Chapter 67. Physician, Heal Thyself!

Jeff Foster

There’s no doubt about it, being an engineering manager can be a stressful role. Responsible for some combination of people, product, process, and the technology, you have many responsibilities, and if you’re not careful, it’s going to eat you alive. To be effective, you need to learn to manage yourself before you can manage others.

If you come into work feeling under pressure, you are going to transmit this to the rest of your team. If this sounds like pseudo-science, take a look at the research; emotional contagion is a thing. Research from Caroline Bartel (at New York University) and Richard Saavedra (University of Michigan) has shown that people share moods within hours. As an engineering manager you have the biggest influence in the team; people take their cues from you. You can’t lead others when you’re in the wrong frame of mind.

So, how do you look after yourself?

First, make sure you work at a sustainable pace. Elon Musk might regularly work 100-hour weeks, but it’s not a sustainable way to lead an organization! One of the principles I strongly agree with in the Agile Manifesto is to “promote sustainable development.” As an engineering manager you should lead by example by working in a sustainable way. Don’t answer emails at 2 a.m. or come in over the weekend, and definitely don’t be the first one in and last one out ...

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