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Stepping into a Full Management Role

Posted on 04 October 2023

Stepping into a Full Management Role

​8-minute read

Transitioning from an individual contributor role to a hands-off management position isn't a universal path, and while taking this step might feel right for some, it's not without its challenges.

Just like any career move, the journey is highly personal. However, by heeding the insights of Sridharan Rangarajan, Vice President Platforms at Viessmann; Peyman Pouryekta, Interim CTO; and Siarhei Tatarchanka, Director of Software Engineering at EPAM Systems, we can gain valuable guidance on when to initiate this transition and, crucially, which skills can facilitate a smoother shift.

This article is relevant for individuals at all career levels, as leadership opportunities can emerge at any point. Absorb the wisdom shared by our guests and explore how you can implement these actionable insights to enhance your prospects for success.

Our article is structured around three fundamental pillars: Recognising the opportune moment for transition, essential foundational skills, and exclusive insights from our guests that often go unshared. This framework empowers you to take the right steps, engage in self-reflection, and continue progressing on your unique journey.

Knowing when to make the move

As previously mentioned, this transition is highly individualistic, yet there exist certain unmistakable indicators that might suggest you're closer to this step than you realise, if you haven't contemplated it already.

While our guests approached management through different paths, a common thread emerged from our conversations: a shift from initial curiosity about leadership to a desire to foster others' growth. When finding joy in the progress of your team becomes paramount, it often signifies that the moment for the transition is ripe.

Progress doesn’t need to be from employee to leader, it could be peer to peer or mentee to mentor, but it's that shift from getting satisfaction from programming to helping.

As Peyman aptly highlighted, there's no universal formula. Crafting your own path is essential. Some teams may offer organic progression or programmes, for example, the Re-Upskilling programme or Servant Leadershipinitiatives by Viessmann, while others might need persuading or even exploring external opportunities. You might be fortunate to find a supportive manager willing to guide you, but, as in any career pursuit, seizing the opportunity ultimately rests in your hands.

However, as emphasized by Sridharan, a robust technical foundation is pivotal. The team won't look to you for all answers, but rather to facilitate and lead effectively. Learning the intricacies of your trade and gaining firsthand experience in various situations will equip you to confidently navigate discussions across different levels within your core domain.

Core skills required from those who have been there

There is a list much larger than this article that will highlight relevant skills for the modern technical manager, even books on the matter but cutting through the noise we asked each guest directly what skills they felt were the most important.

Communication on all levels

All three guests unanimously emphasised that effective communication stands as a cornerstone skill for any hopeful manager. Yet, its scope extends well beyond the construction of sentences.

As a manager, you'll shoulder responsibilities for both individuals and project components, all of which fall under the broader company framework. Exhibiting adeptness in seamless communication with superiors, subordinates, and colleagues both within and outside the organisation is a vital asset. Equally important is the ability to showcase your communication capabilities, supported by concrete examples, narratives, and the knack to engage people on a journey.

Ways to do this before taking on this role:

Become a mentor internally or externally if there is no programme set one up– take your knowledge of your niche and help someone else expand theirs, utilise online platforms here such as The Mentoring Club - The non-profit mentoring platform created for your Growth & Development Journey. (mentoring-club.com)

Expand your communication line beyond your current peers into other departments within the organisation, learn their structures and build relationships.

If you work with external stakeholders, ask your manager if you can shadow meetings or even participate to learn how to speak on their level.

Participate in non-profit or open-source projects, meet others from different backgrounds and skill levels where you need to adjust your communication style.

Understand conflict resolution techniques.

Empathy

Both Siarhei and Sridharan explained the significance of empathy in effective management. Empathy yields a profound influence on both your potential team and the organisation at large. It's more than trust and connection, playing a pivotal role in driving employee engagement, enhancing well-being, fostering a positive culture, and nurturing various other essential skills outlined later in this list.

However, empathy is not a static skill to acquire and move on from. Rather, it's an ongoing process of refinement that involves interactions with every member of your team. It entails a continuous cycle of getting it right, making mistakes, and learning from those experiences.

Ways to do this before taking on this role:

Participate in active listening, pay close attention to what is not only being said but how, the tone, and the emotions.

Actively put yourself in others' shoes before reacting, and try to understand their perspective.

Ask open-ended questions to encourage conversation with people in your day-to-day work even if you are only discussing a technical problem.

Seek feedback from those close to you, learn how to improve from them, and then take that into your working team.

Engage in empathy exercises – imagine someone’s day from their point of view and write it down.

Strategic Thinking

As you transition into a fully hands-off role, your role and value within the organisation undergo a transformation. Previously, you might have excelled as a high-performing developer, but now, as Peyman pointed out, you're required to become a strategic thinker.

Your scope of responsibilities expands from simply delivering code as a contributor to taking ownership of a substantial aspect of the company—whether it's a project, department, or the entire technological organisation. Consequently, your mindset needs to shift to encompass a broader perspective, understanding how your sphere of influence impacts the larger business landscape.

This transition can present a significant challenge, particularly in the initial stages. Communicating your value might become less straightforward than it was when you were a contributor. Keep in mind that your focus has now shifted from pushing code to advancing a more comprehensive piece of the puzzle. Your role is about steering the progression of the company, rather than solely coding for it.

Ways to do this before taking on this role:

Get good at staying informed and gathering insights about the wider industry in which your organisation operates and plan out scenarios to anticipate different challenges. This will give you some practice even if the scenario doesn’t happen.

Challenge the status quo. Speak with your current manager and challenge why things are done in certain ways, do this from a place of curiosity and peek into their strategic thinking process.

Develop your critical thinking skills by evaluating information objectively.

The Art of Delegation

Expanding on the concept of strategic thinking, effective execution is hindered when you find yourself immersed in day-to-day tasks that could be better handled by others.

Sridharan and Peyman underscored the significance of delegation, highlighting it as an important skill for managers. With the transition to a managerial role, your workload intensifies, leaving you with less time and mental bandwidth for low-level considerations.

Embracing the comfort of relinquishing tasks, delegating effectively, and trusting your team members becomes paramount. This shift enables you to direct your focus towards overarching objectives, provides room for your team's growth, and overall enhances operational efficiency.

Siarhei further shared that while delegation is imperative, accountability remains crucial. Regardless of the team's outcomes, taking ownership is your responsibility as a manager. If a culture of blame or evading responsibility is your tendency, then the move into management might not be the right step for you at this time.

Ways to do this before taking on this role:

Learn how successful teams distribute tasks and responsibilities and how roles are assigned.

Volunteer for internal or external projects to gain wider experience and the chance to delegate to people not in your normal team.

Offer help to someone on your team who might be struggling with their workload, and look to support them through distributing work.

Decision Maker

Certainly, the most impressive managers and leaders we encounter are undoubtedly those who possess the ability to make decisive choices. Just as Siarhei pointed out, they have a knack for comprehending various perspectives within a given situation and confidently determining the path the team should tread.

It's worth acknowledging that this chosen direction may not always be the perfect one, but their experience in decision-making empowers them to initiate action, providing the team with a well-defined focal point. They also exhibit adaptability, adjusting course as additional information surfaces or when errors occur.

Ways to do this before taking on this role:

Practice decision-making where possible, start with smaller decisions and gradually move on to more complex ones.

Reflect on past decisions made within your organisation, relive the information, and analyse the results, discuss how you can learn for a better outcome in the future.

Ask your manager if you can shadow their decision-making process to get first-hand experience, if possible, use the same information and make your own suggestions before they state theirs.

Innovation Mindset

Managers have a role that goes beyond merely overseeing day-to-day tasks and the workforce. They also play a crucial part in ensuring the business, team, and product offerings are prepared for the future. As a result, stepping into a managerial position demands an innovative perspective.

This transition can be particularly challenging for individuals transitioning from individual contributor roles to managerial positions, as Peyman highlighted. It requires a departure from your specialised focus and an exploration of how various aspects of the business operate, intertwine, and align with the organisation's trajectory.

This mindset shift requires thinking outside the box, identifying unexpected opportunities, and actively seeking enhancements for the entire enterprise. Such improvements might manifest as product offerings, new target audiences, or streamlined communication processes. The range of possibilities is vast, but the essence of constant innovation remains consistent.

Ways to do this before taking on this role:

Practice problem-solving where possible, break down complex issues and mind map creative solutions.

Cross-pollinate ideas, draw on ideas from other industries or teams and see how their advancements can support yours.

Mind map ideas with individuals with diverse backgrounds and see how ideas change.• Pay close attention to your surroundings, even seemingly irrelevant ideas can lead to something new.

Have a ‘free writing’ document on your computer where all your ideas can be collected and worked on over time.

Build upon and learn from Mistakes

Errors occur in all walks of life, and the ability to generate lessons from them is not confined to entering a managerial role; rather, it should remain a continuous focus regardless of your position.

Whether you're the one making choices, be it crafting a single line of code or deciding upon your team's course, mistakes are an inevitable part of the journey. In leadership positions, these errors can be frequent and public.

Your response to such circumstances, your capacity to understand the causes, and your ability to extract insights for the future will significantly influence your team's perception of you and the secondary culture you foster.

All our guests touched upon the importance of learning from your mistakes throughout your managerial journey and to take a step up, you need to feel comfortable with leaving your ego to one side and look to learn from each setback.

Ways to do this before taking on this role:

Learn to acknowledge and accept responsibility for mistakes around you.

Analyse the mistake and look to identify the root cause, usually best to do this with someone else so they can help you investigate areas you might not have thought about.

Reflect on the implications the error has made on other aspects of the business.

Draw the key lessons from developing strategies to try and mitigate for the future.

Actively bring these learnings up in any managerial interview to highlight your ability to reflect, extract and act.

Advice nobody told them

Navigating the role of team manager presents its share of uncertainties. If you're contemplating taking this step for the first time, it's wise to draw from the advice that caught our guests off guard when they started their journeys.

Sridharan highlighted how the learning curve for commercial knowledge was much steeper than he initially anticipated. Truly comprehending what your business addresses from your unique perspective and grasping the mechanics of revenue generation isn't typically the focus of individual contributors. To equip yourself with this understanding, you can proactively prepare by enrolling in relevant courses, nurturing curiosity, and actively pushing your boundaries to grasp your organisation's objectives and the underlying reasons.

Peyman's insight revealed that as you ascend in your career, the landscape becomes increasingly fraught with politics surrounding broader decisions. The significance of effective communication and adept people management often outweighs other considerations. It's crucial to possess the ability to understand how various departments interconnect and collaborate to attain the overarching business objectives.

Siarhei ended with a nice statement, truly believe in yourself. If leadership is truly what you want, push yourself deeper into the topic and learn as much as you can.

Absorbing skills and embracing the knowledge of others provides a solid foundation as you embark on your leadership journey. While some readers might possess a comprehensive skill set yet still grapple with readiness, others with just a handful of skills might find themselves assuming greater responsibilities.

For those motivated by the growth of others, the right opportunity will eventually unveil itself. In the interim, continue cultivating the right skills, gaining relevant examples to showcase during interviews, and whenever possible, seek input from those who have ventured into this role themselves.

Consider the option of exploring roles within companies that foster talent and offer fitting programs that facilitate your progression. For instance, companies like Viessmann (you can also view their careers page here: Careers with perspectives for the future (viessmann.family)) or EPAM Systems could be worth exploring. If these environments do not align with your aspirations, follow in the footsteps of Peyman: forge your own path and locate teams that place faith in your capabilities, affording you the chance to expand.

If you found this article useful and feel others in a similar position would as well, then feel free to share this article and let's collectively bring simplicity to the chaos of recruitment.

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