Congratulations, you’re getting promoted! You have excelled at the Thing You Do to such a degree that you’ll now be leading a whole team of people who Do That Thing. Very responsibility, much excite.
Okay wait, you may say. That’s cool, but I like Doing the Thing. I’m pretty good at it, and if I’m leading a team, will I still get to do it? Will I still get to perform the work that got me to where I am today?
The short answer is: Yes, you can! If it’s important to you to keep doing some “individual contributor” work as a manager, you can make that happen.
The long answer is: Well, you can. Like, if Mark Zuckerberg wants to go in and make some code changes to Facebook, he has the authority necessary to do that. And reportedly, in frustration with a pet bug or issue, Zuck has been known to bang out a fix and submit a merge request – which then hits a series of roadblocks around coding guidelines, localization, automated testing, and oh god why is this stuff so complicated these days ughhhhh.
And that’s good. It’s helpful for leaders to get their hands dirty from time to time, to get caught up on what their teams are doing, how they’re doing it, and get more context for the detail work involved.
But let’s be honest. Is Mark Zuckerberg’s time best spent mastering Facebook’s latest pull request rules around internationalization flow, or would that same time be better spent, I don’t know, figuring out how Facebook can ruin the world less?
As a manager, you too need to consider these tradeoffs. Yes, you have the ability to dig in and do the work yourself, but you now have a specialer ability: you can multiply your efforts across a whole group. As a leader, you’re in a position to solve bigger problems than you ever could by yourself, since you can deploy the full force of a team.
I could do without the Zuck reference, but the message is sound. This was something I struggled with when I became the manager of not just a team but a large team of people with arguably better skills than mine. Securing budget, running interference, talking with customers, and playing politics (albeit poorly) were more valuable than me changing firewall rules or adding a static route or running down anomalous traffic patterns.
Oh, I could also do without the giant robot analogy.
Still a good article.