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3 things I wish I knew when I started as a team lead

Hi, you're a junior manager now

3 min read
3 things I wish I knew when I started as a team lead

So you’re finally getting a promotion! You’ve been writing loads of code and shipping stuff and taking responsibility and now you got promoted to be a team lead! First of all, congratulations and welcome to our little club. Secondly, I hope your workplace provides you with some support and guidance. For a lot of us managers or team leads that’s not the case, and we’ve made a lot of mistakes on the way.

After almost 10 years of leading teams, I'd like to take some time and reflect on the things I wish I knew when I started.

1 . Understand that you are a junior manager.

This sounds simple but I’m surprised at how many times I've seen people not get it. I didn’t either, and I was very unhappy in my first couple of years as a manager.

It took me a lot of time to realize that I’m a manager now. This is a different job, that requires different skills, has a different lore and frankly, some of the practices I built over the years as a developer are completely useless here. It’s not moving up, it’s moving sideways.

And secondly, I’m a junior manager. With all the expectations that come with being a junior. This is a taste of what leading is. Just as we expect a junior developer to be curious, critical, pay attention, and reflect on their experience up until they develop that gut feeling that’s informed by their experience, we can expect the same thing from ourselves as junior managers.

2. The values are different

The first thing that you’ll notice as you become a manager is that your system of values will shift. And that is going to be hard. I remember my first week when I didn’t push any code. I remember my first day when I didn’t open my computer, at all. I felt miserable — I felt that I’m not a good engineer and I was trying to compensate by working on weekends and I did a poor job.

After meeting more people I realized that this is okay. I’m not an engineer anymore and the expectations towards me are different. I don’t add, I multiply. I can’t use the same measuring stick to see understand whether I’m doing better or not.

But that is very, very difficult to understand, because it means putting our egos to the side and learning a lot, which takes time. There's a trick to learning that a lot faster, and that is finding people.

3. Find people

Management is pretty lonely and quite taxing as well, especially if you’re not well prepared for this. It took me a very long time to develop my empathy towards the teammates, but not do that too much, so that I don’t become that overbearing parent. I’ve had coaching and therapy to learn not to sacrifice myself for the team, and to learn to feel the difference between my responsibility, and the responsibility of any of my reports.

And the best way to learn these things is to find a safe space to talk about them. There are many communities of managers, there’s meetups and conferences, slack groups and forums. Hell, you can even follow a bunch of managers on twitter so that you get exposed to people who like doing this, and if you ask them a question, they will very likely answer. You’re not alone in this. Build your Voltron.

And also, if you’re lucky, at work. Your team is likely not the team you lead, because there are a lot of things you can’t share with them. Your team is the other team leads, the managers. Reaching out to someone who’s a team lead as well, learning from them, at work, is a thing that will definitely help you not be alone in this.

Extra: Develop your own toolbox

You will make a lot of mistakes.

Even if you know how to do a proper 1:1 or you’ve read horror stories about people letting their biases get in the way, you’ll make these mistakes. It's easier if you accept you’re doing the best you can with the information and the support you have, and every once in a while, reflect on your experience to see if there’s something that can be learned. And I’m sure you will learn and develop your own toolbox.