4 Things You Should Ask From Your Manager
In my career, I've had the immense blessing of having managers that push me to be better, support me in technical and leadership growth, and are my advocates. The more I talk to my friends in other industries, and often in the tech industry, managers often don't fill those gaps in the careers of my peers. Even when my manager maybe hasn't checked all these boxes, I have gone out of my way to find a mentor that will do these things. No matter who you consider this to be, whether your manager, coworker, mentor, or friend, I have some tips to help you get the most out of your relationship that will push you to grow past what you assume is possible!
1. Regular meetings
This is maybe obvious, but the #1 most important thing for this relationship is regular meetings. Regular can be what makes sense for you in your industry - for me, it is once a sprint (every 2 weeks). I have had friends who have had weekly one-on-ones with their managers. For people with busier schedules, it's important to be cognizant of their time while still getting the important bits out of your manager. I have regular meetings with basically everyone I consider a mentor at work, including my boss, CTO, and close friends with more experience than me. These happen at different cadences and with different purposes, but the important part is the regularity of them.
A question you may have is, if I have meetings with my manager once every 2 weeks what are we going to talk about? This is very real, and a structure I like in my one on one meetings is the first half is stuff that I bring to the table: questions I have, observations on the team, goals and dreams I have in my career, etc. The second half of the meeting is then stuff my manager has for me: questions, feedback, concerns or complements. Even with this structure, though, it can be easy to have quick 10 minute meetings because we don't have anything new to talk about. Something that I recommend, especially if meetings are further apart, is to keep a backlog of things you'd like to talk about. This helps (especially with your personnel manager) you to remember situations that have not gone well, ideas that you have, or just to keep track of your thoughts so you can remember what all has happened since your last meeting. I also use this as an emotional tool - I transcribe situations that make me angry, get it out of my system and get on with it. When it's meeting time again, I look back over it with a level head and am able to reason my way through what I think a good solution to the problem would be before heading into the meeting so I don't spew all my emotions all over my manager. I could go on about other strategies for how to handle things you need to talk about that are emotional, but my recommendation here is to always come with a solution to a problem you are having, because your manager will be more eager to help you if you come up with a plausible solution yourself.
2. Career coaching
One of the great benefits of having a manager in the first place is that they are (often) more experienced than you are. Even if you are in the situation where your manager is not more experienced than you, I'll bet you can think of one or two people in your life that are and would be willing to meet with you like I talked about above. The thing I pull out of these regular meetings as much as possible is career coaching. Some of you may have known exactly where you want your career to go for years before you started even working, but for many of us, I still honestly don't know what I want to do when I'm grown up, but I'm learning more about what I like and don't like as I move through each portion of my career. Use these people!!! They walked a similar path, made mistakes, made good decisions, and can give you solid advice based on the fact that they know you and know where you are going and where your strengths/weaknesses are.
3. Goal Setting
One thing that has helped me most in my career is setting goals with my managers. I struggled as a fresh-out-of-college employee because I just felt overwhelmed and blessed to have a job, and I didn't really hate/love anything, I just loved working and doing new things. Over time, I am still a lot like this. I have a few more insights into what I like/don't like, but generally I have always felt like I don't really know where else to go because I love what I'm doing so much. My mentors and bosses over the years (I've had close to 7 after only 5 years of working #cursed) have really helped me to shape my career path and where to invest my time. My most recent round of goal setting I came up with 5 (yes FIVE) goals to work towards in the next year. Some of them were very technical (working on completely overhauling our security framework to use Redhat keycloak, their open source authentication and user management tool), and some were very broad (speak at a local meetup and submit some white papers to conferences). My boss helped me refine these goals, make them actionable and achievable, and set up concrete milestones to confirm whether I have achieved them or not at the end of the year (SMART goals are a great way to make your goals achievable). If you're like me and you don't really have career goals (or life goals), this is a great framework for goal setting, but for me it was never going to be useful unless I had someone to push me through the process, help me refine and distill the goals until they feel like they are achievable. Also - managers love this too since they are often evaluated based on the performance of their direct reports, so having concrete, measurable ways to show you have succeeded is a way for them to show they have succeeded as well (#winwin).
4. Honest and Frequent Feedback
The final thing, and arguably my favorite thing, is feedback. This is one of the main functions of managers everywhere, to let you know when you're doing well and where you need improvement. A lot of employees wait until their review cycle to start caring about this feedback, but for me, a review cycle should just be a normal manager meeting. This is to say that I ask for feedback every single meeting. Sometimes my manager doesn't have anything concrete to say, and that's where I bring up situations that have happened over the course of the week/month and ask for feedback on how I handled the situation. I am always pulling feedback out of them and it helps me so much. I am never blindsided by a review, and I am always improving (or thinking about improving). This has been so valuable in my work life and personal life because it gives me a thicker skin to be constantly looking for feedback, because sometimes it is hard to hear, but it has made me more bold to ask for feedback in other areas, like in volunteering or in my marriage.
TLDR; Managers are great tools, you should use them to the best of your and their abilities. If you don't have a career manager, find a mentor. Set achievable goals and get frequent feedback. I hope this has been useful for you in evaluating your current situation with your manager and ways you can use them to excel your career and grow professionally and personally!