Individual contributors get the luxury of a simple world view. There are essentially only two people they have to keep happy, the manager with HR authority and yourself. Work product, customer happiness, teammate happiness, and nearly everything else consolidates itself into the impressions of these two stakeholders.
Bad managers never move on from this mindset and their world remains them and their boss. The team is just a tool to get something done. We can all think of horrible managers we've had and some of their common traits. They were great at promoting themselves and keeping the bosses happy, but were weak with praise, fail to promote the team's interest, and often take all the credit. Their behavior when viewed with this lens makes sense, if no less palatable.
Good managers add an additional criteria to this list: will the team like it? Considering the team is an increase in the number of stakeholders by 50%. Every decision is now that much harder. It's rare that all three will be in sync, but a good manager will find a way to navigate the conflicting interests. A happier, engaged team is going to be a more productive team.
If a good manager is one that considers their team in decision making, a great manager is one that considers the impact to every member of the team; an order of magnitude increase in the number of stakeholders! For the manager, this means more time working with each member individually and understanding exactly what each team member seeks to accomplish. It is challenging to predict how a team will react to a decision, but now the manager will need to predict how the whole team will react and preempt any negative reactions.
Considering the needs of individuals is how great managers build loyalty, increase retention, and get the most out of every person on their team, though it comes with a cost. Getting a team to align with a company can be difficult. Having every individual aligned with the company all the time is nearly impossible.
Being a great manager means working though the misalignment and occasionally putting the needs of the individual above that of the company. It takes foresight to know which short term setbacks will lead to a better long term outcome and nobody is right 100% of the time. In other words great managers often have to put their own success on the line for someone else's betterment, a rare situation for an IC.
This is one of the biggest reasons why management is so hard. If an individual contributor does well on a project, their career will likely get a bump. Great managers deal in a world of ambiguity where a dozen competing desires must be weighed and balanced. Which is a reality that can be overwhelming for first time managers.
Did you like this? Please share:
On Leaving Startup Life
Musings on the transition from being in a startup to working for a very large company.
Self-Evaluating Success as a Manager
In the first part of my series on understanding the difference between management and contribution, I focus on the challenges of evaluating success.
Understanding the difference between contributing and managing
There's a large disconnect between the importance of managers and their broader perception. Management requires a different way of thinking than being an individual contributor.