Book Review: The Manager’s Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change

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The Manager’s Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change by Camille Fournier

I really enjoyed this book, especially because so much of the wisdom translates to any leadership role even though this was written with software engineering in mind. Camille writes this book as her lessons learned as she rose through the ranks in software engineering up to executive leadership. She writes about the pitfalls and keys to success at each of these levels. I appreciated that she calls out the big shifts between major levels. What gets you from A to B won’t necessarily get you from B to C, and there were some useful insights in here.

This was a 4/5 star rating from me.

Below are some of my highlights and additional thoughts.

Hands-on expertise is what gives you credibility and what helps you make decisions and lead your team effectively.

I’ve always appreciated the idea that leaders can quickly earn the respect of their team if they can demonstrate competence in the relevant field. This was the case on the football field, and this has been my experience in the security consulting space. When you’re leading a team you don’t need to be the best technical practitioner, and the argument can be made that you shouldn’t be the best, but you need to know more than the basics. If people think you have no clue what you’re talking about, they’re going to remember that each time you’re asking them to do something.

Being an introvert is not an excuse for making no effort to treat people like real human beings, however. The bedrock of strong teams is human connection, which leads to trust.

Ideally, the feedback you get from your manager will be somewhat public if it’s praise, and private if it’s criticism.

Good managers know that delivering feedback quickly is more valuable than waiting for a convenient time to say something.

Great managers are masters of working through conflict. Getting good at working through conflict means getting good at taking your ego out of the conversation.

As Tim Ferriss says “A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.”

Critical feedback can be uncomfortable to give, but is absolutely crucial to the success of the individual, the team, and therefore you as the manager. The best way for these conversations to be as easy as possible is to have built a level of trust with the people you manage. Critical feedback coming from someone they trust is easier to frame as feedback intended to be helpful, and not meant as a personal attack (assuming it is not).

Your manager should be the person who shows you the larger picture of how your work fits into the team’s goals, and helps you feel a sense of purpose in the day-to-day work. The most mundane work can turn into a source of pride when you understand how it contributes to the overall success of the company.

Developing a sense of ownership and authority for your own experiences at work, and not relying on your manager to set the entire tone for your relationship, is an important step in owning your career and workplace happiness.

Especially as you become more senior, remember that your manager expects you to bring solutions, not problems.

One of the basic rules of management is the rule of no surprises, particularly negative ones.

Can I do this faster? Do I need to be doing this at all? What value am I providing with this work?

While I agree a manager should be connecting these dots – you should also be looking to understand how what you’re doing contributes to the larger goal of your team/organization. Something may seem trivial to you in the moment, but may be a key part of the big picture. If you don’t see the connection – ASK!

Now, of course this comes with some balance. Take some initiative to figure it out instead of waiting to be spoon-fed information. This seems to become more true the further up the ladder you climb. As you grow, you’re not only expected to execute tasks, but to know what tasks need executing.

The Stone of Triumph is a metaphor for achieving recognition only to discover that recognition comes with a heavy price.

What you measure, you improve. As a manager you help your team succeed by creating clear, focused, measurable goals.

you need to follow up on all the little things until you figure out what you don’t need to follow up on.

If one universal talent separates successful leaders from the pack, it’s communication skills. Successful leaders write well, they read carefully, and they can get up in front of a group and speak.

Go home! And stop emailing people at all hours of the night and all hours of the weekend!

Managers who don’t stay technical enough sometimes find themselves in the bad habit of acting as a go-between for senior management and their teams. Instead of filtering requests, they relay them to the team and then relay the team’s response back up to management. This is not a value-add role.

These few things seems to ring especially true as lessons learned in the early days of a management role. This new title actually comes with a lot of work – work I seemed to be taking for granted when I was working for another manager.

I’ve found that I need to remind myself often of both the following up on tasks and the time (and format) of these follow-ups. Due to the kid’s school schedules I tend to work in blocks of time around their time at home, which means a lot of early mornings and later evening sessions – both times I know people do not want or need to be getting notifications of an IM or an email. I’ve had to learn to schedule delivery of these things, or plan out these check-ins during “normal” times.

I’ve also been working to add clarity to my communications. Since I generally work in these blocks, I have to plan ahead for what questions may arise after sending a message or delegating a task, and address those up front to avoid the task waiting on my response to a question. The goal is always to describe the end task, set some sort of barriers, but leave as much of the “how” for execution up to the individual.

The final element of this first-team trust and respect is the cone of silence. Disagreements that happen in the context of the leadership team don’t exist to the wider team. Once a decision is made, we commit to that decision and put on a united front in front of our engineering teams and anyone else in the company.

Letting go when you don’t get your way, especially when you don’t feel that your objections have been heard, is hard, and it will have to happen from time to time. At this level especially, you must decide whether you want to fall in line or quit. The middle ground, openly disagreeing with your peers, does nothing but make the situation worse for everyone.

Complaints go up the chain. NEVER down.

The more senior the management and leadership position you take in a company, the more the job becomes making sure that the organization moves in the direction it needs to move in, and that includes changing direction when needed.

As the senior leader, you’ll often suck all of the oxygen out of a room. Your mere presence will change the tone and structure of meetings you attend. If you aren’t careful, you’ll end up pontificating and change the direction of a project because you had a great brainstorm in a one-off meeting you decided to drop into.

These seem like important things to keep in mind as I progress through my career. They also seem directly related, as you’ll be charged with the strategic path of the company, and people will understand that is your role. This is partly why your ideas will carry so much weight. You must wield that carefully and intentionally. There will be a time and place for that pontificating, but make sure when it happens, you’re intentional about the audience.

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