Lara Hogan’s Resilient Management and the Foundation of Humane Management Practices

Management school isn’t typically something software engineers enroll in; historically, we became managers because we were good at our craft for long enough that somebody felt we ought to tell other people how to do likewise. To advance in the discipline meant, ultimately, that you’d have to set that discipline aside and take up the discipline of management—often with no meaningful training and while being managed by somebody else who was flying just as much by the seat of their pants. This naturally resulted in the technology industry slowly filling up with managers who leaned heavily into their skills at working with predictable things like code, which often didn’t translate particularly well to working with unpredictable things like people.

This isn’t to say that understanding the discipline of engineering isn’t an asset to being an engineering manager—the best engineering managers can put themselves in the shoes of an individual contributor who is struggling with premature optimization or a complex algorithmic challenge on a tight deadline and help that contributor see their own path through. But while we might once have taken that guidance at face value, though—a transfer of skills between contributors—we now work in an industry with emerging voices who recognize the connection of experience to empathy. One of the strongest of those voices belongs to Lara Hogan, whose new book Resilient Management comes out today.

Resilient Management provides a crisp and comprehensive set of frameworks for understanding the effect of human psychology on team dynamics and the practice of management. Its five sections, in turn, address the challenges of: understanding your teammates, coaching them in their personal growth, gathering them as a team, leading them in the work, and maintaining and supporting yourself throughout. Lara provides questions that help you kick off a working relationship with new reports, strategies for dealing with ineffective meetings, frameworks for understanding your own management style and its gaps, and an entire chapter devoted to coaching techniques that should be required reading for every engineering manager. But its last chapter, called “Build Resiliency”, encapsulates the entire intent of the book—giving yourself, as a manager, space and support to do this work well, repeatedly, and with flexibility as your team and its challenges evolve. Lara emphasizes the importance of systematically growing as a manager, writing each chapter to build on the last, moving from understanding to execution to stamina, and transitioning between those chapters with coaching questions that help you articulate your own unique perspective on the work of management—regardless of the discipline you lead.

In that vein, it’s important to note that Resilient Management isn’t about the specifics of engineering management; it doesn’t try to teach you how to be a senior software engineer, build an architectural roadmap, or design a career ladder—there are other books that do that really well (most notably Camille Fournier’s The Manager’s Path). Rather, what Lara does here is offer that there is nothing particularly unique to the challenge of engineering management: understanding people and how they react to the world around them. She speaks from her considerable experience as an engineering manager and lead, but the book itself speaks to management broadly; it’s equally useful to designers, editors, product managers, and small business owners specifically because it proposes that this is work that all leaders should be doing. Because of that, Resilient Management can really dive into the details about the parts of a humane and supportive management practice that intersect with all those disciplines—it covers a substantial range of tactics in just over a hundred pages. You can read this book in a weekend and show up on Monday with a reinvigorated perspective on your team and your practice.

And listen: we could all stand to show up with some renewed perspectives; being a manager is hard, draining work. Beyond the challenges of planning, execution, and delivery, we bear real responsibility for the careers and lives of the people who work with us—all of this is connected. Our teams know that they owe us and our organizations good work, but we owe them a workplace that is well-considered and supportive of them in that work. Historically, we had only our individual gifts for empathy and support to lean on in making the transition from individual contributor to manager, but in Resilient Management, Lara Hogan has produced a fantastic and concise foundational text for the practice of humane management. Whether you’re a new manager or an experienced leader hoping to recenter your work on the people who work for you, Resilient Management continually reminds you that you are capable of this, and that you will be better for it. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

tangentialism is David Yee!