Managing managers is fraught with dangers, here are some common mistakes to avoid when making the transition.
Going from being a manager to a manager of managers is a big shift that requires giving up some day-to-day control in favor of scaling your influence across an entire organization. Your actions will carry more weight as you acquire greater responsibility, and misjudgments have a bigger blast radius than before.
Here, I will share some tips on how to get there, and some common mistakes to avoid when making that transition.
Fill in the gaps to help the business succeed
Every job has opportunities to make improvements and fix things that are broken. This could hinge on processes, communication, developer tooling, quality, and so forth. Taking the initiative to improve or fix these things – regardless of your current role’s scope – can pay dividends in your career growth, especially if you can show how this impacts the business.
However, be careful of doing too much without recognition, as that path can lead to doing unpaid, invisible work, or worse, burnout.
Take work off your manager’s plate
Taking tasks off your manager’s plate is a great way to get a taste of these new responsibilities, without fully committing to them. After a while, it should feel natural for you to take this next step.
Start mentoring and building a community
Never be afraid to teach your craft and build a community around it. For example, doing training for first-time engineering managers, building a peer group of leaders at your company, or taking on mentees are all ways to start building community.
A couple of early mistakes
Limiting my first team to only peers in the department
When I became an engineering manager, I was familiar with this first team concept of surrounding yourself with fellow leaders and prioritizing this team over the one you manage. This helps bring the whole organization forward instead of solely focusing on the team you manage, which ultimately helps them succeed as well. When I stepped into a director’s role, I was ready to do the same thing.
The mistake I made was focusing on the peer group within my department, and not spending equal energy with peers outside of the department. Doing so would have helped foster greater collaboration between these areas of the business and my teams.
Not giving up control sooner
The classic mistake of still doing your old job when transitioning into a new one is especially bad in this case because giving up control is a huge part of your new job.
By jumping in to solve what you may see as an easy problem to fix, you are unintentionally hindering the growth of your reports. If you want to be a force multiplier through complete indirection, you have to give up control and foster trust and autonomy.
Not prioritizing self care
Nobody prepared me for how much worse it feels to make mistakes at this level.
Prioritizing your mental health and taking care of yourself should always be a top priority. Try to build a peer group or support network both inside and outside of work, where you can seek support in a safe space. You could also identify colleagues that will give honest feedback. Once you do, actively seek it out and take notes. This can help combat imposter syndrome when it sneaks up on you.
These are the mistakes I made and some of the lessons I learned, but it’s important to take the time to figure out what works for you. One thing I’ve found, however, is that it’s difficult to go wrong when you find your community and lean in for help.