Two secrets that keep me growing as a manager
In a 1:1 a few years ago, a new manager on my team saved time to ask one big question: “What’s the secret to being a good manager?”
Of course, I didn’t have any perfect answers. To me, that’s like asking “what’s the secret to good parenting?” There’s no correct answer, and everyone finds their own way.
But after thinking about it, here are the two things I find myself saying the most to new managers:
There’s no substitute for caring. As humans, we’re really attuned to how other people are feeling. If I care about people on my team — or if I don’t — that will come through. And that feeling, that your manager cares for you, provides a cushion of support during the stress of figuring out how to work together.
Managing is like any other skill — it takes constant work and frequent stumbles. I’ll make mistakes, I’ll feel bad, and I’ll have to learn through it. In my career, I’ve hired people into roles that weren’t a good fit, disappointed people with performance ratings they didn’t expect, and had to let people go because they weren’t becoming successful on my team. All of those moments felt terrible, but were all parts of continuing to become a better manager.
Of course, we’ve all dealt with similar problems in product settings — we’ve all shipped the wrong product, had an unclear strategy but hoped a product would work anyway, or had to wind down a product. And we survived those and learned from them.
But somehow management missteps feel uniquely bad, because they impact the livelihood of someone I work with and care about.
In the past, that sense of “feeling bad” has made me think that I’m a failure, or that my team isn’t strong, or even that I’m just not cut out for management.
It’s helped me to remember that all these feelings are normal. None of us is born a great manager, just like none of us is born a great product thinker or a great engineer. We get there through hard work and dedication — being willing to face a hard problem, succeeding at some, failing at some, and still being willing to keep trying the next day.
There are a bunch of tactics to good management — and those are learnable. (I’m sharing the ones that worked best for me in this series of notes.)
But so far I’ve found that the key underlying requirements are that 1) I have to care, and 2) like anything that’s hard, it takes work — and occasional missteps — in order to be successful.
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