Managing Upwards & Outwards
You represent your team to the company. People's understanding of your work, their appreciation of its value, their understanding of why things are running late or need to be done differently, all hinges on you.
Your contributions in group settings, your questions, your judgement, the progress of cross-functional projects that you lead and sponsor, all combine with your team's output to create your reputation. And your reputation will become inextricably linked with your team's reputation. If people trust you implicitly, they will extend that to your team. Fortune passes everywhere.
Some of these topics are discussed in reflections on being a bullshit umbrella so it's worth having a read of that. This section will focus more on your personal development and how that cuts across your relationships with your boss, senior folk across the business, and your peer group (especially other EMs and product, design, QA and data folk).
01 The game does not exist
So stop trying to play it. We’ve seen so many young, ambitious, adorably naive managers come up who think they’re going to shoot to the top of the org chart because they’ve got some special sauce, or whatever. Almost everyone needs to learn the hard way this isn’t going to happen, but we just want to say we told you so.
The problem is the hard way comes with a lot of undue cycles and stress, or worse you get fired for “playing politics”. And yes we know there’s a shooting star person at your company and you think you can do that too, even better. Watch long enough and you’ll see the shooting star fizzle out.
02 On leverage
99.9% of your time and mental energy should be crushing it at your job. Delivering business impact effectively while building a durable team. This is how you really accumulate leverage, demonstrate your ability as a leader, then demonstrate how you can do it consistently, become dependable, and then indispensable. No real shortcuts to that so don’t try to find them, it’s a waste of energy.
BUT don’t forget to assert your own opportunities too. Rarely does someone hand you increased responsibilities or more money. You have to ask for it, confidently. Don’t be afraid to do so.
Leverage is the ratio of input to output. High leverage work has outsized results for the effort you put in; low leverage is the opposite. And when we talk about results, in management roles we're talking about materially impacting the business value your team provides. If you're spending hours each week doing something, and you can't honestly make the case it's having that impact, then do something else. Delegate if it's important, drop it if not.
03 The squeaky wheel gets the grease, but the tallest poppies get cut down
There’s a side point to be made here on understanding cultural differences - both of these idioms refer to the same thing but with opposite outcomes, squeaky wheels are more of an American saying and Tall Poppy Syndrome more of a thing in Australia and New Zealand.
But the primary point here is when it comes to managing up both statements hold true. Don’t be a pain in the ass to your boss, find solutions to problems before they happen, take stuff off their plate. It’s not brown-nosing, it's helping your company win. But also remember to include them in it. Make your work visible to them, just like you want your engineers good decision making and engineering skills to be visible to you.
A weekly email with a section something like “Here’s what I took care of this week, let me know if you want to go deeper on any” in bullet point form along with a “Here’s what I need you to make decisions on” goes a long long way.
04 Autonomy and alignment, how to have both
The 25 / 50 / 25 rule, check it out here!
The game does not exist
The squeaky wheel gets the grease, but the tallest poppies get cut down
Autonomy and alignment, how to have both