things can go really wrong.
If you do not have a good way of
verifying details, or diving deep into
areas, too much abstraction can result in unforeseen problems (which
are the worst kind). To avoid this, you
have to figure out checks and balances—how can you get enough oversight to have high confidence in the
work being delegated, without micromanaging every detail yourself?
The most effective strategy I have
seen in these circumstances is to set up
regular reviews with team leadership to
surface issues and help you stay involved with the day-to-day processes of
Lesson 5. Be the Beacon of Hope
While it is true that misery loves company, no one loves working for a leader
who doesn’t portray confidence in the
team’s trajectory and success. People
want to be inspired, and as their leader,
it is your job to give them the motivation and vision to perform.
This means that even when things
are bad, or you feel frustrated, you do
not let it show. You need to be the person who is positive and who helps motivate people to do their best. If you
don’t, then who will?
Leadership is difficult. None of us
comes to work to do a bad job, and
there are always ways we can be better. So, when you have a leader who
isn’t meeting your expectations, maybe try reframing the situation and
looking at things a little differently
from the top down.
A Conversation with Joel Spolsky
People and Process
Nine Things I Didn’t Know I Would Learn
Being an Engineer Manager
Kate Matsudaira ( katemats.com) is the founder of
her own company, Popforms. Previously she worked
at Microsoft and Amazon as well as startups including
Decide, Moz, and Delve Networks.
Copyright held by author.
Publication rights licensed to ACM. $15.00.
other external factors outside of their
control, causing failure to occur.
Lesson 3. Interviewing Senior
Leaders Is Difficult to Do
Another observation I have seen play
out is that it is very difficult to hire senior leadership (and because of Lesson
2, it can take a while to know if you did
it right or made a mistake).
There are plenty of pitfalls in conducting job interviews, but the task becomes more challenging with executive leadership because there isn’t a set
of skills that is easy to test. How do you
test influence? Sure, you can proxy it
with a set of questions, but spending a
few hours with a candidate does not always indicate accurately if he or she
will be successful in the role.
That is why many companies focus
on the candidate’s experience and track
record. Personal references and endorsements can also play a large part.
Perhaps the biggest reason this is
hard, though, is that leading a group of
people effectively is dependent on so
many factors: the team culture, the organizational goals, and, of course, the
individual personalities. What worked
really well for one person in one environment doesn’t always translate to a
new place. That is why adaptability and
flexibility are important traits to look
for during the hiring process, not just
Lesson 4. Split and Delegate
When you move from being an individual contributor to a manager, you have
to deal with the challenge of managing
work. It becomes your responsibility to
report on progress and handle status.
In a small software team, this is easy:
you just show up to stand-ups, collect status email messages, or create a
lightweight way to poll your team.
As your org gets bigger, however, it
becomes too much for you as one person to keep everything in your head. You
cannot go to all of the team meetings.
You cannot be present for every decision. And you have to learn to trust your
leadership and delegate responsibility.
This is a good thing overall—by
sharing the responsibility, you give others the chance to lead and you allow
your team to grow. It can be a difficult
transition, however, if you are used to
being in control. It is also a place where
One of my favorite
questions to ask is
how long it takes
to tell if a VP is
mediocre or great.
The answer can
be challenging to
a lot of a leader’s
success (or failure)
can be attributed
to his or her team,
not to the leader.