Life is like walking against a moving walkway. We need to regularly stop and take stock of where we are at, and whether we are still focusing on what is actually most important.
In my job as a software engineering manager, there are a number of possible activities in which I can engage on a daily basis. It is easy to allow myself to coast and be reactive; just dealing with the crises that arise on any given day. The natural pull of entropy is constantly tugging at us to disrupt and distract us from our priorities.
One thought that I have had lately is to more regularly consider the question, “What work am I uniquely qualified to do for our team?” Particularly as the manager, it can be tempting to dive in to help with minutiae that may or may not benefit from my time and attention. Often, the most helpful approach for our team in the long-term is to delegate as much as possible so that others on the team gain more experience and comfort dealing with different issues. Ideally, as the manager, I have a unique perspective across all of the issues the team is facing, and my time will best be spent at a macro level, while trusting my team to execute on the micro level.
Recently, I wrote about prioritizing experiences over artifacts. In general, I still think that is true. However, as a manager, my most important work is communicating with others. I do need to have experiences that continue to shape and define me, and I need to spend considerable amounts of time thinking, but by and large, I need to communicate my thoughts and vision to others. This means that I need to prioritize artifacts more often in my professional life. My focus needs to be on facilitating experiences for my team, and creating artifacts.
The other crucial part of my role is to be available to help the people on my team when they need it. I will be most effective when I am able to make them more effective, and ensure that they are not blocked in their efforts. This involves a high level of reactivity, but when planned and anticipated, it can feel more proactive. I would rather be the one running around trying to figure out some obscure piece of information from just the right person, and allow the engineers on my team to focus on delivering great software. A balance is needed here. I do not want to completely insulate them from other people in the company—I need to foster connections. But so much of the preparatory work of connections is a slog of investigative and archaeological drudgery, and I would rather save my team from that.
Outside of those two main activities, nearly everything I do is a distraction and is taking me away from my primary role. This is something that I want to remember better, and I know I will need to pause and reflect again many times to ensure that I am focused on the right things.