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Kimmo Sääskilahti
Kimmo Sääskilahti

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My weaknesses as a manager

Multiple years of managing multiple projects and teams haven't made management easy for me, but I have learned management is hard in many more ways than I thought it would be. When I recently got back to reading the wonderful book Making of a Manager, I realized I've never written down my personal weaknesses as a manager. Because the book recommends every manager to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses as a manager, here goes.

The list is not exhaustive 😉

Weakness 1: I'm not that social

I'm not a very social person. While I enjoy being around people in general, I find many social situations awkward and uncomfortable.

This matters because managing teams requires not only talking to people but also talking about hard stuff. If talking about the hard stuff makes me and therefore the report too awkward and uncomfortable, the discussion will likely not happen again soon.

I believe this weakness can be mitigated by getting over the barrier of awkwardness and getting into tough situations. The only way to get better is to practice. Have 1-on-1s with the reports regularly and try to make every meeting at least a tad bit awkward for it to be effective, as the book recommends.

Weakness 2: I love doing stuff myself

I love writing code and getting things done. Having a big uninterrupted afternoon for delivering a feature is deeply satisfying. I take a lot of pride in doing things well, following the best practices in software engineering.

It's easy to understand why this characteristic can be troublesome. By writing code myself, I may get stuff done faster in the short term, but this contribution will always only be additive. In contrast, a manager's contribution can be multiplicative. Longing for doing things oneself also easily leads to micromanagement.

I believe this weakness can be mitigated by learning to trust the team and delegating technical work whenever possible. Team members must be given room to grow and become strong individual contributors.

Weakness 3: When stressed, I tend to be tense, blunt, or absent

Everyone is stressed every now and then. Only recently I've learned to see the stress in myself and how it affects my behaviour and mood. I've never acted unprofessionally at work (I think), but I have noticed that stress makes me become tense when disagreeing with others, blunt when continuously interrupted, or absent when interacting with others.

Stress makes us turn inwards and start thinking about our own outputs. This is destructive for managers, whose job is to ensure that the team continously delivers great outcomes. Stress and blunt behaviour also erode personal relationships.

To fight stress, I've established daily yoga routines. Yoga has helped me not only to reduce stress but to be aware of my own emotions and notice earlier when I'm stressed. Learning to be aware of emotions also makes it easier to notice afterwards when apology is needed.

Weakness 4: I have high standards for how I work and expect the same from everyone else

Years of working with more experienced people have taught me to be open in communication, active in seeking help and constantly striving for high quality. I've noticed that I tend to keep these high standards also for others. For example, if I notice someone is having trouble delivering on their tasks, my first instinct is to not micromanage: give them time to figure it out on their own. If they have trouble, they will ask for help and support.

This is not how it works. There are many reasons why people don't communicate openly or actively seek help when they have trouble. For example, they may not trust me or the rest of the team to not judge them. They could be going through hard times in their personal lives. They could be ashamed of not getting things done. They may not know what is expected of them or they may have misunderstood the task. They may not yet have the sufficient skills for finishing the task. Either way, it is the job of the manager to help them get over the barrier.

One way to mitigate this is to have regular 1-on-1s with reports. If they're having trouble, the 1-on-1 should be the safe place to discuss if they need any support. I also need regular reminders that it is the job of the manager to learn how to make every team member prosper and grow. Even if the team as a whole delivered but individuals struggle, the manager is doing something wrong.

Weakness 5: I easily forget what management is about and revert to my old ways

I've read Making of a Manager before and I remember it what an impression it made. It all made so much sense! Now, after reading it again a few years later, I realize I haven't done most of the things I thought I would start doing as a manager. It is all too easy for me to revert back to grinding the day-to-day work, running a sprint after sprint developing features and forgetting what actually matters: purpose, people and process.

One way to mitigate this would be, I think, to establish regular checkpoints with my manager and ask them to regularly spar me to keep on track. Communicating what kind of manager I want to be to the team would also help them notice and communicate when I'm getting off track.

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