A Couple Decades of Unlearning — Lessons on the Path to Director
Over the couple of decades of my career, I've unlearned quite a few things. I decided to share some beliefs I've since decided were wrong.
I read a Tangle article almost every morning. It's a non-partisan political newsletter which keeps me up to date on what's going on, and what everyone is saying. The newsletter has a couple aspects to it which excite me.
First, the author admits when he doesn't know something, or could be wrong. It's important as a leader to state when you're confident about something, and when you're not. When he admits that he has a weak background in an area, it builds trust in other areas when he demonstrates credibility. In the cases he's admitted a mistake, he bolsters confidence that he would admit mistakes in other cases.
Secondly, he does his best to honestly represent both sides of an argument, even when he disagrees with them. As a leader, we often need to represent points we don't personally agree with. Sometimes it's a decision coming from your leadership, sometimes it's collectively coming from your team. You demonstrate strong character and leadership when you make the strongest argument you can make on a point you disagree with.
I love learning. Thankfully I've figured out how to feel pleasure in figuring out that I was wrong about something. Most of the important things you learn are the result of being wrong at least once. Only by embracing being wrong can we continue to improve. As soon as you decide you need to be right, you're going to throw the brakes on learning.
Dave: “I think we should just deploy this. It'll probably be fine.”
Nate, a manager on my team (It's his actual name. Hi Nate!): “No, Dave, you're wrong. That's a terrible idea.”
Dave: “Sigh. You're no fun.”
I had some great assumptions earlier in my career, which I've since decided were quite wrong. This is a good time to share times that Dave was wrong.
I thought my manager was bad if they didn't know what I was working on.
Management is hard. As an individual contributor, you have one set of work, and one manager. It is relatively easy to keep track of what your work is doing, and what your manager has said.
As a manager of individual contributors, let's pretend that you have 7 employees working for you. You now have 7 pieces of work to track, and 7 employees to listen to. That's 14 versus 2. Just imagine how the math works out once they have multiple managers reporting to them. But it gets worse.
A manager also is the most obvious interface for leadership, partners, and customers to interact with a team. While the individual contributor on the team often has one or two product managers to worry about at a time, the manager may have 10. They are frequently getting conflicting direction from three different senior leaders as well. Rather than focusing on two or three things at a time, they may have dozens.
If you have a single manager, and your manager has 7 employees, you can guess who in the relationship has a better ability to ensure that communication is flowing smoothly.
I learned over the years that employees need to keep their managers up to date, rather than that being the manager's responsibility.
I thought that many things were black and white.
Situations seemed simpler when I was an individual contributor. Ruby was slacking off. Pat was clearly the smartest person on the team. Billy was responsible for us missing the deadline. I wondered why my management didn't act on this obvious information.