5 Women in Tech Share Their Best Advice for Managing a Team, Pt. II

March 2, 2020

“You may know the answer to a problem someone on your team is tasked to solve, but telling them exactly what to do doesn’t mean they’ll understand why they’re doing it,” edX Software Engineering Manager Brittney Exline said. 

Sometimes, it’s better to let people come to solutions on their own, with a manager’s guidance, Exline said.

Helping team members advance their skills and careers is a key component of being an effective people manager. And as Exline said, it’s important to let employees navigate unfamiliar waters. Managers should act as lighthouses pointing direct reports in the right direction. 

Experience is a great teacher, which is why women leaders at Kensho, Jobcase and other Boston tech companies create opportunities for their team members to get hands-on learning opportunities. Making mistakes is a key part of growth, however, and that goes for managers as well as their direct reports. Leaders should feel empowered to take risks and own the results.

“When managers make mistakes — and there will be mistakes — it’s important to own up, ask for forgiveness, learn from them and move on,” said PrismHR Human Resources VP Kimberly Murray.

 

 

jobcase team members working
jobscase

Finding the ideal leadership style doesn’t happen overnight. Hilary Dionne, senior VP of channel operations at Jobcase, said new managers should spend time discovering a management style that works best for them. If a leader is funny, for instance, they shouldn’t hesitate from bringing a little humor to the workplace, Dionne said. Whatever the chosen approach, it should be chosen unapologetically. 

 

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

Trust and empower your team. Going from managing a team of individual contributors to leading a team of managers can be an overwhelming transition. In the first scenario, I led and managed from a place of technical experience and was still diving into the weeds. When transitioning to managing more teams, it was hard not to try and understand everyone’s day-to-day and the specifics of their areas of expertise. 

Give teams some rope to do things their own way. Let them make mistakes that they’ll inevitably learn from. Managing at this level needs to be more about making sure my team has the tools and resources to succeed as opposed to me learning all of the minute details of their roles.

Find your own style that you can lead from with confidence.”

 

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

Have high expectations for your team and trust that they can succeed without you needing to be involved in every detail. And of course, be an approachable resource and ready to jump in to help when there are problems, which should be more of an exception than the norm.

Find your own style that you can lead from with confidence, whether that’s leading by example, with compassion, through humor or another method. Don’t apologize for your style of choice or feel pressured to adapt to the styles of male peers.

 

bookbub team
bookbub

No one has all the answers, and Elle Nurmi said new leaders should lean into that. BookBub’s engineering lead said it might be easy for a manager to feel as though they may not be the best person for their role because they may lack knowledge in some areas. But leaders should allow their team members to fill in their knowledge gaps by tapping into their skills and expertise. 

 

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

Both positive and constructive feedback is never as clear as it seems. Think about the message you want to get across before you deliver it, and find ways to make sure the important parts of what you said were actually heard. Coaching can feel uncomfortable — even when the feedback is positive — but it’s one of the most important parts of a manager’s job.

Managing imposter syndrome is a key part of becoming a manager.”

 

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

Managing imposter syndrome is a key part of becoming a manager. Managers should accept that they have their jobs for a reason, while also recognizing that they will manage people who know things they don’t or are better at things than they are, and that’s OK. Becoming a better leader means admitting to not knowing things and leveraging the unique skills of the people around them. 

 

Kensho team
Kensho

Leaders have a responsibility to create a work environment where team members feel empowered to share ideas. Kensho Head of Infrastructure Adity Dokania said by actively listening, she learned to create a culture of open communication on her team. She said a collaborative atmosphere helps leaders sharpen their direct reports’ ideas into actionable plans. 

 

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

I realized that new product ideas can come from the ground up, so it’s important as a manager to know when to stop talking and start listening. Having a culture that advocates for free thinking should be the norm. And as a manager, channel and structure those ideas, and make them work toward the broader company goal.

There’s never going to be a ‘perfect’ moment to speak.”

 

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

If a leader connects to their team members on a deeper level — learning about their motivations and goals — it helps drive productivity.

There’s never going to be a “perfect” moment to speak, share an idea or take a chance. Don’t let thoughts like “I don’t feel like I’m ready” get in the way of opportunities. “Perfect” shouldn’t get in the way of “good enough.”

 

edx team
edx

Confidence is key. Trusting oneself is a major part of being able to face uncertainty, and new managers might feel like they’re facing the unknown quite often. Software Engineering Manager Brittney Exline said she developed her confidence as a leader at edX by continuously learning in her role and relying on her work ethic.

 

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

Show rather than tell when solving problems. You may know the answer to a problem someone on your team is tasked to solve, but telling them exactly what to do doesn’t mean they’ll understand why they’re doing it. It’s better to let people come to solutions on their own, with your guidance, even if it takes more time in the short run.

I am still learning how to do my job well, but now I have faith in myself to figure it out.”

 

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

When I started out as a software engineer, I had absolutely no confidence in my abilities. I focused on learning how to do my job well, and that built my confidence. Even when I could feel other people underestimate me because I was a young woman of color, I realized it was their problem, not mine. 

Becoming a manager in the past year, I am still learning how to do my job well, but now I have faith in myself to figure it out. Focus on doing the best job possible, and don’t worry about what others think unless they are truly there to lend support.

 

PrismHR team
PrismHR

Forgiveness is an important part of developing any relationship. PrismHR’s Human Resources Vice President Kimberly Murray said leaders should ask their team members for forgiveness when they make mistakes as managers. However, earning their trust back requires regular deposits into what Murray calls the “trust bank.”

 

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

In most cases, there isn’t an instruction manual when becoming a manager. When managers make mistakes — and there will be mistakes — it’s important to own up, ask for forgiveness, learn from them and move on.

I’ve learned that people appreciate open and honest feedback, especially constructive feedback. It shows that leaders care and it builds trust. And when a team of people trust one another, they accomplish great things.

When a team of people trust one another, they accomplish great things.”

 

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

My mentor taught me that it’s important to show vulnerability, take responsibility and help others in their times of need. When that happens, a deposit into the “trust bank” is made.

Eventually, a mistake is going to be made and a leader will need to ask for someone’s forgiveness, making a withdrawal from the trust bank. When more meaningful deposits are made, trust is built that can weather the mistakes and unintentional withdrawals.

 

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