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From Developer to Manager

From Developer to Manager

Yesterday you were responsible for managing the bits and bytes of your life that constitute the code you created. Today you are responsible for a group of people’s well-being, their career growth and yes, their code.

That’s right, you have ascended to the level of leadership where it’s more than jumping in to save the project and lead the team through the late night battles, more than volunteering for the really tough project and what’s more you cannot go into the cave when something needs to get done by you, the one-person tiger team.

Today, you are the face that your team will look to for guidance, leadership and tutelage.

Do your shoulders feel a little heavy right now? Did you think it was going to be an all “let’s keep writing code as a team” and “if we keep our collective heads down we’ll all be happy” type of thing? What about when people start to irritate one another? Were you hoping to slide between them to get to the espresso machine?

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Getting started as a new Development Manager is a daunting task – yes, it IS a daunting task not CAN BE – it takes a lot of work to do it right and do it well. I remember my first day, after it was announced I was a newly minted manager of a new team. A slew of emails flew into my inbox from HR – objective reviews, manager meetings, training requests, etc, etc – and I was dying for guidance on what to do next, how to get started, where to start!

My Director sent me a great email, which sadly I’ve lost, but hopefully the spirit remains true here with some added thoughts of my own.But make no mistake, the position might be Manager, but the path is Leadership. If you want to be great, be a leader, if you want to be good, be a manager.

It’s about the People

If you think your new role is about shipping code, then you are sorely mistaken – that is for the Team Lead. The Manager is focussed on the people more than the code – the people are who think of, create, imagine and deliver the code – without the people, you have no code, no product. You need to focus on building a great team because a great team is what begets a great product. Was your team handed to you? No picksies?

No problem, now it’s time to figure out who does what, how, what they are good at, where they need help and how you can help them. I have sat down with many people over the years and every interaction is always different, and always has to be. A great way to interact with your team is via monthly one-on-one’s. It doesn’t have to be formal, they work better if they are not. The value is you give each person time to sit down with you, they pick your brain, you pick theirs, you adjust your plans, rinse and repeat.

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Your Team is not a Factory

It is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you are now running a production factory focussed on the delivery of goods and services to the world. Yes you write code, yes you deliver software (or perhaps some other good) but how you deliver this is just as important. The greatest part about being a developer is the creativity to imagine new approaches to the resolution of problems.

If you take over all the fun design stuff or give it to someone else to do, you are taking that element of fun away from your team. Every job has an element of fun to it and in software this is the greatest part – coming up with new ideas, leveraging new frameworks, trying out new ideas.

As their leader, you should be very concerned when you see the number of new ideas from your team dropping because it means they aren’t engaged, don’t feel empowered and even worse are simply going through the motions to get their work done. Don’t turn your team into a factory, focussed on producing code by certain dates, turn them into a team that churns out great ideas month over month. Those ideas will win every day.

Be Open

It is okay to not know everything. Newsflash – you don’t, I don’t – we only know what we can know. You don’t have to be the perfect leader for your team, whether you’ve been on the job for a few days or few years, there is no threshold for perfection. Be honest with your team on what you know, where things are at, what is next, what you are unsure of, where you need some help and clarification on.

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These are all great ways to show your humanity to your team. Sometimes you can’t tell them everything, sometimes you can only tell some people bits and pieces, but be open and honest on what you can share. The most rewarding response from a team is when you are open and they rally beside you to help you through it.

Help them Leap

So now you’ve met everyone, found out their likes and dislikes, what works, what doesn’t, where they want to go and don’t – now you need to think of how to grow them. Think of your team as plants and you want to grow them into trees. How do you do that? You listen to what they want to do, where they want to go, you look at where the company is and where it wants to go and you help them build those career paths.

“Waiting for someone to die” to take their position is not a career path, that is a career line, where they have abdicated themselves to waiting behind you (or someone else) to wait for their career to happen. There is always a path, there is always a direction, but not everyone can see it – and that is where your job is so critical.

Trust

This seems obvious right? Trust your team to do the right thing. Make the right call. Step up to the plate when you are not there. My biggest “tip of the hat” has always come when I’ve taken sick for a big meeting, presentation, deployment, etc only to come in the next day and see it went off without a hitch. Where I thought I was a linchpin, I wasn’t.

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The team realized the importance of what needed to be done (because I was open), they might not have known what was to be done today but they came up with some ideas to make it happen (because they are not a factory), they weren’t afraid to jump in and try something new (because they know how to leap) and they knew they could handle this (because we discuss more than their work) and THEY MADE IT HAPPEN.

Trust does not happen over night, it evolves, it grows, to get there you need to focus on honing your skills on the above traits to make it happen, each day, with each person, fostering that consistent message so you can get there.

A Culture Aside

You want to have a great culture like Hubspot or Valve or some other culture child of the day? Fantastic. Was that built overnight? No. Culture is not a transplant process, just as you cannot transplant someone’s soul into another person’s body. You can transplant parts and pieces but not the raison d’etre. It’s an evolutionary process, a growth that happens over time driven by your commitment to the above tenants.

You cannot create passion when it is not there, it is either there or it is not, some people fall into the wrong jobs by accident and it’s up to you to make sure they wake up wanting to get up and put both feet forward to help your team reach their goals.

Remember the individuals, nurture the team, be open, help them leap and build trust. If you can do those 5 things, day after day after day than you will do more than become a manager, you’ll become a leader.

Featured photo credit: Matt Jones – Magdeleine via magdeleine.co

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Greg Thomas

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Last Updated on April 23, 2019

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

What Is a Stretch Goal?

A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

1. Get Outside of Your Head

If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

I see this in so many areas of life:

When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

“Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

S.M.A.R.T.

is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

The Bottom Line

These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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