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Ask HN: What are the signs that you have a great manager?

With a great manager you get lots of work done and feel good about yourself and your accomplishments. You get the right amount of recognition for your work (not more or less than you want). You understand what’s expected from you and you feel free to express yourself.

The really difficult thing about this question is that it’s not a 1 way street. If you don’t work hard and have a good attitude, it will be hard to achieve anything. You need to have realistic expectations of how others will perceive what you do. You need to be able to balance the needs of others with your own needs (not too selfish and not too selfless). Your manager can help you with those things, but they can’t actually do it for you.

I’ve been in a bad place at work many times in my career. The most important thing to ask yourself is: is it me, or is it my environment (including your manager)? Try to rule out as many of the “is it me” scenarios as you can. Try to put yourself in a good place. If you hit a wall where you are thinking, “I’m trying to do X, but Y is getting in my way and there is nothing I can do about Y”, then you can see where the problem is. After you’ve “levelled yourself up” as much as you can, if you still feel constrained, then it’s probably good to look for another place to go. I usually advise more junior people to stay in a job (even if it is not ideal) until they get to that point. It’s easy to say, “That manager sucks! I can’t work with them,” and fly out the door having learned nothing. If you do that you run the risk of doing it over and over and over again.

When things start to work well, the thing you will hopefully notice is that it isn’t just you. You can’t perform to your maximum ability without a great manager (if you are in a job where a manager helps). Similarly, you can’t perform to your maximum ability without working well with your coworkers. When it clicks, make sure to spend some time appreciating what those other people do for you. Everybody is different and I can’t tell you exactly what it will be for you. The key is to work hard so that when you are in the situation where you can excel, that you are up to the task.

This is really good advice. Not many devs think about themselves when discussing their managers.

>> The really difficult thing about this question is that it’s not a 1 way street. If you don’t work hard and have a good attitude, it will be hard to achieve anything. You need to have realistic expectations of how others will perceive what you do. You need to be able to balance the needs of others with your own needs (not too selfish and not too selfless). Your manager can help you with those things, but they can’t actually do it for you.

That’s true, people leave managers not jobs.

A good manager:

1. Make you feel comfortable in expressing your inputs

2. Bats for you in upper management without you knowing a bit of it

3. Pushes you for taking up bigger assignment even if you don’t feel confident.

   This will help in learning a lot & getting bigger share in overall contribution.

4. Never says immediate no for your ideas. Takes time & gives a thorough feedback

5. Keeps you informed about your progress in 1×1’s

6. Is open for feedback

7. Keeps things cool even if his/her back is on fire

8. Never micro manages

9. Always makes sure you get your credit & visibility for the contribution you have done

10. Has a very good understanding of stack/technology/project you are working on

I’m doing all this, although after 2 years now I feel the very fact that I am not ‘micro managing’ is affecting our team’s productivity. I notice my team is on social networking websites for a long time daily with some work (we all sit together), come late and go early, and I don’t say a word to them and am always that ‘cool’ with them. I’m thinking may be that’s a bit wrong on my part, but there is just no way to tell them these things without sounding ‘uncool’ and micro-managing.

You misunderstood accountability with micro-managing!
If they are using social media sites its their choice, you should not call them out, because that would be micro-management.
But if the same thing is not allowing them to be productive call them out for poor performance. That’s how you teach accountability.

Performance and, to a much lesser extent, accountability are not the easiest topics in software engineering outside of strict waterfall. Still, awareness of these is critical for teams.

In that particular example that you are replying to I would go a few “why” steps deeper though.
Why are they not motivated enough by their work maybe?
Are they not aware maybe how a higher than “normal” engaging in distracting activities will hinder their development and ultimately their career?

Slacking off once in a while is perfectly normal. It is rare to find the perfect situation of engineer’s brains being constantly on fire, churning out great solutions because they are so motivated, in the right place at the right time being asked to and capable to do the right thing in the right way.
No manager can make their team get closer to that nirvana alone – It needs a good environment but most of all an intact network of trust inside the team and the openness to speak about lack of motivation or other issues and trying to tackle it together.

Imho it is your task to help them become aware (calling out and other methods), reflect on the issues and gain the confidence that a change can be made that benefits them.

How productive do you expect them to be

How productive are they being

How productive do they think they should be

Once you have those answers, then you can have a conversation about making all 3 answers match.

“3. Pushes you for taking up bigger assignment even if you don’t feel confident.”

Oh, man, I’m leaving my current company exactly because most developers don’t get that. Instead, a group of select few get all the assignments. It gets so frustrating and depressing in the long run.

I realize now that this is also why I left the company where I’ve worked the longest. Fun company, but at some point I noticed that my job was going to be to maintain all the legacy sites while a separate team was doing all the exciting cool new stuff.

I’d toss an asterisk onto #5

1 on 1s can vary a lot from person to person. I absolutely love my manager, but we’ve never had a 1 on 1 where she spelled out how I’m tracking towards goals. That’d be wayyyyy too formal for the nature of our working relationship. She just lets me know if I make mistakes as they happen, and relies on me to raise issues to her when it makes sense.

Now that I’m a manager as well, I have some team members who prefer to keep things less formal, in the same vein as me and my manager, and some that prefer more direct and organized feedback. I think a good manager needs to be adaptable and willing to match the working relationship that each person is most comfortable with.

15 years of experience here, an I noticed there is 1 main rule:

A great manager is at the service of their team, the team is not at the service of the manager.

The irony is that you don’t really notice a great manager. Their job seems like a walk through the park, and you have a “I could do that job easily” feeling. That’s because a good manager shields you from all the shit that’s going on, so you and your teammates can concentrate on your job.

If you’re in a project where shit hits the fan every time, where you have to extinguish fires, overwork because of deadlines, etc. then this is the managers fault.

I also noticed that the atmosphere within the team and the company, is always a reflection of upper management. And there is not much that can change this.

Honestly almost every project in my career (admittedly not as long as yours) has involved shit hitting the fan, etc. Often wonder if it’s my fault or just the nature of the business.

As a manager myself, I’m going to post this evergreen I keep continuously revisiting every half a year. It’s extremely concise while complete on every aspect I would have loved in a manager while being an employee. That’s why it’s my gold standard and the one thing I’m handing out to every new manager at our company.

Relevant HN thread:

The one thing I’d add on top of it from my last 5 years in CTO experience is:

– Communicate context as high level and as complete as possible.

If you say “I want that button in red” when you really mean “I want to increase sign-ups on this landing page”, then what you REALLY mean and want to communicate is that you want as many customers as possible to find your valuable product.

Letting the team jump in with own ideas, even if you think you already have the best solution will make them grow in responsibility, accountability and self-confidence.

Likewise, ideas like a company/team “Mission” and “Strategy” are 90% used in bullshit contexts, but articulated correctly and repetitively, they make sure people run into the right direction, even if you don’t follow every of their moves.

This question has huge cultural variation. I think you need to specify the cultural region first.

Globally, in some places it’s expected a boss micromanages everything, and in other places that’s considered a sign of ineptitude as leader.

Within a smaller area, say, Europe you still get huge variation from egalitarian north to more hierarchial areas which affect quite a lot of things.

But, in the most general sense:

– is the person polite and respective? In any culture being ‘bossy’ and abusive is not a sweet character trait, it’s a fault.

– does the person allow you to fail and grow?

– does the person listen to your suggestions and act on them?

– does the person give you honest feedback?

– does the person have your back? I.e. can you trust that politically they are on your side when dealing with the rest of the org?

– is the person honest?

Most of these are characterizations of what a regular well mannered person is. I suppose there are two types of bad bosses: the insecure one who would like to avoid all responsobility and negative interactions at all costs, who don’t want to ‘rock the boat’ no matter what, and the bossy bosses who enjoy their position in the hierarchy and act like it in any way possible.

But, a good manager does not
need to be:

* warm and caring

* charismatic

* become your close friend – you are colleagues and professionals

* send you holiday greetings (unless that’s considered a serious affront in your culture)

* same sex as you

* same culture as you

* old or young

* probably other things that you expect in a friendship but since being friends is not needed they don’t matter

A good manager doesn’t tell you what to do, but asks you what you need. A manager should be a facilitator, not a micro-manager. Provide you with the resources you need to do your thing. Juniors need more active guidance of course, but they should be getting that from seniors rather than managers.

I had one bad manager, and one good one.

Bad one: lots of micromanagement, fear of making mistake, fear of looking bad to upper management, lack of technical insight, lack of business insight

Good one: little to no micromanagement(except in some cases), stilk has good technical insight and tries to stay up to date and can make reasonable discussion, always challenges you in good ways, tries to increase system efficiency by creating an environment where people can try many ideas without going off the track, good business insight – surprisingly many people dont know anything about business you are in.

It depends on person to person.

For me, my manager listens me, understand my problem/trouble and he acts accordingly. I am not going to lie, but there were few months in my job where I wasn’t productive at all, fail to yield proper result due to my personal problems. He is always there to help me and did almost everything how i wanted to act/work in the job. Obviously, there were also lot of situations when i had to act myself according to him, but it happens after mutual discussion. He is one of the few biggest reason why I’m still in the same job since last 6 years. I always wish when i switch to some other company/start new company and the person who will going to command me (in some sense), i always wanted person like him or him.

The best managers I’ve had have been formerly great engineers, or Product people who understand the importance of engineers. I’m sure there are good managers who were not god engineers, but it’s certainly harder for them to grow into such a role.

The best managers try to understand different perspectives including yours. They must must must be good listeners, otherwise they can never truly understand what their reports really want.

The best managers understand what’s important for every member of their team and try to create environments conducive for their growth.

Being a good manager is a rare skill. Some are born with it; but it’s a skill that can be learned by those who listen. Most managers unfortunately have a messed up paradigm of themselves and how they relate to the world, and most will actually create more obstacles rather than clear them.

I am about to leave a company made by very bad managers, even if my line manager is great (he is a former rugby player and rugby manager, then he really know how to manage a team).

Good manager:

* It’s a person that I can trust, everytime

* He is always on my side, even with upper managers

* No micromanagement (he is in another office, far away from me)

* Very clear and deep communication (sometimes is a bit verbose, but it’s okay)

* He can take reponsabilities and fight for them

* He always drive me to growing

* Care about people and feelings

Bad managers

* No responsabilities at all

* Care about end year bonus, not about people

* Using people to fight each other

* No communication at all

* Trying to exploiting people with tricks and hidden moves

* Manipulators

* Arrogants and conceiteds

On a Sunday evening, you find yourself looking forward to getting into the office on Monday morning.

I have had a good and bad manager!
Here are the traits of each one

Bad One: Gets pissed off easily when something doesn’t work, focuses on himself, doesn’t like when people go on leaves while he himself enjoys vacation twice a year, discriminates, uses trickery to get things done, uses his ego in product decision making in case of a technical debate, not at all honest

Good one: Rarely looses his cool, may not write code but brilliant with products and product architecture overall, defeats you in technical debates using intelligence rather than his command and ego, is honest & loyal with you and so are you, is a boss but works with you like a team

When I started out I remember once I was staying late to the office coz I had some pending work, my manager stayed with me because he had good understanding of the problem and he dropped me off(I used to travel using companies transport) even though he had to take detour. Best product manager ever!

> doesn’t like when people go on leaves while he himself enjoys vacation twice a year

the US sounds like a dystopia more and more everyday. sure, one could make the case that these work habits are a reason for your success, but who is really benefiting that success?

> the US sounds like a dystopia more and more everyday. sure, one could make the case that these work habits are a reason for your success, but who is really benefiting that success?

Talking about India not US!

ahh it ocurred to me that i might be wrong, but repeatedly hearing from expat friends how americans find the number of vacation days in EU shocking, i decided to poke anyways

I thought the same. I think 10 days paid leave is considered competitive in the US. I’m in the UK where 25 days is considered competitive.

10 days is garbage even in the US. You take it, but you grumble about it. Partially, nobody in the US knows how to value vacation, I think. So even highly paid people kinda shrug at vacation and don’t really factor it in.

A good manager:

let’s me give estimates for how long tickets will take me instead of giving me deadlines

doesn’t interrupt my productivity with pointless meetings

keeps the team working as a team, resolving conflicts quickly

If I feel confident in the value I create, feel good about my productivity and ability to have an impact and have my voice heard I probably have a great manager.

If I feel dread when I see a notification on slack from my manager, before I even open it, if I go into a 1-1 with my manager feeling any amount of worry, if I come out of a 1-1 feeling bad or demotivated then I probably don’t have a great manager. Or I need to look at myself to see what I’m doing wrong, who knows maybe I’m the one screwing up.

They’re the only ones who didn’t want themselves to be the “managers” yet still do the job with a smile on their face.

They aren’t just a stooge for the next layer up, brought over from their boss’s previous gig. Every executive has their “enforcer” guy/gal that they bring over so they themselves don’t have to do the trench work of actually managing people. Seen this movie so many times.

I once had a manager try to recruit me for this purpose… literally tried to feed me what they wanted me to say when discussing implementation approaches – so they didn’t look like the one trying to push an agenda… Hinted at a promotion if I played ball. When I gave my own opinion instead – they stopped talking to me entirely… So, yknow – disobedience had its upside.

This is thankfully the case in 99% of situations, but I’d like to add on top of all the comments: technical proficiency is super important to me. Having a manager that doesn’t understand the details (or even basics) of your work is super tedious to work with.

A great manager helps you to get the job done.

Input from customers at the right time.

Keeps the team together and customers happy.

Knows when the team must work uninterrupted.

Does her best to give you the best available workspace and tools.

The best managers are servant of both the customer and team..

They take care of you and take your problems seriously and act on it.
It feels like they are serving you instead of you serving them.
They care about your career path and act in the best interest for you.
They trust you.
They might even do things for you which you already forgot you asked for.

One concrete example: I asked what are the requirements for me becoming a senior developer. Next time we spoke, he did not come back with the answer, but my promotion on the way.

They’re positive in the face of adversity but always realistic. For example, the software you’re working on fails 10% of required tests. A manager once said to me that it’s the nature of engineers to focus on that 10%, but he always likes to remind them of the 90% that passed, and will accomodate the team to see the remaining 10% pass too.

Stating the obvious, but: if nobody in your team is leaving and or forced to leave, you are likely to have a good one. If a lot of people go, you have a bad one.

– Arranges a good progression of projects that will be challenging but doable, lead to career growth.

– Takes your concerns seriously.

– Recognized your strengths and successes.

– Gives constructive criticism tactfully.

– Trusts the right people on decisions that affect the team.

people also leave jobs if jobs they are going to are more money. but yes as a general rule people leave managers or company cultures.

Even the best manager can only do so much if the company is awful.

If you refer by bugs human resource type things then yes. In software bugs should be fixed preferably by the person who has most knowledge of the area affected, I think…

They accommodate your technical interests/desires and make sure that you have what you need to be productive. A good manager fights red tape for you and facilitates personal growth.

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