Not all engineers are blessed with having a seasoned Manager with strong communication skills and business training. Sometimes engineers get promoted to a senior position for their technical prowess without having all the leadership training they might need to be as effective as possible.
You can help them succeed, and in doing so, you’re likely to be more successful as well. A word of caution, not all Managers want feedback and direction from reports (which is unfortunate and ultimately self-destructive.) Consider how and when you provide the feedback, and remember to be respectful and professional. Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Regular check-ins. If you don’t have them, maybe you should ask for them. It shouldn’t be a bad thing or time-consuming, it’s an opportunity for you and your manager to discuss goals, progress, and expectations. It’s also an opportunity for you to receive feedback. Your manager should be giving you slight nudges in the right direction if you’re veering off course, not a shove as you’re about to go over the cliff.
- Clear expectations. If you don’t know what it means to complete assigned tasks and projects successfully, ask for clarification and get an answer you can understand. It’s not a negotiation, you may not agree with what your Manager defines as the end state, but you do both need to understand what done means.
- Learning style. If you need to take training or take in a lot of information, help your manager to understand how you best learn. If you’re a visual learner, a 30 minute discussion on the phone over spreadsheet numbers might not accomplish what your manager had hoped.
- Information flow. Managers should be communicated through, not to. When senior leadership provides information down to managers, the intent (hopefully) should not be that the information stops with your manager. Your manager should see themselves as a conduit and translator of information. Granted they might not be able to share everything they know all the time in its entirety, but as a general rule they should be parsing what they learn, translating it into terms you understand, and turning that into actions you can complete if needed. If you feel something is missing or that what you’re working on doesn’t seem to fix with business goals, work with your manager to clarify expectations and get the info you need to be successful.
- Be concise with your feedback. Your manager may not mind receiving feedback, but if they feel their time is being wasted unnecessarily, they may not be as receptive as you’d like and may miss the message you’re trying to convey.
- Have realistic expectations of your own. Know that someone that has poor communication skills and not much empathy will not suddenly be what you want them to be just because you give them feedback. Unfortunately there can be ineffective managers, people that have no business being in a leadership position or at least not their current one.
Be professional, tactful, and constructive, and accept that there may be only so much you can do. You may have more success changing your reactions and interactions with your manager than you will trying to change them and their behavior. Hopefully though you can provide helpful information to your manager and some insight as to how they can be more effective and in turn help yourself be more effective in the long run.