My promise as a manager

In any relationship, clear and upfront communication about expectations can save a lot of hard feelings down the road.

In staying silent, one risks creating misalignment and diverging expectations that can bare negativity.

This is especially true in the relationship between a manager and direct report.

In a manager/report relationship there are four kinds of expectations:

This post is about the last one: my expectations of myself as a manager. The goal of this is to formulate and communicate to my team what they should expect from me at a minimum. This is a living document that I will update and mold over time – it is not immutable.

To my team –

I am here to serve you

The phrase ‘servant leadership’1 gets thrown around a lot. I mean it. My sole purpose as a manager is to elevate you and the team to be happy and successful.

I exist to remove your roadblocks, celebrate your wins, and assist you in fulfilling your career ambitions, among other things.

Without a team to support, I am unnecessary.

I am only successful when you are successful

This is a corollary to the previous.

As a manager, I should be measured by the success of my direct reports and team as a whole. Keeping you motivated and happy with your work life is my number one priority.

Anything that gets in your way of being happy and productive at work is something I’m happy to collaborate with you to improve.

I am against process that only serves me

Sometimes process exists only for the sake of the manager, especially process around reporting.

If I’m asking my team to do something out of their way just so I can measure or report on something, it is not usually in the best interest of the team.

I will be transparent when I can be

By default, if I can be transparent, I will be. Hiding information from you and the team does not make the team better. I will properly qualify when I don’t know an answer fully.

I will always be equitable and inclusive

I will treat everyone equally. I will treat you with respect. Diversity makes us stronger.

I will hold the team accountable for being inclusive.

I will give you continuous feedback often

Evaluation feedback should not be infrequent or greatly surprising. If you are surprised during an evaluation period, I’ve done a poor job of communicating your performance.

I expect myself to check-in with you frequently and communicate clearly how you are doing.

I will give you opportunities to grow

It can be frustrating as an engineer to feel stagnant.

I will give you actionable feedback to achieve your goals and assist you in finding opportunities to demonstrate those behaviors.

I will let you have the impactful work and take the support work myself

There will always be some amount of ‘keep the lights on’ or cleanup work that needs to be done. It’s not particularly interesting or glamorous most of the time.

When I have opportunities to take on engineering work myself, I’ll default to leaving the interesting and impactful things for the team and take the work is uninteresting but needs doing.

This might be a slightly controversial opinion – I think some managers would think it’s healthy for everyone to have a balance of work.

For me, this is an acknowledgement that high achievers who are aligned with product impact usually want to be working on things that are meaningful.

It’s also an acknowledgement that managers work on an inefficient schedule to write solid code (i.e. the manager’s schedule).

If I can play necessary support and let you have the work that you enjoy doing, it’s a win-win situation.

I will protect you against unnecessary requests

One function of a manager is to protect their direct reports from incoming requests that are not high priority. I will protect you and my team from requests that don’t serve to move our team towards its goals.

When possible, I will gather as much information about a request and its purpose before bringing it to the team so that there are meaningful actions we can take on the request.

I will give you my full attention in 1-on-1s

It’s incredibly easy to have competing priorities as a manager.

1-on-1s are your meeting. They’re dedicated time for us to talk about whatever topics you’d like. It would be rude of me as a manager to be distracted during this time.

If for some reason there is a production fire or other interruption that prevents us from having a meaningful 1-on-1, I’d prefer to reschedule over only partially being able to pay attention to you.

I will celebrate your wins how you see fit and never provide constructive criticism publicly

I will always defer to your level of comfort when celebrating wins. I’d love to share them publicly, but If you don’t want to share them publicly, I won’t!

I will never provide constructive criticism about your performance publicly – I see that as toxic.

I’ll support your career transition if you’d like to make a move

I want you to feel comfortable discussing a potential future not on my team or in a different role if there are ways you want to grow that are not supported by your current team.

I’ll support you and help you grow, regardless of whether it’s possible on my team or not.

You can have as much of my time as you need

My time is your time.

If there is anything you expect from me, let me know

These are my expectations of myself. You will have expectations of me. Make them clear when you can and I am happy to work with you to support you as best I can.

It’s understandable if you want to hold back at times. It’s natural when there is a power imbalance.

When and where you are comfortable being open, open communication allows me to focus, iterate, and improve.

My promise as a manager is that I will strive to do these things and more. I will never stop growing and improving myself.

Updates

Footnotes

  1. I’ve been wondering if there is a better phrase to use here. ‘Servant’ seems outdated. Perhaps ‘support’ is a reasonable alternative. ‘Support leadership’?