An unlikely journey into management and leadership

It was my first day on the job and I remember the excitement of starting work at a "large" company with almost 30 developers! I had never worked at a place this large and I was waiting anxiously to get started. The things I will learn, the places I will go. I will get to work directly with some of the best and brightest in the area and catapult my skills to the next level. What happened next was unexpected to say the least.

The office I meandered into was small, no windows, nothing on the walls, and a few technical books on mostly empty bookshelf. I was now on-boarding with my new manager. Within five minutes I learned that the next day he was heading out for a month on vacation, had little interest in management and assured me that I would likely have a new manager in a couple months, oh and that I was to start building out a new feature in the application I was assigned to. The brain dump that proceeded was a blur at best and I am still not sure how I made it through, if I had to guess though it was that I didn't know who to give my two weeks notice to.

Fast forward a couple years and I finally got that new manager. What I didn't realize at the time though was that those two years were the beginning of my journey into management and leadership. I found solace in reading leadership blogs that I could find, listening to leadership podcasts, and occasionally reading leadership and management books. I started imagining the things I would do better than my current manager if I were ever in the position to manage and lead.

I have never forgotten these lessons and they still drive me to this day. The most important lesson I learned during this time was how I viewed my situation. I stopped feeling like a victim, well most of the time, and started identifying the bad behavior I was seeing and thinking through how it could have been handled differently. I was practicing management by proxy.

I wouldn't recommend seeking out a situation described above or staying as long as I did. What I would recommend though, if you find yourself in a similar situation, is harness it for the learning opportunity it is and remember it won't last long.

A few recommendations for dealing with poor management and leadership

  • Start talking to your manager about how you are feeling and the expectations that you have. A good starting point is to ask for a regularly scheduled one on one.
  • Start documenting what you are frustrated with and what you would have done differently. An adjustment in your mindset can diffuse negative energy and the lessons you learn will shape the manager, leader, co-worker, spouse, or parent you become.
  • Look for opportunities to grow your own skills such as leading a new project or initiative. Is there something you are passionate about? Use a one on one to talk through what this looks like.

My biggest take away from this experience was to ensure I never forget how I felt working under poor management and leadership. If you are managing today or find yourself managing in the future your ability to empathize with your people will pay dividends. What experiences as an individual contributor could you pull from to help with perspective taking?

Brett McCarty

Brett McCarty