The problem with new managers

I've been in and out of management roles in the California tech startup scene for the last decade. It's typical, especially in startups, that management training doesn't extend much, if at all, beyond sexual harassment prevention training. This brought me to a realization recently:

Most managers have no experience to draw on outside of their own narrow history of interactions with their own managers.

Management isn't booking and running meetings, anyone can do that. It is a little bit of bureaucracy and paperwork. Most of all though, it's dealing with people, and especially their personalities. Those personalities are myriad, and through our own managers, we've only seen how another person manages our own personality. It's extremely rare that you'll be party to the difficult conversations your manager has to have with your peers.

We can see how a bad or toxic culture would continue to perpetuate itself in this situation. If all you've seen is a bad manager, then you'd be at least partially forgiven for thinking that's just how managing is meant to be done.

To ensure you become a good manager, it's critical to do 2 things:

  1. Read. There are many resources out there be they books or blogs that talk about managing people. For years now I've asked my managers what book they recommend I read. I've received great suggestions, like Peopleware and Diver Down (recommended on the basis of how thorough diving postmortems are).
  2. Find peers and mentors to talk to. It's extremely useful to have people that are dealing with, or have dealt with, the same or similar problems. Talk to them about how you are handling or would handle situations. You don't have to do exactly what they say, people problems and solutions are subjective, but getting multiple perspectives on how to handle a people problem can help find the right path.

Ultimately don't try and muddle through every issue on your own. Be proactive in seeking out help and advice. As much as possible, don't wait until the problem has arrived and you're forced to react on instinct. Make sure you're taking every opportunity to broaden your perspective and learn from others' experiences. When a problem arrives and you have a difficult conversation with somebody, you'll be better prepared, and that will make the conversation easier for everyone involved.

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