I’ve been meaning to put something like this together for a very long time, but back then I was still very new to management and the manager’s schedule. I still had the tip of my toes stuck in the technical work and I wasn’t keen to let go. I don’t think I will ever fully let go of that work, but I like to think I’m getting there bit by bit each and every day.
Awhile ago, I took a role as the practice lead for an application security group at a consulting company. My history as a penetration tester didn’t precede me, and that meant that I was more management than I had ever been. It took awhile to meet with everyone on the team, to explain my background, expectations, and management style, but it was certainly worthwhile.
I didn’t work the way their previous manager did, and that wasn’t better or worse, but it was different and managing that change is not always easy for people. For example, my predecessor did their peer reviews on the formatting, grammar, and spelling in the reports because the first round of peer reviews covered the technical issues. I, being still technical enough to recognize when something isn’t quite right, had been providing both technical and stylistic commentary. I even cracked the occasional joke in the margins with track changes, and tried to call out at least one positive thing in every report. That last bit was more habit than “practice” but I encourage you to try — it helps.
Something I desperately wanted to do going into this new role was to show the consultants that they are the experts. Sometimes customers want to talk to the manager, but more often than not, they want to talk to the person doing the work. I’ve pledged to all of my direct reports that I will not get in their way, and I won’t steal their thunder. I will, however, take all the damage and back them up when needed. They know more than I do. That’s their job. If I pretend otherwise, I’m lying to myself.
That said, developing confident and capable consultants practically requires you to take a leap of faith, to watch failure, to celebrate success. You can’t expect people to learn something without doing it. That’s like telling a teenager to jump on the highway in their brand-new car without ever having touched the steering wheel. We can’t do that. We have to trust that our people will do their best, and that when they need help, they will ask.
So, I guess if you get nothing more out of this: Trust your people, enable them to succeed, and above all don’t get in the way of their growth and development.