4 Women in Tech Share Their Best Advice for Managing a Team, Pt. I

February 25, 2020

“The advice I wish I had internalized sooner is ‘your career is a marathon, not a sprint,’” said Erin DeCesare, CTO at ezCater.

When she became a manager, DeCesare said it was important to learn the value of not allowing her personal life to suffer as a result of career growth. Setting up boundaries and following best practices for time-management was a necessary step toward healthy work-life balance, she added. 

Another piece of advice we heard from local people managers? 

Remember to always be a student, constantly seeking out new growth opportunities. Interactions Director of Product Management Mary McKenna suggested that women find someone in their company they can manage to get real-world management experience before taking on a more formal leadership role.

“If you want to become a manager, ask your boss to be considered for any management opportunities,” said McKenna. “Start with one employee or even an intern, positioning yourself to get as much management experience as you can to start out in that role.”

These are just a couple of the tips we heard from leaders across Boston’s tech scene, who shared the lessons they learned that made them effective people managers and offered advice on how other women can succeed in future leadership positions.

 

Interactions team
interactions

Mary McKenna, senior director of product management at Interactions, said she pushes her direct reports to be successful in their current roles, with an eye toward future development. In practice, McKenna said this involves providing continuous feedback, rather than waiting to deliver critique during scheduled performance reviews.

 

What’s one important lesson you’ve learned as a people manager?

I try to identify where my employees are strong and find every opportunity to take advantage of their strengths to make them confident and productive team members. After you have successfully done this as a manager, you can then move to possible areas of improvement or growth with concrete, actionable suggestions.

It’s critical to be a strong advocate for yourself and every person on your team.”

 

What advice do you have for other women who manage teams, or aspire to?

As a woman manager in tech, it’s critical to be a strong advocate for yourself and every person on your team. You will get overlooked and under-resourced if you are not spending as much time as possible positioning your team for success within your organization.

Know that your annual budget requests probably won’t be 100 percent funded. So make a strong case for the absolute optimal budget. Hopefully you will end up with a budget adequate for your team to be successful.

Your team needs a clear sense of their responsibilities and priorities. If training is required to meet their goals, it needs to be handled in a constructive way. Never surprise a team member with negative feedback in annual reviews; you should be working with them throughout the year to address a weakness. Continuous feedback keeps areas for improvement mentioned in a review from being news to your employee.

With expansion comes exciting opportunities for new managers. If you want to become a manager, ask your boss to be considered for any management opportunities. Start with one employee or even an intern, positioning yourself to get as much management experience as you can to start out in that role. Effectively managing people requires both hard and soft skills, and you’ll learn what skill sets work best in a given situation through experience.

 

DraftKings team working
DraftKings

Jessie Haffey said leaders shouldn’t run from professional conflict. The senior software engineering manager at DraftKings said that although a situation may be difficult to face, tackling it head-on prevents the issue from growing. Being an attentive listener and understanding what drives team members is also an important skill Haffey said leaders should cultivate.

 

What’s one important lesson you’ve learned as a people manager?

It’s critical to address issues quickly and head-on. Letting a problem linger will only result in it getting worse over time. Whether it’s a difficult piece of feedback you need to deliver or a team conflict that needs to be addressed, the sooner you do so, the easier it will be. As a manager, it’s important to be able to deal with conflict resolution directly. The ability to keep conflict productive and address it results in good outcomes for everyone involved, helping to create a more collaborative environment for your team.

Letting a problem linger will only result in it getting worse over time.”

 

What advice do you have for other women who manage teams, or aspire to?

Spend more time listening than you do speaking. It’s less about what you say and more about the questions you ask. Listening to your employees will provide you with valuable insight into what motivates them and how you as a manager can help them grow in the areas that interest them most. Creating an environment where everyone feels their opinions are heard will lead to increased participation and ultimately, a stronger and more cohesive team. 

If management is a career goal, look for opportunities to gain leadership experience now, whether that be through leading a project or acting as a mentor to a more junior employee.

 

ezCater team
ezcater

The importance of being a good listener was a vital lesson ezCater CTO Erin DeCesare needed to learn as a leader. DeCesare said prioritizing listening over giving direction might seem to contradict the idea that women in tech should be more vocal. But being an ear to her team has helped DeCesare lead them to win after win. 

 

What’s one important lesson you’ve learned as a people manager?

When I started to lead larger teams, the predominant advice for women was (and still is), lean in and speak up. But I’ve learned that the best way to be heard is to be quiet and listen first. When I am genuinely curious and explore ideas with my team, we find the solutions that we’re most excited about pursuing. Learning to make space and listen to them, particularly during skip-level meetings, is the most important skill I’ve learned in managing people. 

The best way to be heard is to be quiet and listen first.”

 

What advice do you have for other women who manage teams, or aspire to?

The advice I wish I had internalized sooner is “your career is a marathon, not a sprint.” Many women will find that transitioning into a leadership role often coincides with choices around family. Despite progress on this front, there are still real tradeoffs that need to be made on where to spend time. These transitional periods will be easier if clear expectations are set with teams about personal schedules and availability so that everyone’s needs are met. No matter what choices are made, there is plenty of time to end up where you want to be in your career. 

 

Acquia Chief People Officer Heather Hartford
Acquia

Acquia Chief People Officer Heather Hartford said leaders at the digital experience company follow a “manager as a coach” model. The practice is centered in part on constructive conversations with employees, which Hartford said helps keep staff on a path of professional development. Hartford added that she makes a regular habit of checking in on how the team’s goals are affecting their experiences as employees.

 

What’s one important lesson you’ve learned as a people manager?

One theme that has resonated in my experience across multiple industries and roles is the importance of maintaining a “people first” mentality. We have a wide variety of tools and technology to navigate highly-complex business priorities. It’s important to remember that our people drive success. When reviewing work or setting priorities, I continually ask my team, “How does this impact the employee experience?” The answers may vary according to the country, role or other factors, but asking the question keeps our people at the forefront of everything we do and ensures our work continues to deliver value.

Take a personal interest in your team and don’t be afraid to be human.”

 

What advice do you have for other women who manage teams, or aspire to?

We believe in the “manager as a coach” model for all people managers; leaning on transparency, mutual accountability and continuous feedback based on regular, two-way conversations. This method means guiding rather than telling, encouraging new ideas, instilling a culture of learning from mistakes and celebrating wins. 

Practicing coaching instills a sense of teamwork and enables employees to grow individually while contributing at a higher level. Lastly, be yourself. Take a personal interest in your team and don’t be afraid to be human.

 

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