The Invisible Manager

For me to be successful as a development manager; nobody should know I exist.

Although it may seem crazy to think about, it is exactly what anyone in a managerial position should be trying to achieve; anonymity. Having recently had the time to think about some long term goals this is the environment that I am looking to put into practise and safe to say it’s scary.

The role of a manager is a funny one because basically it means you are nothing special. Think about it… any successful coder or engineer at some point has been offered a lead or management position. It’s just a fact of how modern day business runs.

Someone who is good at what they do will naturally been seen by their superiors as management material because they in turn need people they can trust. This is rarely the best move for both parties because more often than not the superb software engineer becomes a rather lacklustre manager and you lose an asset to the company; on the lowest level of it being a manager isn’t a pleasurable experience.

Your entire remit is to make sure that everyone in your team makes their own impact within the business. You could say that there is a difference because a ‘manager’ and a ‘leader’… but more often than not people who are managers are usually so busy trying to put out fires all over their department they miss the big picture. It isn’t your job to put out the fire because it’ your job to point to the fire and let one of your team deal with it the best way they know how.

As I said earlier I’ve had some time to think about how I make this happen;

Hire Good People

Perhaps the most obviously one but the hardest one to do. Hiring good people who align with the type of colleague you want to bring into the company is the longest and most difficult job you will undertake as a manager.

If you hire people who will take problems head on and don’t need to have their hand held that is half the battle won. You should never have anyone in your team that you don’t trust. It’s as simple as that.

Push Back

One resource I use a lot is Manager Tools Podcast as it really is an incredible listen on a wide range of topics. A major topic within one of the shows was the development of your team on pushing back day to day questions that you, as a manager receive.

The idea being that as an authority figure within the team your colleagues look to you for answers for two reasons. The first being that hopefully you have knowledge in the area and might be able to help out with a simple question but the second is the most telling; they don’t want to find out or decide for themselves.

So the next time someone asks “hey X, how do you think I should tackle this problem?”, instead of giving them the answer, which is what they want, you push back.

“Hmmmm, well what do you think you should do?”

“I’m not quite sure; have you thought of some options?”

All of these are designed to push the question back into the colleagues hands as they should at least have some idea of how they can solve it.

Build projects around motivated individuals

It’s right there in the agile principles… but you need to give your colleagues the best possible environment to do their job as well as giving them the support they need when they need it.

Now that’s tricky and everyone will be different however a motivated and passionate colleague will no doubt give better results than one who simply is there for the pay cheque at the end of each month.

Squads

Over the next 9-12 months I will be implementing a squad structure at City. Squads isn’t a new idea and nor do I intend to copy Spotify or Skyscanner like for like as I know that wouldn’t work but the ethos is the same. Flexibility, variety, missions and common tool sets mean that colleagues will be able to have a major impact where they want to and where they think they can work best.

It’s really quite an exciting venture and I’ll be sure to post some updates of how we implement it later on.

If you’re asked to apply for a managerial position; think carefully. Is it really something you want to do after being a highly successful engineer for most of your career? Only the best managers make true impact in their workplaces… the rest float above the water, hardly getting by and looking busy to everyone else to show that they are doing work.

The best managers lead from the front and then let their team take the credit.

The best managers give their teams the best possible place to get their work done and then trust them to get on with it.

The best managers take a project from the scruff of the neck, get it back on track and then let the engineers take the credit from the customers.

You’ve probably never noticed the work of this kind of manager… and that’s probably exactly what they intended.