Considering a Management Career and Learning to Develop Teams with Charlie Nichol Pt 2

Welcome to episode 52 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two VMware Solution Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In the second half of our discussion with Charlie Nichol, we talk about his advice for those considering management as a career, as well as the ins and outs of team development.

Original Recording Date: 07-28-2019

  • Charlie is currently a Senior Solution Engineering Manager for VMware’s Central US region (focusing on Enterprise) and has been with the company for 8 years. He manages a team of field pre-Sales SEs spanning Texas to Wisconsin.

Topics – Considering Management Careers and Developing Teams with Charlie Nichol

03:51 – Advice for Those Thinking about Becoming a Manager

  • Charlie recommends Ben Bergeron’s Chasing Excellence Podcast

  • Questions to consider

    • What is important to you?
    • Where do you want to be when you retire?
    • What do you like about your current job?
    • What skills are needed to get to where you would like to be, and how do you get experience with those skills?
    • What skills do you have now that are already a good fit?
  • Charlie gives the example of eventually running a company and what could be done to master the financial side of that.

    • Ideas…
      • Read leadership books
      • Listen to leadership podcasts
      • Ask for a 1-1 with a leader to get feedback on awkward situations. Most managers are willing to have this kind of meeting with you.
  • How do you know if you want to be a manager?

    • Do the things discussed in our previous episode sound exciting?
    • Are you ready to step away even further from the keyboard? You are not an expert on the technology any longer.
    • Are you ready to focus more on the people and helping them succeed?
    • The best way to find out is to go do it! You won’t know for sure until you try it.
    • Have career conversations with your manager like we discussed in Episode 45.
    • Go find someone who has something you want, and interview that person.
    • Don’t rule it out as an option automatically. Maintain a growth mindset.
      • If you are good at it, great!
      • If you don’t like it, identify the reasons for this. Is it company culture, lack of a mentor, a dislike for dealing with people, etc.?
      • Being a manager does not have to be forever.
      • If people are telling you to pursue it, they may be right about your potential.
    • Keep in mind individual contributors may already be acting as leaders.

10:50 – Developing a Team

  • This was something Charlie had to learn.

  • A really good SE (or other individual contributor) may not make the best manager.

  • Helping a struggling employee is not just telling them the answer / pointing them to how you would do it.

    • People have to fail.
    • Sometimes not stepping in when people are headed down the wrong path is the right thing to do. Providing coaching later allows them to learn.
  • Charlie has been in a number of leadership trainings since joining VMware. These are focused on coaching.

    • Coaching takes more time and is much harder than giving the answer.
    • Learn to ask the right questions to have someone arrive at the answer on their own.
    • Listen to the feedback Charlie received from one of his individual contributors after a customer meeting that changed his perspective.
  • Coaching does not always go from manager to individual contributor. It can be bidirectional.

    • Charlie likes to ask the team what he can do better to open the door for them to pass feedback to him.
  • 18:23 What should be discussed in a 1-1?

    • Charlie likes the first half to be an opportunity to get to know the employee (i.e. check in on their personal life).
      • Listen to his tip on how to clear your mind before a call.
    • Address the things the individual contributor would like to address during the rest of the call.
    • With the right tools for visibility and feedback in place, you can address real challenges and what the employee needs to be successful.
    • Charlie provides an agenda template to employees but asks the employee to bring agenda items. Some people use this and some take a free format approach.
    • Career conversations are separate from these normal 1-1s. Those conversations need to be something outside the day-to-day fires.
    • It is important to give 100% of your focus as a manager on a 1-1 call. This may be the only 30 minutes the two of you get to talk.
      • Charlie mentioned it was easy not to protect 1-1 time for the employees he saw in person every day.
      • Checking text messages during this time for in-person 1-1s sends a message that the discussion at hand is less important.
    • Rather than cancelling 1-1s, Charlie prefers to move them. He likes to keep them weekly.
    • The culture of weekly 1-1s…
      • There is no industry accepted answer for 1-1 frequency that Charlie has found.
      • His manager made sure to reschedule 1-1s well before they started, and that had an impact on Charlie. Cancelling a 1-1 right before it happens can come off as rude (especially if done frequently).
      • A 1-1 is where the rubber meets the road. Be on time, ask about the person’s life, and focus your attention.
      • Nick highlights the differences in 1-1s after getting out of IT operations.
      • Are they a challenge because there are so many ways to communicate with people today?
      • Focusing on the 1-1 removes awkwardness and builds a relationship between manager and employee.
      • The job of a manager is to be a guide to the employee.
      • Good leaders want to see their people get promoted.
        • Attrition will happen, whether positive or negative. The manager must be prepared for this.
        • It is rewarding to see people surpass their own expectations.
        • Don’t miss the good stuff by being unprepared for this.

39:09 – Closing Thoughts

  • Is the progression of individual contributors a good metric for a manager?
    • This is a sign of a servant leader.
    • Will asking about career path ruffle your manager’s feathers?
      • It’s possible. If the manager pushes back on you…
        • Ask…what is your manager’s vision of what you would be good at and where you should go in your career?
        • If they are not supportive of you, you can learn how to work for a difficult manager. This skill translates into many other areas (i.e. dealing with a difficult customer, motivating people who don’t work for you to do things you want, etc.).
        • Deal with the difficult person by having a conversation.
        • There is something to be learned in every situation.
        • This job is what it is. What skills can I learn right now to get to where I want to be?
  • Find those people you admire who have the job you think you might want. Ask them what they like and don’t like about the job. Ask them for feedback on whether you would be a fit.
  • Charlie reiterates every job he has had to date built him up for what he does now. Not everyone looks at it that way, but perhaps we should.

Contact us if you need help on the journey.

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  • Episode 52: John White

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