Panchatantra is Sanskrit for “Five Treatises” or “Five Chapters”, first used for ancient narrated collection of Indian animal fables, which provided food for thought and imparted learning and deep wisdom.

Being an Engineering Manager is easy as pie but being a Great Engineering Leader is really tough nut to crack. Engineering management though, moves you up the career ladder but it also, makes you 100x more accountable and responsible, instead of just being an individual contributor anymore. However, a lot of engineering managers, today go verbatim with their job description or their own experience of their past managers on what to do.

The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born-that there is a genetic factor to leadership. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born. Warren Bennis

Without right understanding on how to lead with ethics and sincerity, most of the organizations today end up having bad apples in management leading to bad top-down culture and thus, really bad experience for the reporting engineers. The engineering managers either try to be strongly authoritative and micro-managing or sometimes on the other hand, even lazily disconnected and timid.

The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly. Jim Rohn

Also, read my article on the right approach to software engineering.

This article is the engineering leader playbook to collate all the expectations, an engineering manager has to wear and how they can evolve themselves to be a Great Engineering Leader, following integrity and high standards while wearing multiple hats to lead the team, grow the delegates, plan with vision, solve problems and finally, deliver the results.

The supreme quality of leadership is integrity. Dwight Eisenhower

Leadership Panchatantra

A very disturbing feature of overconfidence is that it often appears to be poorly associated with knowledge — that is, the more ignorant the individual, the more confident he or she might be. Robert Trivers

The five treatises that an engineering manager is expected to follow and manage effectively and efficiently falls into these following buckets in order of their priority, starting with 3 Ps — People, Process and Product, followed by Stakeholder and Tech. Let’s dive deep into each of these treatises with curiosity, not over-confidence and learn how to wear those hats in the right way and style to be a really good leader.

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. John F. Kennedy

Panchatantra I : People Management

The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership. Harvey Firestone

People management is the foremost responsibility of leadership as the leader, not being an individual contributor anymore is actually accountable for the growth and nurturing the individual skills and talent of the team.

People Management is the ability to lead, grow and inspire the cavalry as the cavalry captain.

The following are three major dimensions to people management.

  1. Lead the team

It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership. Nelson Mandela

  1. Grow the team

Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others. Jack Welch

  1. Inspire the team

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. John Quincy Adams

Ending this most important treatise on this small word of caution,

You don’t lead by hitting people over the head — that’s assault, not leadership. Dwight Eisenhower

Panchatantra II : Process Management

One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency. Arnold Glasow

Large scale engineering projects consists of multiple on-going operations with involvement of multiple teams and folks towards a common goal for advancement of the organization’s future, and to enhance the current capabilities. If such large projects are not managed in a co-ordinated way both at intra-team level with cross-dependancy management and inter-team level with agile process management, it may soon turn into chaos, leading to frustrations and failures of the involved teams.

Process Management is the ability to control the chaos in the war within your cavalry or with other troops as the cavalry captain.

Resolving the problems using dependancy analysis, even topologically sorting the dependancy graph to find the order of items to pick with an execution plan and even, escalating to the folks to control the chaos is part and parcel of this management task.

The following are three major dimensions to process or program management.

  1. Formalize the procedures and processes

Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment. Jim Rohn

  1. Work towards a common organizational goal

Leadership — mobilization toward a common goal. Garry Wills

  1. Have a comprehensive visibility into the plan

I think our work as movement leaders isn’t just about our own visibility but rather how do we make the whole visible. How do we not just fight for our individual selves but fight for everybody? Patrisse Cullors

Ending this treatise on this important realisation,

Excellence is a continuous process and not an accident. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam

Panchatantra III : Product Management

The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet. Reverend Theodore Hesburgh

Leaders are trusted to cater to the every step of a product’s lifecycle — from development to positioning and pricing — by focusing on the product and its customers first and foremost. To build the best possible product, product leaders advocate for the end users and customers within the organization and make sure the voice of the market is heard and heeded.

Product Management is the ability to strategize with a war vision to win the war for your citizens as the cavalry captain.

The following are three major dimensions to product management.

  1. Customer Obsession

The number one thing that has made us successful by far is obsessive compulsive focus on the customer. Jeff Bezos

  1. Product Vision and Strategy

Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. Warren Bennis

  1. Prioritization and Execution

The role of leadership is to transform the complex situation into small pieces and prioritize them. Carlos Ghosn

Ending this treatise on this interesting product management issue of falling into trap of envisioning complex products and saying yes to all hodgepodge of features,

The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes. Tony Blair

Panchatantra IV : Stakeholder Management

Lead and inspire people. Don’t try to manage and manipulate people. Inventories can be managed but people must be led. Ross Perot

A stakeholder is an individual, group or organization that is impacted by the outcome of the engineering project under your leadership. Project stakeholders, as the name implies, have an interest in the success of a project, and can be internal or external to the organization that is sponsoring the project.

In large scale engineering projects, if the projects are not provided enough visibility to its stakeholders with both progress and impediments in an organized way, the project and the team may soon lose the trust and the support of the key stakeholders, leading to disappointment and despair of the involved teams. To avoid this, engineering leader are expected to systematically identify stakeholders; analyze their needs and expectations (say, using power/interest grid); and plan, implement and monitor various tasks to engage with them for the success of your deliverable.

Stakeholder Management is the ability to update and collaborate with other troop captains, your Marshals and your Majors as the cavalry captain.

The following are three major dimensions to stakeholder management.

  1. Stakeholder Identification

All of your stakeholders have to have the right seat at the table, and they all have to be successful. It’s hard to do, but you have to keep your eye on developing a meaningful relationship where it is beneficial for them. Then you work backwards from there. Brian France

  1. Stakeholder Analysis and Prioritization

Find the appropriate balance of competing claims by various groups of stakeholders. All claims deserve consideration but some claims are more important than others. Warren Bennis

  1. Expectation Setting and Management

When one’s expectations are reduced to zero, one really appreciates everything one does have. Stephen Hawking

Ending this treatise on this important realization of acting in the interests of the stakeholders and the customers,

A healthy corporation acts on the interests of its stakeholders and customers. Ari Melber

Panchatantra V : Technical Management

Whatever you are, be a good one. Abraham Lincoln

In a technical role, leadership involves steering from the front, and working side-by-side with employees not as micro-managers but as hands-on leader to achieve the goals of the project and the company. Instead of agonizing over the details to make sure everything is done correctly, excellent technical leaders are instead, familiar with the bigger picture of the vision as well as the deeper picture of the organization’s daily workings so that they can zoom in or zoom out at will, thus standing at the optimal distance. By occasionally showing up on the front lines, they lead by example, one of the ways to apply a hands-on technical approach to leadership.

Technical Management is the ability to ride the horse as the cavalry captain.

The following are three major dimensions to technical management.

  1. Technical Proficiency and Excellence

Indeed, the woes of Software Engineering are not due to lack of tools, or proper management, but largely due to lack of sufficient technical competence. Niklaus Wirth

  1. Delegation and Trust

The inability to delegate is one of the biggest problems I see with managers at all levels. Eli Broad

  1. Zoom in to be Gate Opener and Zoom out to be Gate Keeper

I think that one of the things that I can do is I seem to have the ability to zoom in super tight for very small details, but then jump back for sort of that big picture perspective. And I think that ultimately, that’s one of my strengths, because you have — every detail matters. Henry Selick

Ending this treatise on this important realization of being the servant leader,

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. Lao Tzu


In the end, it all boils down to the following happy realisation of servant leadership, which can only be learned through practice and experience,

There are three essentials to leadership: humility, clarity and courage. Fuchan Yuan

Self-awareness is the final key to be an excellent leader, knowing what you are good at and where you need to grow, and then, strategizing in using one’s strengths while delegating for one’s weaknesses. After all, Leadership is all about levelling up self and growing others, so they can learn and the organization can do things at scale.

I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion. Alexander the Great

The Panchatantra to be an Excellent Engineering Leader was originally published in Technopreneurial Treatises on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.