A good manager
For the past three years I have been working at Envato as a front-end developer and during that time I’ve had a growing interest in managing people and teams. I recently began a nine-week secondment as an acting development team lead whilst the official lead has been away from work on parental leave. When I was given the opportunity to try out a role that is an aspiration of mine, I thought it was a perfect time to reflect on what I have wanted from my managers and how I can learn from that.
I’m certainly no authority on management and just beginning my journey in this field, but I do know what it’s like on the other side of the fence; being managed and progressing through my own career. So here’s my take on what I’ve wanted, needed and observed in a good manager.
Guides you through your organisation
Every organisation is different in what they expect from you, a good manager will help guide you through the inner workings of your workplace which might not be immediately obvious to you.
Here’s how they can help; Giving you clear feedback on how you’re performing and progressing so the expectations are clear and there’s no surprises, especially early on during your probation period.
Often new opportunities and promotions can seem unclear in how they’re given out. Your manager should explain how your organisation handles promotions, let you know how close you are and then guide you through the process.
Understands what’s happening in your life and supports you
You don’t have to be best friends, but it sure helps if you and your manager take the time to get to know each other and what’s happening in your life.
We’re all human, we have good times and bad. If something is happening in your life that means you need support or time away from work, having your manager across it can help you in what is probably a difficult time. They might sort out any administrative duties, talk to their manager or any other burden you may have had to deal with yourself.
This should go both ways, from time to time your manager will need support and understanding of the issues they’re facing. Offering your support and empathy in those times will be really appreciated and help your relationship.
Finds opportunities for you
Your manager should have organised regular 1 on 1s and taken the time to work with you on creating a development plan. With a plan in place you should be able to identify the gap in skills and experience for the role you’re working towards. A good manager will look for and plan for opportunities to help bridge these gaps. That secondment I mentioned at the beginning of this article was originally a vague idea in my development plan.
Listens to you
Often an underappreciated skill is just sitting back and listening. Sometimes your manager doesn’t need to dive in and solve anything, but just take time to hear you explain what you’re working on, how things are going, any ideas you have or even venting.
Documents & celebrates your wins
I have recently read Camille Fournier's excellent book, The Manager's Path a must read for anyone in software and tech that's wanting to further their career and understand the pathway of our field. There is a section on delivering a performance review, in which one of the points is to:
SPEND PLENTY OF TIME ON ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND STRENGTHS
This is really important, and not just at the time of a performance review. The people you manage work really hard and taking the time to celebrate a "win" can be really impactful. Feedback of any kind should be frequent and never heard for the first time during a performance review.
With all that’s been mentioned, it’s still important to call out that you must own your career outcomes and direction, you cannot expect your manager to know what you want to achieve in your career nor expect them to do the work in getting you there. Your manager should listen, guide and coach you on how to get to where you want, but ultimately making those choices is on you.
These are some of the qualities I’ve seen in a good manager, I hope to update this article over time as I learn more.