The other day I was having lunch with a friend when he asked what resources I use to learn about management and tech leadership in general. I will share some recommendations at the end, but my answer to him got me thinking about my philosophy around management and how to be good at it, which is what I really want to share here.
TL;DR: be a multiplier for your team and reduce friction.
How to get better at management
When I started answering my friend, I of course had some sort of a list and made a few suggestions, but immediately followed with this (or something roughly paraphrased as such):
I don’t think reading these is particularly that important, instead find stuff that makes you think about how and what it means to be a leader and to manage a team.
Obviously reading good content with solid concrete suggestions is a good thing, but, the core of what I am trying to convey and my philosophy about how to succeed in management (especially in tech) is this:
It is a real job, be intentional about it, care about it, and don’t cut corners. Your are here to help other people get their jobs done.
Often we take senior developers and slowly (or abruptly) move them in leadership roles that they don’t want. If I had to choose between a very good senior dev that doesn’t want the job and a mid-to-senior dev that does, I would take the latter because ultimately the job is about helping other people and if you don’t care about it, then you aren’t going to be much help. The job is hard work and taking shortcuts or ignoring it will create minor issues out of nothing and turn minor issues into major issues.
What is management
At Teem I have the dubious role of lead cat herder, a.k.a. director of engineering. I am not directly managing a group of engineers on a specific project or in a specific skill group, instead I have to guide leaders for those in how to organize and manage their teams. My one guiding principle that I give to them (and myself) is that
the management/leadership role is a service role with one primary objective: be a multiplier for your team. At the end of the day you are a success if you reduce friction so that your team is able to get more done because of you.
Successful managers make other people better at their jobs, “multiplying” their productivity. This can be getting more work done, getting the right work done, or simply producing better, more stable end results. But it is important not to focus only on being a “multiplier”. As a manager, it is the pair of be a multiplier for your team and reduce friction combined that produces the real magic. You can have the appearance of a multiplier by being a bottleneck or inserting yourself as a dependency even where you don’t need to be. Look at all this work they couldn’t have done without me!
Beyond be a multiplier and reduce friction my only other commandment is that you must hold regular one-on-ones! To reduce the friction for your team you have to know what they are doing, how they are doing it, and why they are frustrated. The fastest, easiest way to understand what is happening is through frequent and private time to talk. In the future, I will go through my one-on-one process.
My Resource List
Without further ado, here are a couple suggestions for learning about leadership:
- Rands in Repose
- The blog has simply great content on leading tech teams fueled by direct experience.
- His book Managing Humans is a must read that provides a ton of food for thought with great examples and advice.
- Manager Tools
- Great podcast that focuses on the gritty details of management.
- This is mostly a fun suggestion. It almost always makes me stop for a moment and think, “what is good leadership?” Which is great to get in tiny frequent doses in my Twitter timeline.
Here are some other books (suggested by many people) that I think are worth reading because they will make you think:
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
- How Google Works by Eric Schmidt
- Zero to One by Peter Thiel
I split these out from the previous list because while they are good reads, I don’t find myself revisiting them frequently. This may have more to do with the format, books versus blogs or podcasts.