Home > Hiring, Software Engineering > How to determine if you are ready to manage – or ready to lead

How to determine if you are ready to manage – or ready to lead

In not so distant past, “N” was one of the most capable principal software engineers.  “N” could solve any technical problem, deconstruct something very complex into a series of simple solution steps, and commanded respect from everyone in the organization.

“N” and I had a regularly scheduled lunch every month.  The topic of the day was “N”‘s prior request to be considered for a promotion. “N” felt strongly about being promoted to an engineering manager role during the next 6 months.

“Tell me why you are ready to become an engineering manager”, I asked.

“N” responded, “I am ready.  I am already acting as a manager of an important initiative where engineers from other teams are virtually reporting to me”.

“Do you know the difference between a manager and a leader?”, I asked.

“N” paused and acknowledged that difference was difficult to define.

“Why don’t you do some research and then let’s talk again”, I asked.  “N” agreed.

Our next lunch was one of the most memorable experience I had as a leader with an opportunity to identify and develop the next leader.

“N” researched my question well.  “N” also provided many examples.

“That’s very good.  In your opinion, what is the single most important difference between a manager and a leader”, I asked.

“N” took time to provide an answer, clearly uncertain about the single difference. “N” also felt that the answer would be one of the reasons the promotion would arrive sooner than later.

“N” finally provided the very answer I was looking for.  “The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing”, N responded with confidence.

“But can you do things right if the objective isn’t the right objective?”, I asked.   ‘N” said, “No, I can’t execute something that isn’t right by definition,  I also can’t follow a leader who doesn’t do the right thing”.

“N” proved to me that he was ready to be a manager.

Managers do things right.  Leaders do the right thing which inspires managers to execute the mission correctly – or do it right.   Every manager is a leader in training.   Help your leader to do the right thing by asking the right questions.

Managers who simply do – lose their privilege to to be a managers of others.  These managers will also never become leaders who inspire others by doing the right thing.

“N” became a great engineering manager and later one of the best engineering directors I had the privilege of managing in the past.

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