Employees rely upon the knowledge and leadership direction given them by their superiors. This is not a new or novel concept, however in looking at many of the managers out there where I’ve worked, the fact is that many of those managers are not capable of the job they perform.
I was placed under a manager recently, who exemplified the phrase “promoted to the level of incompetence.” This man’s leadership style was not just bad, but entirely lacking. He showed this through his actions as a manager in the following ways:
- When asked by his superiors if a project could be done in a certain time-frame, he would never ask the engineers doing the work; merely being a “Yes man”.
- During meetings, when one of his engineers would point out a problem, or a time conflict, he would chastise them in front of the group and all but guarantee that the issue was not an issue.
- He wouldn’t accept the reality of what the current technology could do, and so, would offer solutions based upon a ten year old technology that had long been abandoned.
- Little communication came from his office until the time had come for action to be taken.
I could continue the list, but suffice it to say, management and leadership were NOT his forte. The problem is that this type of scenario occurs because of the intrinsic desire for people to move up in an organization, and for the established leadership to recognize good performers and try to promote them.
Ponder this. You are a new engineer and you got your first job. You love the job, and you’re engaged by the work, so you pursue your projects with fervor and excitement. A year or three in, you receive a promotion for the great work you’re doing. You continue and after some more years, gain another promotion! Eventually the time comes to make a choice: do I stay an engineer, or move up into management? Your manager offers you the option of either, and what choice do you make?
The answer for most people I’ve spoken to is “Management”. I then continue probing and asking why management is their goal. The response usually falls back to “pay is better, and you get bonuses.” Now, this logic may very well be true, but the fact is that the position of manager holds its own responsibilities and duties that an engineer does not need to concern themselves with. It also comes with those responsibilities that many engineers don’t understand.
But I can totally lead a team!
That may be, but it also might not be. Leadership and management positions hold completely different requirements to be effective! Engineers are detail oriented and focused on tasks at hand. Leaders must be somewhat detail oriented, but predominantly they are big-picture people:
- They must be able to see skills in others and determine how to deploy those human resources.
- They must be able to prioritize tasks, even when the desired tasks may not be at the top of that list.
- They must understand that an overly personal relationship with one member of the team can have adverse effects on the rest of the team.
- They must be able to make the hard choices of when and how to fire employees (I’ll keep the PC sugarcoating out of it).
Obviously there are many more facets beyond the small list above, but the fact is that being a great engineer does not equate with being a stellar manager. When contemplating your future, or when another engineer is thinking of their future as a manager, the real question to ask is, “Are you capable of performing the job?”
Money is great, but staff and senior engineers make a good amount of money. If you are hesitant to meet new people, communicate effectively, or make the hard decisions that are required, then management really isn’t for you. If you love writing code, making CAD schematics, debugging and getting projects done, it likely isn’t going to make you happy and fulfill your goals and interests.
Obviously, many people make the transition successfully, as evidenced by the large number of upward-bound employees at large software companies around the world, but the decision must be based upon more than “more money” or “more power.” It should be based on your goals for your life.
What suggestions would YOU make to someone contemplating moving up in an organization? Pitfalls? Please share them in the comments!