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Building Teams and Careers

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As a manager, we all should feel a sense of obligation to build your team's career. That isn't how everyone feels, but they should. I have had several managers over the years and some stood out for various reasons.

I have two managers that have stood out over the years, the first was Chad Neff. He was one of my MANY managers at Microsoft and he inspired me often to learn. He learned DHTML by going through the entire documentation on call at a time and seeing what is possible, and then putting it all together in a web version of lode runner. So great, he is brilliant, but I have had brilliant managers who were assholes. What made Chad stand out, was he never demanded, he always asked, he would demonstrate a better option and then let me stumble through implementing it. He always provided feedback and the reason why something I did wasn't the best option. The most important skill he showed me was that he was never condescending. Was he better than me? Of course he was, but he wanted me to be better. Truly, he really valued my progression and helped me so much even though he was my manager briefly.

The second is Trevor Carnahan, and yes, he is brilliant too, but what made him stick out so much to me was how balanced he was in handling chaos. It was a bit chaotic doing a full site migration to .Net for Sharebuilder in 3 months. However, the entire team knew that Trevor was in charge and he believed it was possible and not even that crazy. His kindness and support EVERY DAY made you want to go to work, just to see if you could help him do something. He would make decisions and then let us do what we do. He also hired a very unique bunch of individuals. We were truly a great team, even though it was mostly contractors, we never felt less than and always knew we could ask for help from anyone on the team.

Now, those are my stellar managers who I want to emulate. There are others who I won't name, but they taught me what I never want to do.

I'll list a few things to NEVER do:

  • Never put the job before an employee's health
  • Never cancel a 1:1 10 minutes INTO that 1:1
  • Never demand, but ask and explain why
  • Never tell an employee, "I'm going to do everything in my power to get you fired" (yes, that happened, fyi, he was fired and I was promoted)
  • Never send emails, text, or read a book during a 1:1

Those are just some examples of what I have experienced.

To take interest in someone's career means you have to understand where they want to go. That does not mean where YOU want them to go, but where they want to go. You need to ask more questions than you answer. You need to listen frequently as things change with more experience.

Every employee needs an advocate, and ideally it is a person who is one level above their manager.  Your manager should be your advocate too, but that is not always the case.

Remember, no one will ever care more about your career path than you.  You can help your employees by listening to their career goals. Some may not even know where they should be going.  You can guide them and suggest, but remember it is their decision.

I know this may seem like common sense, but you'd be surprised on how many managers simply assume everyone reporting to them wants to be them.  That is rarely the case.

Listen more, ask more questions, and take a pro-active interest in your employee's day-to-day code, work, etc... it helps, it matters, and you'll be remembered much more for your interest than for your code skills.