I recently transitioned back to being an engineer after taking on a management role for more than a year. No lie: it's had its challenges. In my last role, I walked away with a lot of skills that helped me understand how to work with others around me, and I wanted to review a few of the things I learned that really helped me serve my team so they can be successful in their roles.
Honestly, I sucked at being a manager at first, but I dived deep into resources, read some books, and consumed anything I could that I thought might help me better lead my team to success. Nothing in this post is a new or profound idea, but it's worth mentioning because I plan to use these tools in my work going forward.
Servant Leadership, Always
Servant leadership is not a new idea. The main focus of a servant leader is to serve the people in their organization in whatever way they can. The goal is to help their teams develop themselves professionally and be more productive in their roles. I believed my team to be the best team around, and I wanted to do anything that could help them be the best.
This belief helped drive me to serve my team by championing their concerns and advocate for their professional development. Our industry sometimes jokes about the idea of being a 'happy little developer,' but that's ultimately what I wanted for each of my team members. If it meant I took an hour long call with a testy client, so be it. If they wanted to attend a conference, then I'd research and work to get it covered and approved. When they were happy and productive, there wasn't a single problem we couldn't solve, and you earn their trust along the way.
Communication and One-on-Ones
I picked up a copy of Radical Candor by Kim Scott after seeing it recommended by some blogs and some acquaintances. Holy crap! This book is so insightful on communicating with your team. I pick it up and read random sections every once and awhile. No leadership/communication framework or book is perfect, but the concepts in Radical Candor resonated with me as things that I value from others. These were also the characteristics I wanted to exhibit as the team lead.
Radical Candor places importance on a conducting a routine one-on-one with each of my team members. This could be lunch or coffee, or just time away from 'work' to check in with them. It's not free form, but it's not rigorously structured either. When I did these with my team, it was refreshing to have a pulse on how they were feeling with their work, their projects, and their life. I was able to gage how some members wanted more responsibility/ownership in our team, and I was more than happy to share that with them.
New Role, New Expectations
When I left Brandography earlier this year, I stepped away from management and into a development role. The transition has been interesting, neither 'great' or 'bad.' I am presented with some new challenges both personally and professionally that come with working remotely and being a part of an even smaller team. My hope is they're things I'll learn how to adapt and overcome. Regardless, servant leadership and radical candor are things I'll be taking with me along the way.