Photo by Sigmund ( on Unsplash.
Photo by Sigmund ( on Unsplash.

Drawing some inspiration from a few posts I have seen elsewhere recently, today I am sharing a few thoughts on preparing to be a manager. This will be a multi-part series with additional posts following at least through May of this year. Through this series, I will explore why empathy is one of the key traits for a manager, and sometimes for less than obvious reasons.

To be clear, when I say “Manager” without further qualification, I mean a People Manager - a person who manages other people. I do not mean Product, Program, or Project Managers. They don’t necessarily manage people, they manage products, programs, and projects and in many organizations will not have management responsibility for the other people working on product/program/project.

What is the manager’s job? A manager is responsible for the productivity, growth, development, and, when needed, correction, of the people reporting to them. In short, their job is to help their team get the work done and become better at what they do. As an individual contributor, you were certainly expected to be helpful but that was in different ways. Once you become a manager, that becomes the main part of your job.

Why do you want to be a manager?

Good managers tend to have a small part of them that says “I don’t want to do this, I’d rather just be doing the hands on work.” That small part is healthy because it shows some humility and knowledge that managing people is hard and not just a reward for doing a good job earlier in your career.

If your reason for being a manager is because you feel a need to help others, read on. If it is because you think you’ve grown to that point that you help your organization more by doing more oversight and less hands on, read on. If you only want to be a manager because it’s going to make you an extra buck and/or makes you feel important, you are probably going to be a terrible manager. Read on.

Do you like your manager?

I believe one of the leading indicators on whether a person will become a good manager will be their view of their own managers. If they tend to dislike and disrespect their managers, they will tend to not be a good manager1. This tends to be so because good managers have empathy and give respect and people who default to disliking their own managers (and co workers) are showing low empathy and don’t give respect. I discussed this in more detail back in 2022 here:“Good Leaders are Good People”(Rule 39). Now, that’s not to mean you agree with everything your manager does, but it does mean you have a bias towards viewing others favorably until proven wrong. If that is not you, work on your empathy. Seek to understand why people do what they do and realize often there is a reason that may actually be reasonable, even if that reason is only “I’ve been burned before.”

How have you prepared?

It is unfortunate that many organizations seem to think that the sole qualification for being promoted to manager is being skilled at doing the work of the people who are being managed and not the skills of being a manager. In the software development world, this means developers become senior developers, then team leads, then managers and all without ever needing to demonstrate their ability to provide oversight and coaching. IF any instruction or mentoring in management is given, it’s only after the individual is promoted to being a manager. When you do get a class, it’s going to focus on maybe three things:

  1. Don’t get the company sued. This starts in the form of sexual harassment and bias training and then might extend to the hiring process.
  2. Delegate work. More on this in a moment.
  3. Your clerical and logistical responsibilities that are needed to meet the organization’s record keeping requirements. Oddly, I’ve never yet received any early guidance from any organization on what record keeping I need to do when a team member is performing poorly or misbehaving! That guidance seems to never appear until the manager is first escalating issues at which point they’re asked for their records of when the behavior occurred, what was done to correct it etc.

There’s not a lot of how in any of that. Only one of those points (delegation) actually helps you manage your team.

Putting time into studying (TED talks, reading, etc) and finding a mentor long before you find yourself being offered the promotion will help you.

And never forget: you’re there to help others, not just get your ego stroked or make an extra dollar.

Can you trust others? Can you be at peace when they fail?

Failure to delegate is the most frequent failure for new and even seasoned managers.

The first thing I share with managers when coaching them on delegation: it’s ok to fail. It’s especially ok if you delegate something to someone and they fail. Your job is to help them learn, not just be successful all the time. Part of letting them fail is making sure they can fail fast and limiting the harm done(Rule 33). Focus on making sure the safety net is there. It’s an old saying: we tend to learn more from our mistakes than our successes. I think that’s somewhat true, but only when we make it clear that failure is an acceptable outcome. When we punish people for failure, they’re only going to learn to not take risks.

When we don’t allow failure, then we tend to micromanage the work in a way that leads to only the delegate learning the what, never the why. This then means they’re not able to do it on their own next time if something is slightly different. Then you complain that “they’ve done the work a dozen times before, how come they can’t do this on their own?”

Also remember it is going to take longer the first few times. That is ok, they are learning. If you get caught up in it being inefficient or let your own anxiety about delivery time take over, then you never delegate and always do all the hard work. You are not managing then, you are carrying a bunch of people along for the ride. Give in to that temptation to always go fast and your workload will only ever increase because you are doing both your job and their job. With increasing workload, you end up slowing down and it becomes a destructive cycle.


Hopefully this article helps you reflect and understand taking on managerial responsibility isn’t just a validation of your career to date, but a whole new chapter that requires a new set of skills. As always, you can reach me on LinkedIn or using the other social media links at the bottom of this page if you have any questions or thoughts to share.


  1. I suppose the corollary here is that people who post those “managers are bad” memes will be bad managers themselves. 😱