As an introvert, there might be elements of engineering management that you find challenging. Here are some tricks to help you.
When I first started leading people, I was worried I might not be well suited for the role because I’m on the quieter side. Once I became more experienced, I realized that many of my introverted tendencies are helpful as a manager.
The American Psychological Association (APA) says, “Introversion is a broad personality trait and, like extraversion, exists on a continuum of attitudes and behaviors.” Introverts tend to be “more withdrawn, retiring, reserved, quiet, and deliberate”. They may prefer to work more independently and social interaction can be draining.
First, we’ll explore what introverts do really well, then we’ll move on to some tips and practical advice for handling the more challenging things.
What introverts do well
- Servant leadership: This leadership philosophy was first coined by Robert K. Greenleaf. It prioritizes serving others first and foremost, emphasizing empathy, listening skills, humility, and building supportive and empowering environments.
In short, your job is to serve your direct reports, not the other way around. Thinking about leadership in this way has helped me be more comfortable and confident. It reminds me that I don’t need to be the loudest voice in the room. I can embrace my natural tendencies as an introvert and make a significant impact by helping and serving those around me.
- Listening: As an introverted manager, active listening is one of your strengths. Listening to your direct reports’ concerns, goals, and experiences can establish trust and make everyone on your team feel included and heard. Creating an environment where people feel comfortable speaking up and sharing their ideas can lead to better outcomes for the company and product.
- Building deep connections: Introverts excel at building strong relationships, especially within small, close groups like software engineering teams. These deep connections can offer numerous benefits such as more effective conflict resolution, higher retention rates, and better communication.
- Consensus building: Building consensus will help create a shared sense of ownership and commitment among team members. While extroverts might rely on their social and outgoing nature to do this, introverts can utilize their strengths in active listening and analytical thinking.
What introverts might find daunting
The case of 1:1 scaries
Introverts possess many talents, but there may be certain areas they find particularly difficult. 1:1s can be a good example of this.
1:1s are your time to connect, mentor, learn, and get to know your direct reports. It’s a social interaction, which might not be comfortable terrain for the introvert, but there are some strategies you can use to keep this time productive and energizing.
- Connect over cats, cookies, code: Use your ability to make deep connections and connect over shared interests. Having a good rapport can make 1:1s more enjoyable and less stressful. It can also make difficult conversations easier to have. Maybe you have similar tastes in music or both like to cook. If all else fails, talk about technology; after all, you’re both in the software engineering industry.
- Conversation starters: There are times when it’s hard to get the conversation rolling, and in those quieter times, having a list of questions to turn to can take the pressure off.
Having a mix of light and heavy questions is important. You can pick the ones which feel right in the moment and then guide the conversation toward that topic.
Here are some sample questions you could use:
- What was the most fun thing you did last year?
- What’s the most challenging part of your job right now?
- How could we make releases easier?
- What’s a hobby you want to get into?
- Get your hands dirty: As an engineering manager, you’ll be successful if you help your reports when they need it. Don’t just observe from the sideline; get in there and be the teammate they need.
Are they confused about how service X interacts with service Y? Pair with them to share your knowledge. Alternatively, find someone who is an expert when it comes to service X and connect them.
Do they have an idea about how the marketing department could market a new feature? Help them refine the idea and find out who should be involved from the marketing department. Set up a meeting and champion them.
Listen to your employees, understand what they’re asking for, and help them figure it out or find someone who can. Having something to focus on and work through together can keep you in the zone and feeling energized.
- Group 1:1s closer together: This might seem a little counterintuitive, but I’ve found that I can’t fully recharge until I’ve met with everyone. If you have multiple direct reports, book 1:1s back to back. You’ll get into a groove, and if you’re like me, it’ll make it easier to stay energized and out of the “I just want to be alone” zone.
Leading large meetings
Leading large meetings can be intimidating, but preparing can help cut through the nerves. These are great opportunities to demonstrate your leadership skills to a wide audience. Here are some tips to make your next large meeting a success:
- Create an agenda and send it ahead of time: Outline the topics to be discussed and their order. Attach the agenda to the invite, so everyone is on the same page and prepared for the meeting.
- Practice: Practice your presentation ahead of time. This includes running through the content and familiarizing yourself with the meeting software, room, audio-visual equipment, etc.
- Give space for others: During the meeting, engage your audience by asking questions and encouraging discourse. This will help keep everyone involved and invested in the outcome. It will also allow some time for you to take a break or deep breaths if you’re feeling nervous.
- Summarize at the end: Finally, conclude the meeting with a clear summary of the key points you touched upon throughout the meeting alongside any action items that need to be addressed.
You could find yourself in situations where you need to have difficult conversations about performance. This can be challenging, but remember that these conversations are a necessary part of the job and can lead to positive outcomes. Here are some tips to help these conversations go well:
- Keep a positive mindset: No one wants to get difficult feedback, but remember the conversation can, and hopefully, will lead to positive outcomes.
- Focus on specific behaviors or actions: This will help you make your point clearly. It will also help the other party understand exactly what the expectations are.
- Listen actively: As discussed earlier, you’ve probably got this one under control.
- Provide constructive feedback: After you’ve listened to the other person, provide constructive feedback that is specific and actionable.
- Offer to help: Don’t just give them the information and let them figure it out on their own. Take some ownership of the situation and build a plan with them. Create a timeline so you can have deadlines to work towards.
While this might be one of the most intimidating things to do in this whole article, it can also be one of the most rewarding. The feeling of helping someone turn their performance around and succeed in their role is hard to beat.
Networking isn’t necessarily a requirement as an engineering manager, but it’s a skill that’s worth developing. It can help you grow your career, find top talent, and build business partnerships. Here are some tips to make it more manageable:
- Set goals before attending an event: This can look like having a meaningful conversation with two people.
- Consider attending smaller events or networking with people you already know.
- Take breaks when you need to recharge: Grab a drink or step outside for some fresh air.
- Follow up with people you meet after the event to continue building the relationship.
By setting goals, attending smaller events, focusing on building relationships, taking breaks, and following up, you can successfully navigate networking events.
Setting time aside for yourself
You’ll be in many meetings, and if you don’t take control of your calendar, it could get out of hand quickly. Block off time to focus and recharge. Do you have some big meetings you need to prep for? Book time for yourself to do that. Do you have a long block of 1:1s? Block some time off after those so you can recharge.
I hope these tips have renewed your energy and enthusiasm for the role. I know it can be intimidating to be in a leadership role as an introvert, but you have a ton to offer, and your unique skills will allow you to lead as no one else can.