It’s a sad fact of life: Some developers struggle when they get promoted into a management position. Despite their best intentions, these management newbies stick with what they know and end up engaging in behaviors that drive their team nuts (and hinder the development process).
Here’s a look at the most common mistakes made by developers-turned-managers who can’t fully let go of their developer habits, as well as some things they can do to take charge and “manage up.”
The Hero Syndrome
Rather than giving teams the opportunity to figure out solutions to problems and learn from failures, insecure managers with a hero syndrome insist on stepping in and solving every problem that comes along.
It’s almost as if they want to satisfy their own ego, or are jealous of others’ successes, observed Thiago Duarte, development team lead for Toggle. They thrive on being the only one who can solve a particular problem.
Instead of being frustrated, summon the courage to discuss the issue with your boss. Just make sure to provide constructive feedback—not criticism. “Address the situation objectively,” Duarte advised. “Provide examples; then, walk your manager through the consequences of his behavior and explain how it makes you feel.”
After all, the top priority of any manager is to grow their people. When they solve all of their team’s problems for them, the rising stars will become disillusioned and demoralized—and leave.
Not Giving Developers Clear Direction
Managers who move up from technical lead often struggle to provide clear direction, explained John Sonmez, founder and CEO of Simple Programmer and author of “The Complete Software Developer’s Career Guide.”
They are used to leading by example and not having authority, so when they become managers, they don’t understand that they are responsible for defining tasks, setting deadlines, and, when necessary, laying down the law.
Getting decisions and direction in writing can help to avoid confusion, Sonmez advised. When choices need to be made, consider emailing your boss a list of options, then ask her to decide and respond in writing. If you end up discussing the team’s priorities and direction, always confirm any verbal agreements in writing.
Many new bosses are too hands-on because they are afraid to delegate.
They are insecure and paranoid that things won’t get done, so they do things such as schedule status meetings several times a week, explained Neil Green, a principal architect and author of Neil on Software.
Obviously, you can’t tell your boss what to do. In light of that, your goal is to convince them to stop intervening and let you do your job. How? Green says the key to managing up a micromanaging boss can be summed up in one word: persuasion. You want to persuade them to stop the meeting madness (or whatever other action is driving everyone insane).
Get your manager to talk about why the meetings are necessary, then genuinely listen to their concerns and rationale. For instance, a new boss might be scrutinized by a senior manager, and that stress is “rolling downhill” to your boss’s team.
Next, use the Socratic method technique of asking questions to help your manager understand their impact, allay their fears, and reconsider their decisions. “Ask something like: ‘Gee, boss, are we really going to lose our jobs if we miss this deadline?’” Green suggested. Don’t expect an on-the-spot decision or answer, though. Plant the seeds of change, then walk away.
Former developers often gravitate back to what they know, leading to mixed results.
When managers who are excellent coders code alongside the team, their knowledge and efforts are appreciated, and everyone benefits. But when someone who wasn’t a great coder gets promoted, then constantly injects himself into the development process, it can become a nightmare for the rest of the team.
Guide your boss back to doing their job, freeing you to do yours, by suggesting new ways to help the team. For instance, ask your boss to resolve issues with external clients, product managers or stakeholders who keep changing their minds and the requirements.
Sometimes new managers insist on weighing in on every decision (even minor ones); before you know it, they create a bottleneck in the development process by making slow decisions.
Nudge your overstepping boss in the direction you want him to go (and show that you are capable) by making decisions, then presenting him with the evidence and research you considered.
If that doesn’t work, Sonmez says, it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission. Take the power back by making the decisions you need to make. At the same time, cover your bases by outlining your decision in an email and concluding: “Unless I hear otherwise, we’ll go ahead and implement this on Friday.”