My career at Amazon was going well. I was ambitious about getting to the next level, and recently I'd started managing my second and third teams. Being trusted to manage more than one team was a big career hurdle.
What hadn't been clear to me at first was that having multiple teams, particularly with junior managers, meant a magnification of certain types of work. I had more personal conflicts to resolve, resource constraints to manage, political disagreements with more teams, and the same amount of time to fit it all in.
I was feeling the stress of growing and learning, and had gaps in my personal toolbox for dealing with it.
Emotions and insecurity
A successful employee takes work away from their manager. A junior employee says "What should I do next?" and a more senior employee says "I got this, don't worry about it."
I felt that I needed to project confidence and independence to my manager. He would continue to trust me with larger projects as long as he felt that I had things under control. If I let him know that my personal stress level was increasing, I worried that it could throw the brakes on my career growth.
An important one-on-one
One of my largest areas of stress was a peer manager in another group who was dragging his feet on an important project. I needed his group to do some small amount of work, and I was not enjoying the political work to convince him to do it. This was added onto the list of employee relation problems, and other stresses of learning to manage multiple groups.
My manager and I had our weekly one-on-one, and he asked how I was doing. "Fine" I said, as I always did. I had no topics I felt he needed to get involved with, so I didn't want to bring them up.
Then he asked me a critical question.