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The true religion of developing leaders

(Part 1: Everyone’s talking about it,  but no one’s doing it.)

Most executives with feel in-house training for new Tech Leads and Engineering Managers is a great idea.

But most aren’t doing it.


Today I’ll address six common reasons I hear, and the underlying beliefs which deserve refactoring.

Six belief hurdles to training programs

“We’ll get around to it someday.”

The hard work and investment in training your new (and newly hired) managers is critical to the long-term success of your team.

But the feedback loop for training is soooooo looooong!  Unlike feedback loops the compiler, or even your users, provide.

This makes it tempting to push training over into the “we’ll get around to it someday” category.

But studies show, and my own experience affirms, that engineering groups which train their managers and leaders experience higher retention and better long-term results.

I’ll bet you a chocolate-covered-donut that you have a career ladder which includes a step from Sr. Programmer to Team Lead (or similar title), but you don’t have a training plan to ensure they are effective.

Promotions are good, but no one enjoys getting pushed into the deep end, and no one enjoys working for an inept boss.

”Our engineering manager’s don’t want training.”

Sure, they don’t want generic “management training.”

I agree with them – practical management training for engineers is different than for other disciplines. Engineers, testers, and other “software people” have some unique challenges in their transition into management. They need to develop their Emotional Intelligence, empathy, and listening skills. They must learn to handle conflict without cowering or bullying. They need to understand how their work connects with real business value.

This shouldn’t be surprising because engineers self-selected into a field where our main interaction loop was with the compiler.

We didn’t choose sales, marketing, nursing, customer service, or thousands of professions which interact with people. We decided to interact with a machine for a living.

Management work is different, and we shouldn’t pretend that the same management training used by the sales and accounting department will work for engineering managers.

”It’s not our job.”

Let me guess; you’ve got too much to do already, trapped at the corner of busy and broke? And anyhow, isn’t that what the HR, L&D, and Training departments are for?

Nope, sorry, I don’t buy it.

I believe that it’s part of the core mission of engineering groups to develop effective engineering managers.

If you want to reap the benefits, you’ve got to put in the work.

Why? Read on…

“We’re not professional trainers.”

I’m convinced that your current engineering managers are the best people in the world to train new managers for your company.

Better than HR, better than L&D, and (gasp) better than me.


Your current engineering managers know how things really work at the company.  They know where the bodies are buried (heck, they buried them!) They also know the culture and values, and how leadership ideas play out in reality at your company.

With a solid curriculum, a leaders guide, and guidance your engineering managers are primed to lead high-impact new managers training.

The notion that you must have a professional trainer is silly – but I think you do need to be a professional engineering manager.

Bonus: the experienced managers who lead the groups build strong relationships with each person in the training, and learn something new through the process. Win-win-win!

”We have individual development plans.”

IDP’s are great to help self-guided learning.

But you need more than effective individual managers – you need effective management teams.

This is accomplished by training groups of engineering managers together.

You want them to learn together, talk together, and trust each other. You need to move from groups who compete to teams who collaborate.

Training your new (and newly hired) managers in groups accomplishes this.

”We don’t have time for it.”

Management training is a marathon, not a sprint. Effective training takes months, not days, and incorporates real-world situations and challenges.

In less than 4-hours per month, your current leaders can deliver excellent training for new engineering managers in a year.

I suggest that new managers plan to spend about 8-hours per week over the first year in training activities, providing them with the foundation for a career managing and leading technical teams.

A surprising outcome of sending people to training

Jerry Weinberg told me that a common result of his workshops, like PSL, was that people changed jobs afterward.

They would come to his training, learn new ways of thinking about people and problems, then go back to work, and realize that they couldn’t apply these ideas to their current job.

So, some would quit and go somewhere they could apply the lessons – to become the kind of leader they saw they could be.

It’s not surprising that I found the opposite to be true when I went through in-house manager training.

I stayed for 14 years not because things were easy, but because I’d forged alliances with my boss and the others in the group.

The key elements of training engineering managers

Tomorrow I’m going to tell you the key elements of training engineering managers.

My first goal is that you’ll consider delivering training for the new team leads and managers in your engineering org. I’ll do my best to help you get started.

My second goal is that some of you will hire me to help.

If that sounds interesting to you, I’d like you to hit REPLY and let’s find a time to talk.

Talk to you tomorrow,

About Marcus Blankenship

Where other technical coaches focus on process or tools, I focus on the human aspects of your Programmer to Manager transition. I help you hire the right people, create the right culture, and setup the right process which achieves your goals. Managing your team isn't something you learned in college. In fact, my clients often tell me "I never prepared for this role, I always focused on doing the work". If you're ready to improve your leadership, process and team, find out how I can help you.

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