I remember feeling a mix of unease and excitement when Khushnood, our design lead, shared he’d like me to manage KeepTruckin’s growing product design team in Pakistan.
I was uneasy because I hadn’t formally managed a team before. Sure, I do coordinate with freelance writers for PriceOye’s product pages, but that is an ad-hoc affair. This felt more high-stakes, and I did not feel ready.
What if I failed?
But I was also excited because this was wholly new territory, and exploring newer territories helps me grow fast and feel engaged.
Now more than a year later, I’m happy to report there was no catastrophic failure, though there were many teachable moments.
Today, I’d like to share key lessons from my first year as a design manager. I hope they’ll benefit both first-time managers, as well as individual contributors looking to collaborate better with their manager.
Key principle: strive to be a leader, not a manager
At its core, management is about coordinating employees and resources to achieve company goals. Management is required only because team members don’t have access to all the information and resources they need to succeed, or because they don’t know or can’t communicate with colleagues that have that information.
As a manager, you generally have better information access, and a bird’s eye view of things that helps you connect people and resources for moving projects forward.
In an ideal world, all this information would be perfectly documented, easily accessible, and everyone would communicate and collaborate like a hive-mind. In this ideal world, you would be a leader instead of a manager, providing mentorship, growth, and vision to your team.
This is the world you need to strive for.
You always need to be 1) identifying gaps in knowledge and collaboration, and 2) always be fixing them — all the while instilling self-management skills in your team so your efforts multiply over time.
Here’s a quick example of this 2-step process in play.