I have always been a little afraid of 360 reviews I don’t know that I want that much clarity into other people’s opinions, but I did have a laugh recently when I saw this on a former manager’s social media profile:
My leadership style is optimistic and visionary. People describe me as entrepreneurial, imaginative, and intellectually curious. I like to motivate teams to build innovative products.
This guy was the biggest ass I have ever worked for. His ego exceeded any ability to build a team, and success was defined by how quickly team members agreed with his assessments and put our material to support them. That being said, this was a relatively successful guy, and to many people he was exactly as he represented himself, especially those above him in his hierarchy: to those working directly for him, not so much, as far as I could tell.
The interesting thing is how much of my own managerial style I saw in him. Rather than guiding the team, I showed them how smart I was. Rather than teaching, I pushed them to produce in my style, and they hated working for me. The feedback I received was almost visceral, and because of it, I stayed away from management for a long time. I thought I had dragged my team to success, kicking and screaming; what I wasn’t aware of was that there were so many other ways I could have built that team and pointed them in the direction of success rather than dragging them along. It was twice as much work for all involved with half the outcome.
I look at my current leadership team and what I need from them:
Vision: Tell me where you want to go, yes you can take my input, and that of other people in the organization. I appreciate it, and it is part of why I love being part of the team, but I look to you for the vision that will guide this organization through the future and fulfill the promise we all knows exists. I can help you get there, but you need to set the destination.
Accountability: From me and from you. Words are meaningless without follow through.
Safety: I need to know I can brainstorm with you, and I need to know you have my back when problems may arise. If I don’t feel that safety net is there, I won’t take the risks I need to take to be extraordinary. And I love to be extraordinary.
I feel pretty lucky to be where I am. I had warm fuzzies this morning in our staff meeting, listening to our leader articulating his vision, and his current challenges. I believe we have a balanced leadership team in our partners, and I believe they have a very clear view into strengths and weaknesses of the organization, and are willing to make changes as they are needed. I am admittedly a little jittery because of where I have been, but fortunately, the jitters pass a bit every day.
One of the hardest emails to compose at Microsoft is the leaving email, so I tried to keep mine short and simple, let folks know I was moving on, thank them and give them my new contact information. We Microsoft employees live and breath via our email, so leaving firstname.lastname@example.org is one of the hardest parts of leaving Microsoft. I think I wrote a pretty good one, and except for the one slip, where I accidentally hit “send” instead of “send personally” on one batch of emails. (Send Personally is an awesome product by the way, highly recommend it…)
After 26 managers, 19 office moves, 12 years, 6 divisions, 5 major reorgs (couldn’t add up the minor ones…) today is my last day at Microsoft. I have been offered an amazing opportunity to go and work with Neudesic, one of our Gold partners, in a job that pulls in all the favorite bits of my time at Microsoft and rolls them all together. More tales to follow.
Thank you so much to my friends and coworkers who have made Microsoft such an incredible place to be over the past decade. My personal contact information is below and attached. Please update your address books, and do stay in touch.
I have had wonderful responses from people, and for a smaller company it’s amazing how many people are fans of Neudesic. I am being reassured it’s nice on the outside. I’ve also had some follow up questions…
First, my new job:
I start April 9th, I will be in California the first week (April 9-13th). I am on vacation next week, and yes I am open for lunch, except Wednesday.
Yes, I will have the opportunity to work with Simon again, and I am looking forward to it, a lot.
Neudesic is a consulting company based out of Irvine, California, with offices all over the US. I will likely be commuting for the first few months, then based out of Bellevue with the occasional trip south.
My official title is director, strategic communications, and the job is working primarily with the technology leadership group, helping to build the technical brand of the company, community, influence and reputation. It’s a new role in the organization, and I will be in the technical team, working for the CTO. That being said, we will be doing more definition in the first 30 days, and as I get to know more about the role and the company I will gladly share. Try and stop me.
Second: Yes, really, 26 managers. As a side note, technically, I only changed jobs 3 times.
Lately, I have found myself getting incredibly stressed by other people’s actions. I see people making decisions that I know are not the right ones for the long term goals of the company, but look great in the short term.
I love to be right and I work hard at it. I research, question and probe. I try to look at situations from as many viewpoints as I can until I come up with the right answer. I admit I get aggravated when short term solutions are rewarded, or when all the variables have not been considered in a decision, but I am quick to concede, on the rare occasion when I am wrong (okay when I am proven wrong, not in the moment when I still think I am right). For me the need to be right is up there with wanting people to like me, and the two traits don’t always go together. This is being magnified by me right now because I’m working with someone right now who likes to be right even more than I do. This has caused so much tension, I have lost sleep. Losing sleep over stupid work things (as opposed to important work things) makes me ask, is it worth it to be right?
Perhaps doing right can help counterbalance the need to be right, and especially the need for acknowledgement of being right. What does that look like in a work environment? It’s easy with friends to judge when they just need support versus real advice. Work is trickier in so many ways.
People aren’t remembered in particular for being right. They are remembered for doing right. Doing right in everyday life, and doing right in the big things in life.
Not for saying I told you so.
I spent the weekend at the Western Elite Volleyball Championships, my nephew made the Alberta 17U team, and I had to go cheer him on. Now I don’t know a lot about volleyball: I know my nephew was asked to switch from soccer and basketball because the coaches though he could be an extraordinary volleyball player, instead of a really good basketball player. I know he’s only been playing for 2 years and was selected to go the the Elite tournament. I know his usual position is middle. With all that being said, he really wanted to try playing outside, apparently you get to hit the ball more. On the first day of the tournament, the coach let him try, and on Saturday he didn’t play. This is a three day tournament, and every single player there is an all-star, and not used to sitting on the bench. The poor guy sat on the bench the whole day.
Then it hit me – if I was a scout watching these kids play, I would care almost as much about their behavior on the bench as off, because when they go to college, they will almost without exception be playing in Division 1 teams, made up of the same mix of talent. With a team, if you have a hot rotation on a winning streak, you don’t want to break it up. Additionally, sometimes good players have great days, and sometimes great players have bad days. How you take your time on the bench is a great reflection of how you handle yourself in life.
As I watched him on the bench he kept on cheering on his team, high-fiving teammates who made good plays. As the day went on you could see his 6’ 8” frame getting more and more slouched. He was dejected. The next day, the coach told him he wasn’t going to play again. His beach partner from Calgary was on the opposing team on Sunday, and he also was spending quality time warming the wood. As we stood up the the stands, their parents were keeping their spirits up, and to keep in in perspective, getting invited to this tournament is a huge mark of your skill and talent. But they are still 17 year old boys, who are at the top of their sport, and the bench is not a place they like to be. We also wondered about the logic of the coach – playing 6 guys for 7 games straight wears them out – and the guys who haven’t played at all just get colder and colder. So how does a coach balance a hot streak and a strong bench? It’s a coaching dilemma, keeping a strong bench engaged and committed because when you have a team full of starters, someone ends up on the bench.
In my job we have elite players everywhere. I was on a team at one point that was made up of 6 people, including one Harvard MBA, two Wharton MBAs, one MIT MIS, one BSc in Computer Science + 10 years field experience, and me. It was at a time when Windows Product Management was the ultimate place to be in marketing. I was on the elite squad. You can take a team like that and look at it from a couple different perspectives: with Microsoft’s competitive calibration I was a little screwed, half the team was on the other “bench” (what MSFT used to call the program for people who have been identified for future leadership roles). I was never going to come out on the front side of our bell curve. Where I really profited was working with that caliber of people everyday on every aspect of my role. I still chuckle when the new product managers on my current team pull out a template my team created, sometimes that I created, and suggest that I use it. I knew my role and position on that team, I had the strongest soft skills, that’s why I was recruited. I could engage engineering teams that had been mad at marketing for years, I could pull in people from my network that enabled the success of the entire team, I could refine messaging from both a customer and global perspective. I was a negotiator extraordinaire. I loved being part of that team, and what an amazing team to be a part of. We had a coach who recognized all our skills, made everyone feel like they added value to the team, and set reasonable expectations.
I have a friend who manages a fairly large team. Two years ago, he hired a rock-star team of top performers. The problem again is that at Microsoft we are competing with our peers for our ranking and promotions. So now he needs to hand out some mandatory mediocre and poor ratings. This has nothing to do with any drop in their performance, they just are now being calibrated against a team of starters. We don’t calibrate across the company, we calibrate across individual teams, so if you are on a strong team, sometimes you have to take a lower rating and slower career velocity. Unfortunately it also works in the reverse, people who stay on weaker teams long term get higher calibration and career velocity.
My nephew handled his benching with grace and dignity beyond his years. Fortunately for him, the hot streak of one of the other middles ended, and he got back in the game, ending the weekend hitting and serving the last 2 points in the fifth game, winning the round.
A friend and I were talking about his company, and how he might be able scale and grow. I’ve done a little digging for him, and it’s made me think about what success and failure really mean. I can’t believe how many people have 6 successful startups on their biographies. Obviously there are advisors and mentors and board members who play a different role, but in the core leadership? I have to ask if they were so successful, why did they leave? I don’t know of a lot of successful companies that were designed from the beginning to be a startup, I don’t think that’s what Bill was doing. At 32 have you really been CEO, COO or CXO of 6 companies? Did you build them or flip them? And do you want to live in a house that was built to be lived in or built to be flipped? Or has startup just come to mean a corporate entity designed to be flipped? What ever happened to small growing business?
On a larger scale, I know of one engineering team that struggled and struggled to update the product they were working on while maintaining supportability and performance optimization. Finally one day they were told, “That’s it, we are not supporting the old code base anymore. We are starting from scratch.” There was a feeling of euphoria, finally they could build what they wanted to build, based on the years of customer and partner interactions and understanding of what technology could really do. Then the leadership dropped the other shoe. They were bringing in an all new engineering team, and the “old guard” would support the old product, while the new guard built the new one. When the old guard was included in spec reviews, they would call out restraints of the platform, ecosystem, and global nature of the product. The new team thought they were unable to think outside of the box and lacked creative vision. Needless to say, the entire project with the new engineering team was reset after about 9 months , because the new people didn’t have the tribal knowledge of the old team, and that team was never allowed to bring the experience they had to the table, because their version was considered a “failure”.
At issue is a fundamental flaw in not being able to learn from mistakes at a tactical level, because the leadership doesn’t allow it. When is the last time you saw a project fail and asked the person executing why it failed, in a non-threatening (meaning you aren’t going to lose your job) way?
Ten years ago I was on a team that this was the standard operating model. You tried new things, if they worked you were celebrated. If they didn’t you sat down and figured out why not together, we could either try again in a different way, or make an informed decision to not do it at all. We all knew we were good at what we did, and our leadership provided us an environment that allowed us to take risks and show our individual strengths and leadership in our roles.
I haven’t seen a lot of this lately. When people are focused on either getting to the next level in their career, or just keeping their job, you cannot call out a failure as a learning lesson, you need to sweep it under the rug so your competition for the next promotion or round of funding doesn’t use it against you. In the battle to prove who the smartest person in the room is, I think people forget that a failure with a good post-mortem is often a better starting point than a white-washed success.
I admit it, I chuckle when I hear this, because in the last 11 years, I have had 26 managers, 30 management changes, and been in 7 divisions or groups, and half have been in the past 2 1/2 years. I have picked my manager twice.
I think it’s far more important to pick your team, optimized for leadership, because those are what will sustain you, managers come and go. Sponsors and mentors are critical, because they can influence your management and give you candid feedback you might not want or might not get from other sources. The three best managers I had managed me for very short periods of time, but all continued to sponsor and mentor me.
I believe you need different types of managers at different stages of your career. When I was a fresh faced new hire, dealing directly with our most senior leadership (yes them), I was lucky enough to have an incredible role model of grace and steel.
When I was midflight, and needed to move from being a tactician to being able to start creating and evangelizing my own strategies, she asked me the hard questions, gave me the hard feedback, and pushed me to be a senior product manager, not a project manager. It hurt, but it worked.
When I had taken those lessons and needed the opportunity to step into a role where I had full accountability and responsibility, I had a partner, who enabled me to contribute fully.
This is what I’ve learned:
A strong team needs a leader, and a strong leader needs their team.
A leader cannot take authority, it has to be given.
A team needs diversity, and diversity means much more than race.
The closer the team is to understanding the customer, the more sensible the work they do is. Conversely when a team focuses on understanding their management chain, the more political the work they do.
You need a crisis to truly understand the team you are on: do they come together to build a better raft, or team up to decide who to push off next?
People change. People grow. People learn. I did.