Why be an EM?
Just as in engineering IC roles, you can continue to build your management skills for many years before topping out or hitting a ceiling on your potential organizational impact. People who choose to specialize in line management roles are often an incredible gift to our organizations, and we should incentivize this by allowing for a range of levels within each management role type and not forcing people to move higher in meta-management to progress. 1
We often talk about the imperative to give feedback in organizations as though it only flows down and sideways—our managers owe us feedback, and we owe it to our peers. But if we are sincere about wanting to create more inclusive, equitable organizations with more empowered employees, something is clearly missing from this equation. We want managers to be incredibly emotionally intelligent and intimately familiar with their team members’ dreams, preferences, and experiences. This doesn’t happen without a two-way communication conduit—one that involves positive and constructive feedback flowing in both directions.
A precondition for this has to be that managers create an environment with a high degree of psychological safety and show a genuine interest in accepting feedback gracefully and taking action on it. 1
Personal growth and self-care
Put on your own oxygen mask first...I know a number of engineering managers who have stretched themselves incredibly thin attempting to support, care for, and cover for their teams. It’s lovely when managers can play this role for their teams, but we also have to remember that they are humans with their own problems who are not trained as therapists or even coaches. It’s essential to set boundaries around what we can and will do to support our teammates’ personal needs. Managers can often help employees seek out the additional support they need from a coach, a mentor, a therapist—but sometimes there are problems we can’t reasonably solve for our team members, and that’s ok. It’s also ok for the bandwidth we have for these problems to fluctuate based on what’s happening in our own lives. 1
Share the weight of accountability with others. Managers have traditionally been the conduit through which accountability flows in our organizations. But this idea that managers bear all accountability for team performance is rooted in the older world of management, where ICs are fungible “resources” who can’t be trusted to be accountable themselves. 1