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Top 10 Mistakes of Engineering Managers

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1. Not understanding each individual enough to know what inspires them.

The best leaders care about their team members enough to truly listen for what moves them.

2. Failing to simultaneously stretch and support.

Everyone loves the feeling of rising to a challenge and accomplishing more than they expected.

Share an ambitious, compelling vision, your belief in their abilities, and sufficient resources and guidance to help them achieve the goals.

3. Not building a culture of transparency and safety.

Request constructive feedback continually.

Provide feedback continually using Radical Candor.

Encourage frequent “skip-level” meetings between them and your own manager.

Give your team the ability to witness and learn from your interactions with other leaders.

Let your direct reports see you ask “dumb questions”.

4. Failing to live by principles and design the organization as a system.

Operate by timeless and universal principles, and teach about them as you follow them.

Show that there is always a meta conversation—always an opportunity to step back and “work on the machine” of our team rather than get lost in the details of the current project.

5. Burning the team out for short-term wins instead of optimizing for long-term sustainable excellence and growth.

Counteract the common tendency for a business to treat everything as urgent.

(If you claim everything is a priority, there is no priority.)

Build in protected time for personal exploration and growth (e.g. “20% time”).

Value vacations and other ways of ensuring continual wellness.

6. Recruiting poorly

Value diversity.

Treat candidates with an abundance of respect, as you do with your team.

Design your selection process to match real-world aspects of the job as much as possible.

7. Being oblivious to the importance and benefits of inclusivity.

If you’re not careful, conversations and decisions can become dominated by people of a certain characteristic (male, extravert, etc).

Proactively foster an environment that offers a large variety of perspectives.

8. Bogging people down with bureaucracy.

Don’t require people to log their tasks or hours in triplicate and other such nonsense.

9. Being indecisive.

When it’s a “two-way door” (reversible decision), make it quickly.

10. Missing opportunities to have fun and celebrate. 🎉

Praise everyone regularly, and create a culture where they publicly recognize each other’s good work, too.

Life is better with recognition, humor, and levity.

Your output will be better, too.

So will your retention and recruiting!


Which mistakes above resonate most with you?

Which others should managers be mindful to avoid?

Thanks for your comments!

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