Chapter 18. Do Less, Lead More
There comes a time for every engineering manager when you just can’t do all of the things you need to do. This might be when you first switch to management, and you try to do one-on-ones, lead planning and scoping, figure out performance reviews, and still keep your hands in the code. It comes again later when you first start managing two teams and your workload doubles—even though you do not. It might happen when you need to fill more than one role, or when your startup hits a growth spurt. If you’re a leader, this will happen, and it will happen often. If you’re ambitious, you want this to happen. Managers level up when they successfully widen their sphere of influence, so you need to learn how to lead more when you can’t simply do more.
This is also when most engineering managers fail. You do the logical thing: write up a list of everything that must be done (and you know what must get done; you’ve been doing it!). You prioritize that list somehow, usually in order of what’s on fire right now, and then smash through that list until the wee hours. You sleep too little and repeat the cycle. You get tetchy, make poor decisions, and “clean up yesterday’s mess” starts getting added to tomorrow’s TODO list. It does not end well.
Big changes call for desperate measures. The mistake here is trying to do everything that must be done, because ...