Welcome to the third edition of the LeadingIn.Tech newsletter. On this edition I want to share some thoughts on leadership in times of accelerated changes.
As January 2021 is coming to an end I'm not going give you a list of "the best of" or "the worst of" something like that. Neither it will be about my what were my New year's resolution. Instead I'll talk about how the accelerating pace of changes happening around us are shaping the way I conceive leadership.
Only a year ago you could find people debating whether the change of decade would happen on Dec 31st 2020 or Dec 31st 2021 but nobody thought that a full decade worth of changes and events would happen in between these dates. Let alone that things wouldn't slow down shortly after new years eve.
From the humility of my own set of circumstances I've experienced personal changes such as changing jobs or becoming a parent just before the Covid-19 pandemic. Last year to most of us it felt like the universe had released a Kong sized Chaos Monkey among us and forced us to rethink the way we live our lives and how resilient we were when facing completely unexpected situations.
After spending 8 years in a small to medium sized startup where I was the first employee and where I've built a mental model based on all of the context accumulated by knowing all the "How's" and "Why's" things worked the way they did; then change to a completely new environment in a "BigTech" with the role of an Engineering Manager feeling like an alien overloaded with so much information I couldn't posible digest in a single lifetime. Add to it a global pandemic that forced everyone to lockdown at their homes and work remotely while parenting with schools closed.
Preparing to effectively lead
When I've asked for advice on how to better prepare myself for the new job; one of my future peers pointed me to the book The First 90 Days and I've found it incredibly helpful to prepare myself mentally to switch to learning mode.
The first 90 days helps you change your mindset and prepare yourself first by doing an assessment of your situation when landing into the new role. It gives you some tools to understand what is working and what isn't but also what resources and levers are available to you do drive changes.
Your main asset for success will be your ability to build a network from all levels of the organisation, identifying your information sources, the supporters for change, the blockers and the neutrals. Followed by focusing in accelerating your learning about the culture, and how things work but most importantly; to understand the "Why's" things are they way they are. This will give you a current state outlook so you can start defining a strategy that will be tailored for the situation.
By relying in your manager and supporters you'll need to make sure you have all you need for success so you can start securing early wins that will boost confidence and help you earn trust with your peers and stakeholders. This will give you the momentum needed to have all pieces aligned to take the next steps and shape the processes and people around you to get to the final stages of transformation including your team and partners support.
But things don't end here, this is is just the beginning. To make any transformation last, it needs to be sustainable, resilient and able to outlive the ones that initiated it.
The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
You could find tons of examples of business that have endured through the pandemic by reinventing themselves as these businesses needed to pivot in order to survive.
A great example of this is AirBnb who managed to not only to pivot to a completely different offering of services in the middle of the pandemic and an IPO but as a result of this they are now better prepared for the future. They did this by reevaluating what is the value they actually offer to their customers but also by listening to them and adapting fast enough to the changes in their environment. Of course they took a hit but they managed to pivot "their entire product line to offer online experiences" in times where travel was restricted and people were in lockdown in many parts of the world.
This kind of adaptation in situations of crisis is better described by Lara Hogan the author of the book Resilient Management from her article: How 2020 has shaped you as an engineering leader | LeadDev:
I used to think that when a caterpillar wraps itself up in a cocoon, it takes a little nap as it sprouts wings, and then emerges as a beautiful butterfly.
It turns out, the process is way more gruesome than that: inside that cocoon, the caterpillar reverts to a primordial state, digesting itself into a kind of soup. (I’m sorry for the mental image!) Eventually, it reforms itself into a wholly new state, and the butterfly pops out, glorious and winged.
I absolutely love this as a metaphor for growth.
Bonus treat for the Rocky fans:
"You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward."
Cultivating Ownership (In a humane way)
Last but not least I strongly believe that the best leaders are the ones that delegate ownership and doing so in a compassionate way. Creating a safe environment for experimentation, for failure and recognition. In the article Compassionate Leadership Is Necessary — but Not Sufficient they refer to this approach as "Leaders operating in this mode are balancing concern for their people with the need to move their organizations forward in an efficient, productive manner. When tough action is needed, they get it done with genuine caring for people’s feelings and well-being."
By cultivating ownership you are also creating a more engaging environment for people to thrive and innovate in the process. As a result you will be creating a more resilient organization capable of learning and adapting constantly. The flow of information and the decisions will happen in a way more efficient manner.