Tech Management: The 7 Deadly Sins

At Counter, and across the Northcoders Group, we’re all about embedding great tech talent into businesses. In whatever form that takes, whether that’s early stage careers, people returning to tech after a break or individuals in the midst of a successful career, tech management will undoubtedly play a key part in their experiences and maybe even, their career trajectory. 

As a Technical Director, I thought it could be useful to share some of the tech management mistakes I’ve made during my career. Essentially, consider this a confession from which you’ll hopefully gain some tools to lean on and utilise in your own managerial future.

Disclaimer: My managerial experience hits a ceiling with organisations of up to 200 people. While I have worked in larger public sector organisations, my role there was as a consultant, not a manager – another story for another time! 


We’re starting off in a slightly dark place. I want to tell you a story around the first time I had to fire someone. Firing people is something that we don’t talk about as managers because nobody likes doing it. But the first time I had to do that, my pride got in the way of how I chose to handle the situation. 

The scenario: 

The person in question just wasn’t clicking with the rest of the team. They had the right skill set and were a good software engineer, but their team dynamics were off. My pride, and specifically my need to be liked, got in the way of being clear. I wanted to be liked so badly that I sacrificed clarity with that employee. During our meetings prior to firing them, I’d point out areas for improvement but never clearly communicated the consequences of not improving. 

Delivering bad news is never fun, but there are ways to do it constructively without sounding like a villain. Being transparent earlier could have helped them and maybe even changed the outcome. If I’d sat down and said, “Here are the areas you need to develop. If not, there might be negative consequences,” I believe the situation could have been different. Even though this happened about 15 years ago, it still sticks with me during those critical moments of development.

Tools and tactics

A lot of the tools I’ve picked up since then come from an excellent management book called “Radical Candor.” The new edition even kicks off with a crucial reminder which essentially says that this book is not your ticket to be offensive. With that in mind, I prefer to use the term “compassionate clarity.” I believe people can move forward with clarity when we, as managers, deliver it with compassion. If you’re clear about where things are headed and you deliver that message with empathy, people can work with that.

Another model I use when delivering feedback is the AID feedback model. There are loads of feedback models out there, so finding one that suits your style could be helpful. 

Here’s the breakdown: A stands for “Action,” meaning what someone actually did. It’s important here to be literal and specific. Instead of saying, “I think you made someone feel bad,” say, “You spoke in an aggressive tone.” I stands for the “Impact” of that action. And finally, D stands for the “Desired outcome or behaviour” you want to see now that you’re addressing this. This model is great not just for developmental feedback but also for positive reinforcement. If an employee has done something great, don’t stop at “Well done.” Use the feedback model to explain why it was good, the impact it had, and how they can keep up the great work.


Sloth is all about the time I was lazy in supporting a team member. 

The scenario: 

We had a new Tech Lead join, and I handed them the task of implementing “single sign-on.” This was their first role as a Tech Lead, and they’d never done single sign-on before. My tech management style is pretty hands-off—I start with trust and let employees figure things out, assuming they’re probably better at the technical stuff than I am anyway!

But for someone in their first Tech Lead role, only four weeks in and facing a completely new challenge, what I asked was pretty overwhelming. Looking back, I realise I was lazy in assessing that situation. The individual not only struggled with the task but also started doubting if they were cut out to be a Tech Lead. Luckily, we had a solid relationship, and when they started questioning their ability, they felt comfortable coming to me for guidance and asking for a more direct managerial approach. 

Tools and tactics

To avoid repeating this mistake, I use a framework called Situational Leadership. It helps guide individuals through tasks based on their specific context and needs. You might start in the bottom right, with strong, directive leadership: “This is what we do. This is how you’re going to do it.” Or, you might move to the bottom left, which is more of the hands-off style I mentioned earlier.

My natural (and admittedly sometimes lazy!) style is to hang out in the bottom and top left corners, where I’m more hands-off. But sometimes, what’s really needed is that directive approach. Situational Leadership helps me adapt my style to what the situation and person actually requires.


Gluttony is all about taking on too much, and it’s different from regular greed because it’s more self-focused. And yes, I’m still working on this one—some days are better than others.

The scenario: 

This story starts with me saying, “Can I just get five minutes with you?” and in that five minutes, I apologise for my reaction during the meeting we’d just had. I’ve learnt that admitting you were wrong builds a connection with that other person so I find it not only the right thing to do, but a beneficial thing to do. Rewind to the start, how did I get there?

During a meeting, we were discussing a certain strategic direction, and I snapped. I lost my cool because I couldn’t believe they thought their suggestion was the right move.

I realised that my stress levels had been building up, draining my tolerance and battery for that kind of intense conversation. I wasn’t in the right headspace. 

Tools and tactics

One thing I’ve learned since is to sometimes just say “no” to the meeting. There’s times when, if I have a meeting or workshop that calls for high-engagement and my battery isn’t fully charged, I’ll let people know. I emphasise that the meeting is still important to me, so much so that I want to be in the right frame of mind to contribute effectively. 

In order to reduce the likelihood of me losing my cool, there are a few phrases I relate to and appreciate it to support my development. Dr. Susan David, who collaborates with Brené Brown, once said, “If you can’t respond, recharge.” It’s a great reminder for those moments when you feel like you’re on the brink of reacting. Instead, I tell myself, “Respond, don’t react.” Reacting feels gut-driven, while responding is more considered.

Another mantra I use is, “Between your stimulus and my response, there’s space, and in that space is power.” It’s about taking that moment to pause before reacting impulsively.

We’ve all been in meetings where a quick, reactive response could damage a relationship. Taking a breath and acknowledging the other person’s viewpoint with a calm “I see what you’re saying” can be incredibly powerful.

On the flip side, think of those memes where the voiceover says, “It was at this moment, he knew he messed (in so many words) up.” That’s the alarm that goes off in my head when I catch myself reacting hastily. Reacting is something we all do in our personal lives, but as a manager, it’s crucial to manage our own reactions. If you react impulsively, you know immediately that the conversation is lost. Nothing productive comes from it. Managing our “battery” — our emotional and mental state — is just as important as choosing to respond thoughtfully rather than reactively.


Similarly to the scene in the Disney film “Up” with Dog and Squirrel, I have a tendency to chase after new technology. Whenever a new framework emerges, I’m ready to dive right in. Managing this enthusiasm and staying focused amidst the draw of shiny new tech has been a personal and professional challenge. This tendency extends beyond technology to an addiction to processes and productivity frameworks or strategies like the Pomodoro Technique, Inbox Zero… I could (and would love to) go on. Over time, I’ve had to consciously unlearn this behaviour of constantly seeking the next big thing.

The scenario: 

A few years back, I stumbled upon a white paper from Facebook (before they began hoarding all our data) shouting about their multiple daily software deployments— this was quite the opposite of our most regular cadence which was about once every three weeks at most, which was actually pretty frequent back then. But once I’d read that blog, I knew everything had changed: “We’ve got to do what Facebook’s doing!” I charged into the office full of envy, advocating for a shift to Kanban, ditching Scrum, all to ramp up our deployment frequency (the theory behind my own decision is still lost on me!).

Before long, we had a colossal Kanban board of 26 columns sprawled across our office walls, meticulously tracking every stage of our product’s journey. Months later, I stood amongst the chaos wondering, “Have we lost our minds?”

Reflecting now, I realise my envy-driven change of direction wasn’t the smartest approach. Rather than understanding our unique challenges and collaborating with the team, I leapt headfirst into a solution without fully grasping the problem. Lesson learned: innovation should be tempered with thoughtful consideration of what truly benefits our team and our goals.

Tools and tactics

One key lesson I’ve picked up along the way is to dive into understanding the problem—if there’s even a problem to begin with. Spoiler: a lot of the time, there isn’t.

Sometimes, there might be room for improvement, but as a manager, I’ve learned that it’s crucial to bring your team along for the ride. Dragging them along without giving them any context or insight into the decision-making process? That’s a recipe for frustration and resistance.

In our remote work world, I tend to use a Confluence page or Wiki to document an idea and invite comments before calling a meeting. Tech teams, in particular, aren’t big fans of being ambushed with no-context meetings, but give them a chance to collaborate on a document first? Absolutely.

I’ve found, the amount of times when asking for comment, teams have politely disassembled the idea, saving wasted meeting time as the notion is debunked. Or, on the flipside, sometimes the idea may have triggered somebody else to create something even better.  Either way, it’s a win!


Another mistake I’ve made around greed is chasing instant gratification. By now, you’ve probably noticed my enthusiasm for shipping often. I don’t mind testing in production or getting feedback as long as expectations are managed, but this can morph into a craving for instant success and immediate pats on the back.

The scenario: 

In tech, we sometimes scratch this itch with deployment pipelines and other solutions that offer instant gratification. But with people, it’s tougher. As a manager, you don’t get that quick fix from sharing an opinion. Early on, I struggled when I pitched an idea to the team and didn’t get that Hollywood moment of applause and awe. Instead, I’d get a room full of engineers quietly staring back at me.

The reality is, these are engineers—they’re paid to think. When you throw an idea at them, they’re busy dissecting it, spotting the flaws, and figuring out how to make it better.

As managers, we need to plant ideas and trust that the best ones will rise to the top. We’ve got two tools: the carrot or the stick. We can enforce practices, or we can encourage them. Encouragement is the way to go. If you foster an environment with retrospectives or wash-ups—places for self-reflection—the team will naturally correct what’s not working. They’ll suggest improvements, and the best part is letting them own these ideas, which makes them feel accountable and invested.

Tools and tactics

There are more formal frameworks, like Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model, which are useful for implementing significant organisational changes. This approach involves planting the seed of change in a smaller team and letting it spread to wider teams. 

We can even do this on an individual level. There’s an old video called The First Follower.

It shows an individual dancing at a festival on their own and because they’re alone and dancing weirdly, they appear odd or eccentric. But then a second person joins – also known as the first follower – and that person validates the vision of the first person. So often we think it’s the first one up that gets everybody up dancing, but often it’s actually the second person or first follower that encourages the rest. They’re saying “I believe in that person’s vision enough to go and dance that way too.” 

As a manager, you’ll find that your team has its own first followers. These are the people you should plant your ideas with. You’ll also need to help others in your team identify their first followers. Once you’ve got that core group saying, “This is how we should do things,” it transforms the idea into something they own. They feel responsible and accountable, and that’s when real change happens.

I like to compare this to parenting. My son is nine, and I’m currently in the “enforcement stage”—“You must wear shoes,” “We have to go to school now.” It’s straightforward management. But as he grows, I’ll need to shift to the “encouragement phase,” where he becomes a citizen of the world. I’ll need to encourage him to want to get himself to school and to care about having good manners. It’s about instilling a deeper level of reasoning and responsibility.


The scenario: 

I once had an employee share a difficult experience where things went sideways through no fault of their own, and someone else mistreated them as a result. My immediate reaction? I leapt into what I like to call “toxic solution-mode,” determined to fix everything on the spot.

But what that individual needed from me wasn’t a quick fix or a fantastic solution. They needed me to just listen and to understand their experience. Instead, I became defensive of them and was ready to hang up and fix it. I heard what they were saying, but I wasn’t really listening.

Sometimes, the best way to support someone isn’t by offering solutions, but by offering an empathetic ear.

Tools and tactics 

This is something I’m still working on, but a useful tactic, even as a manager, is to ask, “How do you want me to show up to this meeting?” Learning to spot these cues is key to building strong relationships and being a good manager. If you’re struggling, a longterm recommendation is to try to foster relationships where people feel comfortable enough to tell you what they need. In my scenario, I was fortunate. I got it wrong, but I had built a relationship with that employee where they felt safe enough to say, “Can I give you some feedback?” That’s how I knew I didn’t need to fix it. 

There’s a book called Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown and it goes through all the various emotions we feel as a human and for me, it’s like a Codex. It helps you understand what you’re feeling right now and provides explanations around those feelings. For example, there is a big difference between empathy, compassion and sympathy and understanding that difference is really useful as a manager.  


Last sin and it’s probably not what you’re thinking.

The scenario: 

I had a manager who would whip out their phone and start browsing or reading during our one-to-ones. Or, they’d leave it out on the table, glancing over every couple of minutes. That constant craving for, “What’s my next email?”, “How’s that deployment going?”, “What did that client reply with?”—I consciously try to ditch it. Why? Because when you’re in a one-to-one and you get your phone out, you’re basically saying, “I don’t care. You don’t matter.”

When you do that to someone, the best outcome or reaction you’ll get is anger. They might say, “Sorry, is that important? Should we cancel this and do it again?” but at least anger still means they still care.

The worst outcome is apathy. If an employee becomes apathetic, you’ve lost them. When people are still passionately debating and getting fired up, it’s a sign they care. But apathy is a red flag. As a manager, that lust for likes, for feedback for gratification in an email – that can produce apathy.

Tools and tactics 

I’ll keep this simple. Your most powerful tool in this scenario is to be present. Don’t sneak peeks at your smartwatch; switch it to Do Not Disturb. Glancing at your wrist is just as bad as picking up your phone. If you can’t trust yourself, put your phone in the next room. Show the person in front of you that they matter.

The Lasting Legacy of Tech Management

The impact we have as tech managers extends far beyond the projects we complete or the metrics we hit. It’s about the lasting imprint we leave on the people we manage. Each decision, each conversation, and each piece of feedback can shape their career paths and influence their personal growth.

As we navigate through the challenges and pitfalls of management, it’s crucial to remember that we hold the power to make a positive difference in someone’s life. Whether it’s through compassionate clarity, situational leadership, or simply being present in the moment, the choices we make can inspire confidence, foster growth, and build lasting relationships.

Reflecting on my own journey, I see the importance of learning from our mistakes and striving to be better. It’s not just about avoiding the sins of tech management—pride, greed, sloth, gluttony, envy, wrath, lust – but about consciously choosing to lead with empathy, clarity, and integrity.

In the end, the legacy we leave as managers is not measured by the successes we achieve alone, but by the positive, enduring impact we have on the individuals we lead. Let’s embrace this responsibility and strive to be the kind of managers who make a difference, every day.

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