Since I’ve started managing more projects and other developers, I’ve been trying to learn more about what makes a good manager. The quality that I think makes my manager most effective and helpful to me is that he communicates well. He provides feedback regularly, proactively supplies updates and information that makes my job and life easier, answers questions promptly, and clearly wants me to grow and to succeed.
I’m trying to emulate these characteristics as best as I can. One behavior I particularly want to improve upon is providing good feedback to my team members. A model I like to follow when reviewing someone else’s code is to “criticize the code, not criticize the person”. It’s essential that we can ask questions and point out areas of improvement without criticizing our teammates. Now, I doubt there are many developers who are as explicit as “This logic is duplicated! You are a bad developer!” But how we phrase our comments matters. Derek Prior has a great talk on cultivating a healthy code-review culture that describes the language and behaviors we can use as developers to promote better code reviews.
As a manager, I want to create an analogous employee-review culture on my team. This means providing feedback continuously, not just in scheduled performance reviews. I want to give feedback, both positive and negative, to my team so that they can grow while our team succeeds.
Kim Scott describes the style I am trying to improve upon in her talk “Radical Candor—The Surprising Secret to Being a Good Boss”.
Scott describes a piece of feedback that her boss once gave her in which she told her about a specific behavior she practiced and how others perceived it. This feedback came from a place of wanting Scott to grow, and it’s exactly the type of criticism I would like to get from any manager I have.
I know I have held my tongue a few times because I was afraid of coming across as mean or bossy. The way to provide feedback like this without it coming across as an attack, Scott says, is to show to your team that you care personally about them. Caring personally helps show that when it’s time to make unpopular decisions or offer some negative feedback, your team knows you have good intentions and are willing to listen receptively. I will be looking for ways to improve how I deliver feedback and how I communicate that I care about my team. I highly recommend this talk.