It took me two years as a manager to reach the “leadership is lonely” phase.

– Will Larson, An Elegant Puzzle

When you jump from tech lead to manager: things change.

Your deep understanding of the system evaporates and becomes shallow. You’ll stop writing all the critical code. Your focus will shift.

But for me the weirdest change was everyone treating me like a manager all the time.

Managers are leaders with awkward power 😬

The transition from tech lead to manager is awkward.

You know the work of the team as well as anyone.

But moving to management grants you special powers—all new and unfamiliar:

  • You’ll set team goals and vision for the future
  • You get to make hiring decisions
  • You hold a budget
  • You organize special events (and maybe day-to-day events, depending on the support you have)
  • You get to talk to the organization’s leadership more often than most on your team

These are superpowers. You should relish these opportunities—you’re empowered to contribute to the team like no one else can.

But your new powers may leave your team uneasy. And if you fail to reckon with this new power imbalance, you risk alienating people.

Never make folks worry about their livelihood 😟

The second you became their manager you forfeited the right to joke around in any capacity about their employment at the company.

Stay SaaSy

You can hire, and you can fire. This Sword of Damocles now dangles over your relationships as a manager.

“Oh, what’s the worst that can happen? We all get fired?” has ceased to be light-hearted banter.

Folks might laugh, but it leaves lingering doubt. And doubts chip away at the trust teams need to do their job.

Contentless pings from managers are scary 😱

It may seem trivial, but asking your question before getting that initial salutatory reply also allows for asynchronous communication.

no hello

Now that you’re a manager, your contentless pings have transformed from annoying to panic-inducing.

Sure, you should avoid saying nothing but “hi!” to someone in a direct message.

But you should never, ever say something like, “Do you have a minute to jump on a call?” without context.

“Do you have a minute to talk?” from your boss, out of nowhere, immediately sets people’s minds racing.

Is this about my project? Something with the budget? A policy change? A change to my benefits? Am I being fired?

Your manager powers will wreak havoc on people who tend to catastrophize.

You’re the decider ☑️

People expect you to be the decider. Even for small stuff.

Folks may even be unaware they have this expectation.

But it applies to everything from team vision to where we’re eating dinner at the offsite. You can and should delegate decisions, but you can’t abdicate.

Clarity is key 🔑

Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.

– Brené Brown, Dare to Lead

When you leap from tech lead to manager, you have to learn about people.

And what people need most from you is clarity.

So instead of striving to be liked, or striving to be funny: you should strive to be clear.