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Levelling up your leadership skills with practice

To learn a new programming language, you learn the syntax, the underlying concepts and spend time writing code. Engineering management is no different. You can read all the books in the world but you still need to actively practice those skills to improve your actual day-to-day performance.

Here are some suggestions from courses and resources I’ve used from my 3(!) years of engineering management that I’ve found practical and extremely engaging. Many of these courses are geared toward the tech industry but these skills are applicable to any domain.

Courses

Raw Signal Group

I took the Betterboss training course early in 2020. Very interactive and practical skills over a three day course.  The focus is

  • Get clear on your strategy
  • Build a thriving team
  • Develop your leadership plan

This course is fantastic for new and experienced managers alike. There is also an optional Slack to join after the course to keep the conversations going. (Due to the pandemic the in-person training is on hold and they offer Blueprint online training and other offerings).

Lifelabs

Manager Core 1 and 2. Very interactive course that allows you to practice specific skills with other attendees in the course.  For instance, how to deliver effective and specific feedback, coaching skills, productivity and prioritization and strategic thinking.  The facilitators did an amazing job and keeping learners engaged in these online training sessions.

Wherewithall

Wherewithall is a leadership training and coaching business run by Lara Hogan and team. I took the Mentoring, Coaching and Sponsorship workshop and one of my colleagues took the Demystifying management class to rave reviews. They offer other standalone modules like Influence without Authority.

Co-leadership

I took the Building alignment online course which is a great course for both managers and individual contributors.  It provides strategies on how to understand other people’s motivations and concerns and move forward on a shared understanding of the path forward.  Again, very interactive and allows you to practice your skills. The offer other courses including the Foundations of Effective Tech Leadership.

The Lead Developer

The Lead Developer has a conference a couple of times a year as well as online panels or talks almost every week. In the before times of spring 2019, I attended the Lead Developer NYC conference and it was amazing to see so many of people on stage that I admire for their thoughtful approach to engineering leadership. They also offer manager training called Lead Dev Together where industry leaders come together to discuss topics like building motivation, difficult conversations and measuring success.

Active Voice

The Courageous leadership course is “about letting go of self-doubt, and replacing it with clear knowledge about who you are as a leader—and how you want to bring your perspective to the world”. Six week small group course with hour long meetings and and hour of prep work. Sara Wachter-Boettcher is an amazing coach and facilitator for this course.

Many of the above organizations offer 1:1 leadership coaching. If you aren’t sure what to look for in a coach, this is a fantastic overview of working with an external coach with Jean Hsu and Cate Huston.

Podcasts

Supermanagers Podcast – This podcast is run by the folks at Fellow.app an Ottawa based startup that develops tools for managers to facilitate 1:1s, meetings and performance discussions. Each podcast is a discussion with the CEO of Fellow and a leader from a different company to discuss their path to leadership, their struggles, and their path to growth. I tend to prioritize listening to the episodes that feature speakers from underrepresented or underestimated people in leadership because I find learning from their experience more relevant to me.

Magazines

Harvard Business Review

Increment magazine

Newsletters 

Raw Signal group – This newsletter is pure gold about leadership.  Especially as we navigate a pandemic, economic crisis and uncertainty.

Lead Developer They newsletter sends links for the several new articles a week about various engineering leadership topics, as well as links to upcoming classes and talks. I really appreciate the diverse team of engineering leaders that are featured.

Fellow.app manager tl;dr – Summary of various management related links from the team at Fellow an Ottawa based startup. 

Diversify Tech professional and ally edition newsletter have links to articles about how you can be an ally and learn about building a more inclusive tech industry.

Wherewithall newsletter Lara Hogan has a newsletter that often includes articles or worksheets on common manager issues like delivering effective feedback, conducting 1:1s or supporting employees during time of crisis. 

Slacks

I belong to many slacks. The Women in Tech slack, Engineering Manager’s slack and Rand’s leadership slack provide a lot of value.

Peer manager groups

When I first became a manager I had had monthly peer meetings with the managers that reported up to my director. Sometimes when I had a situation on my team that I was struggling with, I’d reach out to them and ask them for advice. So I’d have many different suggestions on how to address the situation – really helpful!

We also have manager knowledge sharing groups where meet once a month to discuss a leadership topic and share our perspectives and tools. Caveat that discussions are confidential and the members of the group should not include situations where your manager or similar is in the same group. I’ve read that other companies create Dens – “When she was at Etsy, Medina created a program called Dens; these were confidential, every-other-week meetings for eight to 10 managers across the organization to talk through challenges we were facing.” Leadership is difficult – reach out to your peer managers to learn from their experience or practice difficult conversations!

How do you level up your management skills with practice?

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