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Before hiring a new manager: evaluate yourself as a manager

In any software engineering organization where the pace is usually very intense (releases, dates ….), the departure of an Engineering or Quality Engineering Manager is painful.   Sooner or later, someone very valuable with team management responsibilities will make a decision to leave.

It’s Friday PM.   You are VP of Engineering, reading a letter of resignation of a terrific engineering manager.   “G” is leaving to join a company for reasons seemingly impossible to overcome:  shorter commute, more stock options, as well as better compensation.    Thinking about the implications of this departure can spoil anyone’s weekend.

So what are the next steps?  Call every recruiter?  Not yet.

Immediately, evaluate yourself as a manager.   Regardless of the reason why someone is leaving, every departure is a reminder of the universal truth in technology organizations where great people are the key to success:  people do not leave companies, they leave managers.

Even if you are the best manager in the world, this departure will create an opportunity for you to become an even better manager.   By making the decision to complete your own self evaluation as a manager, you will be be able to retain other critical individuals in the organization.

On Monday, every attempt to retain “G” has failed.  Nothing worked.  “G” wanted to have a shorter commute and left the team in 2 weeks.

How do you look for that next perfect hire who will be able to replace “G” and become a highly respected engineering manager?

The immediate tendency is to look for another “G”.   This approach – although viable – will not answer a different question:   how do you find someone who is better than “G”?

Better “G” does not exist.   Better “G” can be developed by investing time in the new hire, by being his / her mentor.   That’s why it’ so important to perform your own self-evaluation.   Will you be willing to mentor and coach the new hire to become a better “G”?   If not – you will fail as a leader, and the new hire will probably fail as a manager.

As recruiters forward resumes to you and the recruiting process begins to produce good candidates, these candidates will most likely be in these categories:

1. Perfect manager.  Perfect technology depth.   If you can find this person  …

2. Perfect technologist.   Very good team leader.   Ready / willing to be a manager.

3. Perfect manager.  No longer willing to be a perfect technologist.

In reality, candidates in categories 2 and 3 will appear more often in the recruiting pipeline.

The candidate that shows the most potential to become a better “G” is Category 2 candidate.   But only if you are willing to invest in the new hire and coach / mentor him / her.

Great engineering managers are not hired.  They are mentored by great leaders who took the time to do what every great leader does well:   replicate excellence.

But it all starts with one’s self evaluation as a manager.

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