Hareem Mannan is the Senior Director of Product Design at Twilio. In this episode, you will learn from Hareem’s past experiences and explore the concept of embracing experimentation as a manager. Listen to this episode (or read the transcript below) to learn about Hareem’s journey from an individual contributor to becoming a manager and how she classifies the switch as a new role as opposed to a career upgrade.
1 What were some management mistakes that you made early on in your career?
I was given something that I would call a battlefield promotion. Oftentimes management opportunities are born out of necessity. Someone leaves, or there’s a gap that someone has to step in and fill and that was the position I found myself in about two years ago at a Segment. I started reading everything I could get my hands on, and I would talk to all my friends about management things and everything I learned was around not being a micromanager so when I made my first hire, I definitely undermanaged. People also need to be managed differently and that wasn’t something I noticed at the time. The whole idea of being a micromanager deterred me from managing her and being involved the way I should have.
2 Do you still believe that management is not a career upgrade?
When I started my new management position, one of the first things my manager told me was not to see it as a career upgrade but instead to view it as an entirely new role that I would be taking on with a whole new set of responsibilities. When you’re not chasing it for the wrong reasons, it becomes a lot more about honing in on a whole new set of responsibilities as opposed to exercising power, influence, or authority, which is a very real symptom a lot of managers face.
3 How do you measure your own accomplishments when you become a manager?
When you’re an individual contributor, there’s a lot of tell-tale signs that you’re excelling and you’re often receiving feedback, and then when you switch to management, there are a whole different set of signals that represent excellence. For me, the two things that became absently clear were realizing that the signals are much blurrier, and the second thing was that if somethings going really well, it’s never purely because of you. I learned to become really comfortable with delayed signals because as a manager, you usually don’t see results for a long time.
4 How did you navigate transitioning to a leadership role?
I remember talking to my mentor and disclosing that I didn’t feel like I was actually doing work because I couldn’t point at something and say that it was exactly what I was working on, and he gave me a great piece of advice. He asked me to pull up my calendar and he said that that was what I was working on. My tactical output as a manager is the meetings I’m holding because the meetings are the key to unlocking the tactical work. As a manager, the tactical work you’re doing is repeating itself and the rest of it really happened over time. Your portfolio or sphere of influence as a manager shouldn’t necessarily only live within your team, as a good manager, you are really thinking about how your sphere of influence expands to make a whole organization better and that’s something that you graduate to overtime.
5 How do you embed the concept of iteration in your culture?
Before I became a manager, I really believed that iteration and experimentation was a concept. It’s a really hot phrase in tech, but I thought it was really just reserved for ice. I think the second I started to let go of that notion a little bit I got more comfortable doing two things. One was changing things, whether that be a meeting or a process, or the way that we thought about doing something, iteration became very important to me. When you start to iterate with everything, your product is iterating, and your people are certainly iterating and they’re changing over time and then your process and culture, and cadence has to iterate alongside it. And the second thing was to hone in on people’s strengths and bring them along for the ride while you experiment. It doesn’t have to be me that is doing the iteration and experimentation. A lot of times as a manager, you believe that the process or meeting needs to be borne from you but the best managers are the people that are really able to leverage someone’s strengths and give them an area of ownership and operational ownership that allows them to drive that experimentation to iteration.
6 How do you strike a perfect balance and manage your calendar?
My calendar is currently a tragedy meaning it’s a work in progress and my calendar organization has ebbed and flowed as I’ve progressed throughout the organization. I’ve come to realize that it’s really for other people. The meetings that you have with other people, the things that you’re unlocking in those alignment conversations help to bring different ideas and experiments to fruition. Time is really your version of tactical work. That being said, management is like a well that you need to replenish and a lot of times, managers are a lot more focused on what they are giving rather than replenishing their well and I think it will only really get replenished when you have that time to focus and reflect on how things are going.
7 Can you tell us about your manager group chat?
It’s so fun! It’s a Twitter direct message group and we call it DMs in the DM. It started because I wanted to send an article to a couple of people so we could talk about it, and it’s grown to be a really great support group of sorts where we help each other with all things management. Management can be a lonely role, your team may be able to connect and form relationships, but as a manager, you aren’t able to meet them on that level so this group provides those people with a safe place where they can brainstorm, collaborate, and ask questions.
8 Do you have any tips, tricks, or resources for managers or leaders that are looking to get better at their craft?
A big unblocker for me has been learning from my manager on being able to see the future versions of people. I would recommend really indexing as much as possible on the potential of people and building on their strengths and the things that you notice that they spike in, or the things that make their eyes light up. Additionally, when I was first starting out as a manager I would read like crazy, and I would read every traditional management and leadership book that applied to my niche and what I’ve come to realize is that you can find inspiration in so many different places. There are a lot of great lessons for you to learn that don’t necessarily exist in the package management playbook the way that we might think about it. I would encourage anyone that is thinking about a transition to management to be open to finding inspiration in unconventional places.