Lessons From My Middle Leadership Beginnings

Middle management is still new to me, even after a few years of experience.

Over my career, I have taken leadership training opportunities when I could, preparing for my first chance to join a management team. And finally, I was given an enlightening and exciting opportunity to add to my storied career abilities, a few years ago. In the past, I have had opportunities to speak directly to clients and work alongside other developers in a leader-type position, so this was an exciting jump to make.

Though I have moved on from that company, I recently have been reflecting back on those times recently and wanted to note down some of my takeaways, as a way to keep notes of what I have learned and where I am going from here. My time as a manager was a great learning process and a welcome discovery of a newfound part of my career that I found enjoyable.

Listen With Both Ears
You have two ears and one mouth; listen more than you speak, the old saying goes. Some on my team needed someone to chat with and help to know if they were doing a good job and how they could grow. Through bi-weekly chats, for some on my team, I quickly learned I needed to give them the floor to express where they were at, rather than always coming to the meeting with a pre-planned agenda. This grew to be very natural and made a lot of sense to several team members. Through this process, I discovered team members that needed encouragement, where they previously hadn’t received any, or even suggestions on educational journies to level up their abilities. I saw satisfaction growth and better teamwork through this. Instead of dreading check-ins, they now looked forward to them.

Have One-On-Ones in Real Life Or With The Video Camera On
As remote workers, video chat has replaced the phone in many ways. But this doesn’t mean a lot of us often turn on the camera during meetings or even one-on-ones. For me and my team, one-on-one chats had the requirement of the camera to be on. I wanted to see their face and the team member to see my face. While this can’t always be done for normal meetings, I found this helped me to connect with my team members in a more positive manner and it helped bring in more than just listening to the tone and cadence of a person’s voice to understand their thoughts and needs.

Everything is Connected
Some folks bring everything/a lot about their life to work. Some don’t. While you don’t necessarily need to identify this immediately with everyone, as a manager it is good to understand, in a non-judgmental way, where everyone is coming from in various circumstances. Not always do people love to chitchat, but being “too focused on work” can make some employees feel that they aren’t being heard – many likely want to hear about your weekend, too. Some of us are the type of people to “get right to it,” but others need a quick, natural icebreaker. If you work remotely, taking lunch together is difficult, but I suggest ways to connect with your team outside of the raw work that is required of each of you, which makes everyone work together better. There are many ways you can do this, share a funny (work-appropriate) meme in the #random channel on Slack, or mention a piece of sports news or a movie you watched recently. Start one Monday morning’s meeting with a story about what you did this weekend and courage others to do that as well, etc.

Move slow and don’t break things
Every decision has a repercussion. In my own work as a leader and in the work we perform as a team, I encourage them to move at a pace that considers each action and decision. It’s not just about workflow adages like “No Deploy Fridays,” it’s working so that you don’t have to correct issues later and you can focus on problems that aren’t related to poor planning, moving too fast, and breaking things. There’s a happy medium for everything if you seek it out. Experience and data-driven decision-making might be buzzwords, however, these words tell the honest truth about successful projects.

Backups Backups Backups
This goes to putting everything on Dropbox or making sure you have committed to the repo recently. Seriously, back up your laptop, your hard drive, your repositories – everything! Infrequently, I ask my team “when is the last time you backed things up” and if something goes wrong, my first question is often “how old is your backup?” Backups have saved my ass so many times, I don’t know if I could ever place less emphasis on them. As a developer, some form of version control is a must for the code we write – but I think it should be for everything we do!

Learn, Adjust and Grow
If you make a mistake once, let’s analyze it later so that you can learn from it, understand it if need be, adjust and grow. In multiple positions I’ve held over the years, we’ve done project retrospectives, where we take a short amount of time and discuss both the successes and failures/problems of a project. This has allowed us to modify workflows, discuss lessons learned, and celebrate wins together as a team. This is an essential tool for both your betterment as a leader but also your team’s ability to accomplish projects and goals.

Be Optimistic
In my everyday life, I tend to not always be optimistic. I have found I must be intentional with thinking positively. Assume that problems we come across are solvable, even if your gut says it is not. Drive yourself to find the answers and find the opportunity to show the team by doing. Be an example of this. Talking through the process of troubleshooting something or considering a need in a positive light will often bring us back to a place where experience can remind us of a solution or a path toward that solution. I find being positive toward solving problems often means we have less conflict involved.

Be of Service
“It’s not my job,” “I don’t know” or “I don’t have time for this” are phrases I ask myself and my team members to use as little as they can and intend on not saying them if at all possible. As a team, we work together and though sometimes we are siloed on projects or have different skill sets, we all must row to get the boat down the river. I want me and my team to always be learning. In spite of having our own tasks to perform, we still must work together in whatever happens.