In the last Mektup, I talked about which skills you should learn in the new year. Improving your skills and learning new ones help you take a step forward. However, you can't do these things alone. Your manager has to support you. Today, I will talk about what you can expect from your manager in your growth journey.
Managers talk about their and the company's expectations of you most of the time. It's also essential to define the other way around. When people join the teams I'm leading, one of the first questions I ask is, "What do you expect from me?" Surprisingly, the answers are often vague, like "I expect clarity," or "I expect support," or "I expect freedom." When we turn the tables, your manager usually expects certain things from you—sometimes delivering a significant feature in a project, taking the lead in a particular area, mentoring others, completing a course, etc.
While it's the manager's job to define certain expectations from you, it's also your job to set particular expectations from your manager. If you two are not closely working together, you won't be growing in your role, and they won't be a successful manager (because the manager's work is measured not only with projects they deliver but also how they grow their team members).
Set regular time with your manager—1:1s
Everything starts with 1:1s. I wrote about my thoughts about 1:1 meeting strategies before, but I still talk with many people who don't have alone time with their managers. If you don't have 1:1s, ask your manager to have at least once every two weeks. If you already have it but feel you need to talk more often, ask your manager and increase the frequency. 1:1s will be the time to talk about your growth, career, and opportunities in the company. They will help you establish your relationship with your manager and build trust. Don't skip it even if you have no particular topic to discuss. Also, expect your manager not to postpone or skip 1:1s. If they do, verbalize this expectation and tell them. If you have no discussion topic, bring one general question or use it as a coffee chat to get to know your manager. 1:1s will be your relationship's foundation that you'll need to form other expectations.
The second expectation is not new: feedback. Each individual in my team asks me to give them feedback. Many people answer my question ("What do you expect from me?") with feedback. However, telling me, "I expect feedback," or asking, "Do you have any feedback?" rarely works. The crucial part is knowing which area or topic you want to get feedback on. Your manager won't shower feedback to you because it will overwhelm you. They will be selective with the feedback because there are only a few things you can improve simultaneously. That's why you should specify your expectation.
If you want to get feedback on your communication style, instead of asking, "Do you have feedback on my communication style?", ask, "how did you like my communication in our last weekly team meeting? I'm trying to improve a few things, and I would love to hear your feedback." This way, it will be easier for them to give feedback. They will tie their feedback to your behavior, and you will get concrete feedback that you can turn into action. In the end, being specific will help you and your manager.
If you don't know where you should improve, talk about it. Start the conversation with "In which areas should I improve to grow my career in a way that I want to?" Then probably, your manager will come up with specific areas they see as essential and fits into company and team goals. From there, you can start discussions and ask for detailed feedback.
Last but definitely not least is sponsoring—one of the powers of being a manager. Managers often coach and mentor the engineers, but they rarely sponsor. Sponsoring is different than mentoring or coaching. In mentoring, your manager tells you to "did you try doing X?" but in sponsoring, they tell you, "I recommended you for doing X. Can you do it?" They take the extra step and actively recommend you to others. Sponsoring makes you visible to others in the company. If your manager has never done something like this, send them this article and ask them what they think about sponsoring you for one significant thing in an area you want to grow. It's literally your manager's job to sponsor you. But let's be clear; they might not quickly find the right opportunity that matches your skills, or they may think you are not ready yet. That's why you should also open your eyes around and look for projects that you want to contribute and bring the project to your 1:1s and talk it over.
These three expectations are the baseline. If you don't have 1:1s or think you get less feedback or don't have any sponsoring, it won't be easy to grow your career. Of course, you might have other expectations such as better compensation, promotion, getting quick (and no-questions-asked) approval for your vacation request, and more. If you have the baseline set correctly and build your relationship with your manager, talking about other expectations will be way easier. Set the base correct; the rest will follow smoothly.
I hope this letter helps you and gives you at least one idea. Let me know what you think by replying to this email.
Thanks for your answer in advance.
What I Published Over Last Two Weeks
I published two articles and one podcast episode.
I've been thinking about how we approach software engineering and why we have a lot of struggles to understand our profession. Besides its philosophy, we need to understand what we're trying to achieve with software engineering and how we can move forward.
I wrote my opinions about our profession and how we can embrace innovation and become artist-engineers. This post is an opinion post based on my experiences.
If you find these letters valuable, consider sharing them with friends, or colleagues!