approval for most things? - Do you know anything about their personal lives? - Do they know about each other’s lives? - Do they feel safe sharing ideas, or saying they don’t know or they need help, openly? - Do they feel challenged, as opposed to being handed solutions?
If you answered yes to most of these questions, then congratulations, you’re managing through leadership! Otherwise, read on 🙂
is management through leadership for you?
Let’s have a glimpse of what I believe is required to manage through leadership:
Leadership & the right approach to management is hard, really hard. Mainly because it’s about putting people first, not tasks or projects or code, etc… and people are complicated.
You need to build real and honest relationships, not only with your immediate team but all around you.
You need to be the bridge between your team and senior executives, be your team’s voice, and have their backs.
You need to focus on your team members’ career growth, make sure they are on the right track for them, and ensure they are taken care of financially at all times, not only when they come to you with a better offer.
You need to take and own the blame when something goes wrong and give your team the credit when something goes right.
You need to create the right culture and environment for the team to want to bring their best for themselves, for each other, for the customers, and the company. (Principle 2)
You need to have difficult conversations and confrontations respectfully and productively; give and receive honest feedback, discipline when necessary, deal with low performers and help them out, weed out Disagreeable Takers and foster Disagreeable Givers (as explained by Adam Grant in his Ted talk)…
On top of all that, you still need to be in touch with the technical details, design conversations, helping setting up standards and principles while empowering the team to make the bulk of the technical decisions.
All this requires empathy, charm, kindness, communication skills, constant communication, project management, resource management… and so much courage. It requires Management Through Leadership.
So, it’s hard. But extremely fulfilling from my personal experience. It also feels a lot like parenting, but more on that in later posts. This is your chance to change your mind and go back to being an individual contributor 🙂
Notice how all these things I’ve described have nothing to do with being better at what you already do; it’s a whole different set of responsibilities. Just because you were a good individual contributor, doesn’t mean you will automatically be a good manager.
Step 2: Adjust your goals and performance metrics
One challenge new and existing managers can face is micro-management. It’s really easy to fall into this trap or style of management because the main reason you were promoted in the first place is that you are good at what you do. This means it will be easier to tell people what to do than lead and inspire and trust and all that stuff.
Let’s go back to the software engineering example:
When you were a developer, your performance was measured by your code quality, release velocity, designs, architectures, mentorships… It was mostly a set of concrete and quantifiable metrics.
Sticking to your previous performance metrics will result in you working on your previous responsibilities.
ne of the main actions that can help you switch from individual contributor to management through leadership, is to change how you measure your performance.
Now you’re being asked to be responsible for some people. The performance metrics will be a lot vaguer. After understanding your new responsibilities, do the following:
- Define a new set of goals and performance metrics for yourself.
- Have a conversation with your boss about them and make sure you’re both tracking the same ones. You will both go over them in your regular check-ins.
Goals and metrics:
Having specific and measurable goals for this new role will help you get fulfillment out of your job, grow your career and that of your employees, and be the leader your team wants and deserves. I suggest setting deadlines for most of your goals; end of the quarter, end of the year…
Here are a few examples:
Increase the autonomy of my team by distributing responsibilities and opportunities
You want your team to have as much autonomy as possible, and be able to make decisions without needing your seal of approval on everything. This will require a good amount of trust. It will also require your help setting up processes and systems.
Similar to parenting, try your best not to do something for your team that they can do themselves. For example, don’t solve the technical challenges for them, ask them questions that can lead them to the answers.
So maybe a concrete goal here would be to find tasks or projects that you are leading, and assign them to your team members, and give them guidance and support.
One thing we’ve done on my team is to assign high level roadmap items to the engineers instead of the manager, and have them own them:
– Make sure the requirements are defined by working with the product manager.
– If they need further technical discussions, bring them up on the weekly technical check-in.
– If they require documentation, work with the doc writers.
– Work with other teams who might own related dependencies, make sure the work is done and testing end to end.
Another goal is to find practices that can be abstracted into an easily repeatable process or system and implement them with the help of your team.
For example, one simple process on my team is when/if a feature requires documentation, the engineer will need to document the technical requirements in a Wiki, and share that Wiki with the doc writers.
Build a positive and productive team culture
This requires its own post to dig into, but here’s my #1 tip:
Don’t take yourself too seriously, take your craft very seriously.
Schedule team buildings, talk about life, and learn about each other.
Keep it fun.
Check on each other and listen to each other, offer help.
The closer you are personally, the easier it is to work together.
recognize and Praise achievements; give constructive feedback
Make it a weekly process to recognize their positive and amazing achievements and compliment them privately and publicly. Notice the areas they can improve on or things that went wrong, take note, and give them constructive feedback in your 1:1s.
Help my team members set 2-3 goals that we check on every quarter
Make sure the goals are hard but achievable. Help them achieve their goals through positive coaching and accountability. Help them break down their goals into manageable pieces.
Improve the team’s innovation level
One way to do that is by scheduling quarterly Innovation Weeks where every team member can choose any project they’d like to work on, and have a team demo at the end of the week.
Become a student of leadership and do specific tasks to help with that
This is an infinite goal but can be tracked quarterly. This goal requires reading leadership books, taking courses, or listening to X hours of leadership talks and podcasts.
Step 3: Adopt a Management Through Leadership Mindset
Start with the mindset, and the skills will follow.Identity:
I know I repeat myself when I say: You are now mainly responsible for the people on your team, your relationship with your manager, and a few other people that your team interacts with. You are not directly in charge of the outcome of the project, your team is. Create and accept your new identity, not only your tasks.Leadership:
Leadership is a daily practice and requires constant learning because it relates to dealing with people, and people are dynamic and their lives are constantly changing.
Look at what happened during Covid and how everything we know about our working environments has changed overnight.
What makes you a leader is acting like a leader every day. I recommend consuming content related to leadership and management topics, constantly. And when you stumble upon some tip or suggestion that resonates with you, stop reading or watching and try this tip out in your daily job. Learning something new is only truly complete when you apply it.
Here are some of my favorite resources on this topic:
Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink Growth Mindset by Carol Dweck How to win friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie The 5 levels of leadership by John Maxwell Think Again by Adam Grant Start with Why by Simon Sinek Harvard Business ReviewOwnership:
Extreme Ownership! I can’t stress this one enough. My favorite book on the topic is Jocko Willink’s book Extreme Ownership. You need to own your role and own the drawbacks and mistakes that you make and your team makes. Once you get into a full ownership mindset, you will realize that you have the power to affect change and improve things.Problem Solving:
As a manager, you will be exposed to new daily challenges that are different from when you were an individual contributor.
A few examples I’ve experienced:
– You will be asked to make your team do something they won’t like.
– Someone on your team will go through personal issues that are affecting their job.
– You will try to promote someone and it might get denied.
– Team members will come to you with all sorts of questions, concerns, complaints, and problems, and they will expect you to either have an answer or work through the concerns with them.
For you to be successful at any of these and more, you need the mindset of a problem solver, someone who welcomes challenges. Someone who does rarely complain. Someone who doesn’t get frustrated easily and who faces challenges with lots of patience. The book Growth Mindset is a good resource for this topic. Meditation is another amazing tool!
It’s hard to be really good at anything, let alone management through leadership. But working on the right things can help us improve faster.
- Test your current management & leadership style
- Adjust your goals to meet your new responsibilities
- Adopt a management through leadership mindset
Thank you so much for reading! Please share your thoughts or advice on this topic in the comments section below; we can all learn from each other.