Tools for Introspection
As you wrap up the year, and as you reflect on your role as a manager or leader, I encourage you to develop a one-line leadership philosophy that you can share with your mouthwords in the new year.
These one-line nuggets are really hard to create, and will naturally evolve over time, but I think of them as a more-easily-digestible version of what you might put in a Manager README. Here’s a MadLibs-style worksheet to help you brainstorm your own.
A one-line summary of your approach to management or leadership can be helpful as you plot your future career course, introspect about the ways you are/are not currently serving your teammates, or analyze why your own manager isn’t doing what you think managers should be doing. I also think it’s helpful when you’re kicking off a relationship with a new report, to help them get oriented with your deal.
I’ve got two clear memories of past managers who shared this with me, and it was ILLUMINATING both times. One manager was a natural, compelling storyteller; he knew he needed to name this when we started working together so that we could collaborate on a strategy for me to safely interrupt him and push back when needed. This collaboration helped to address the power imbalance in that relationship, and made it much easier for me to call him out when he got into compelling storytelling mode.
The second manager had an antithetical management style to my own. I remember being so frustrated when he wasn’t doing the things that I thought he should be doing, like routinely giving feedback, coaching his direct reports, or delegating meaty leadership projects to us Those were the things that I care about as a manager, so once I heard him describe his approach to management, I realized the stark difference! He saw himself as an executor, rather than a strategy-setter or coach. He optimized for getting shit done, rather than optimizing for growing new leaders. Once he shared this with me, we were able to reset our expectations of each other, and embark on a much healthier way of working together.
So! Go forth, and introspect. Enjoy those MadLibs, as well as some additional resources below as you think more deeply about how to support your team in the new year.
Tools for team introspection
The act of writing out “here’s who I am as a manager” is useful as a tool for introspection - here’s my personal list of that stuff from a few years ago, which looks like what’s become known as a Manager README. Camille Fournier recently wrote a post about why she hates Manager READMEs, including:
- There’s an enormous power differential between a manager and their reports, and sharing a top-down/one-way expectation-setting doc can exacerbate that.
- Sharing your personality faults in a doc with your team doesn’t excuse your behavior (you should work on these faults instead!).
So how can you as a manager go about ensuring you and your teammates share a common understanding what’s expected of everybody (including you!), while still avoiding these really detrimental failure modes?
Here’s a list of expectations I think are worth having within your team:
- Teammates’ roles and responsibilities, including the manager’s role
- The team’s vision or priorities
- Product development processes (what each team meeting is for, routines for comms to stakeholders, etc.)
- How the teammates should be collaborating (giving feedback to each other, pairing, raising a flag when they get blocked, etc.)
It’s critical that these are developed in a collaborative environment, rather than just top-down from you as a manager. Here are some tools to help:
Roles and Responsibilities
Brainstorm with a Venn Diagram to identify shared and distinct responsibilities of teammates and team leads.
Collaborate with your team leads/peer leaders on a RACI matrix for who’s doing what on a project.
Develop a VMSO (Vision, Mission, Strategy, Objective doc) in an offsite.
Privately brainstorm expectations around team leadership, communication, feedback, and teamwork using this worksheet. In one-on-ones and team meetings, get curious about what your teammates need for each topic, from each other, and from you. Collaborate with your team in a group setting to document and iterate on these new team expectations so they can evolve over time.
Product Development Processes
Ask the team to watch this conference talk (especially starting 13 minutes in!) where Deepa Subramaniam shares tips on defining your product development workflow. Then schedule a brainstorming meeting to collaboratively define your team’s documents, meetings, and milestones.