As a manager of managers, you’re not just a tourist on a new manager’s journey. Early on, you must be a copilot. Later, you can step back into a traffic controller. There are several traps managers-to-be can fall into, and you as their manager are responsible for anticipating them. Their success depends on two things: spotting skillset fit and cultivating habitat fit.
Skillset fit refers to their own managerial abilities, and these are the three major traps:
1. Grow other people. Spot the difference between being a great technical mentor and doing career planning, performance management, and hard conversations. 2. Resilience. There will be pain: meeting fatigue, Slack fatigue, people problems, ambiguity, and the constant feeling that they suck at their new job. Dopamine is gone. Spotting a resilient mindset is critical.
3. Technical work. New managers get drunk on what they do best, coding, to feel better during downtime. Too much of it and you’ll suffer their hangover in the form of strategic oversights, misalignment, people dissatisfaction, and at worst, attrition.
Habitat fit refers to their direct reports, the business domain, the tech stack, the stakeholders, and more importantly: you as their manager. The major traps are:
1. Canary deployments. Create an IC-in-testing program in which the IC can progressively take on pieces of management, such as a subset of direct reports or projects first, one pillar of the strategy, and running some ceremonies.
2. Dumpster fires. Throwing a new manager into an unhealthy or complex team is analogous to hiring a junior engineer to resolve 911s. The person will burn out while leaving a worse outage.
3. Support system. A new manager is a senior engineer that just became junior in a new role. Stop thinking they’ll continue excelling out of the gate: they won’t. Assume the contrary until time and training prove otherwise.