Go Time – Episode #203

Just about managing

with Ashley Willis and Ela Krief

All Episodes

Ashley Willis and Ela Krief join Natalie to discuss the ins and outs of management. They discuss what makes a good manager, common mistakes managers make, how to communicate effectively, dealing with conflict, and much more.



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Huge thanks to the panelists and the guests today, Ashley Willis and Ela Krief. Ashley - you probably know her, you probably saw a gopher of her you probably heard a lot on Twitter about what an awesome manager she is. Ashley is managing of developer advocates at Microsoft. Hi, Ashley. It’s great to have you.

It’s great to be here.

And I’m also joined by Ela today, a senior sales executive with 15 year of experience from startups, and now also from Google. Ela, you are a manager of not-gophers, so you’re here to give us the perspective from the other side. It’s great of you to join us, thanks for being here.

Thank you for inviting me. It’s always a pleasure to talk about management with you. I’m so happy to share how things look from the outside.

As you know, we have our Unpopular Opinion, which is always a fun part of this podcast… And we will keep it to the end of the show, but I’m sure you all have your unpopular opinion about management.

So Ashley, Ela, how did you get into your current role? How did you get into management?

[04:11] In my current role, or into management in general?

Everything. Everything that’s interesting. Everything you feel comfortable sharing.

So I started a job at Rackspace, and about three weeks into my job, my boss quit… And they were like, “Hey, Ashley, you’re good with people. Do you wanna manage a team?” And that’s how I got into management. And I’ve been in management ever since.

It was slightly different for me. I had a job, my manager was hired at approximately the same time as I was. He was very inexperienced, and after three months of working together, I went to my C-level and said “This is not breaking out. It’s toxic.” Five days later he was let go, and I took his role. So maybe not the best story to tell about how good of a colleague I am, but that’s how it turned out to be.

Well, that led you to be a manager many years, so it’s probably turned out to be for the better. How did you enter your current role?

Oh my God, it took a year… I’m now with Google for a year and a half, and the entire hiring process took a year. I was handed over between four or five different hiring managers within Google… Because they liked my profile, and they thought I would be a good fit for the organization, but they didn’t find the right role for me. I’m not in tech, by the way, so it’s not an engineering organization… And then I ended up having a conversation with who is today my current manager, and then he said “We might have something available in a while.” A few months later, maybe around 12, I got an offer, and… Here I am.

So I guess it started with you applying for that, or were you headhunted into it?

I was actually applying for a dev, very different role. It was more like a tech support leadership role, and now I’m in sales, which is something that I’ve done for many years. There were a lot of positive, and maybe less desirable things in this role specifically, but I really wanted to work in a large corporation, after working in startups so many years… So it was my goal for that year to actually get hired and get into the corporation. I was interviewing for Google, for Amazon, for Apple, and for Facebook. And Google was the one who won me.

Why not Microsoft? [laughs] I’m asking this as, Ashley - probably this was going through your head…

No, not at all. I actually did want to work at Microsoft when they started recruiting me. I spent a lot of time in open source, and they were recruiting me to be an open source developer advocate. I ended up managing an open source team when I first joined. I was at Pivotal previously, but I’d only been there for about ten weeks, and I really liked my boss at Pivotal. And Microsoft was really aggressive in recruiting me, and they ended up winning me over. In the long run, I’ve been here for almost five years now… That’s the longest I’ve ever spent at any job, so… It was not my first choice.

But they did something right, obviously, getting to have you for so long.

I like working at Microsoft. I have a great work/life balance, I have amazing people that work for me… I like it.

Never, been so long at a job, 5 years that’s, so cool. For sure. What would you say that makes a good manager? What makes you a good manager, what makes your manager a good manager…?

[07:48] I don’t want to call myself a good manager; I think we’re all winging it, honestly, day by day… You do the best that you can; sort of like raising kids. When they take off to college, you’ve done your job. I think that listening, being a good listener is a trait that I look for in my managers. I wanna make sure that there’s mutual trust, and respect. I want to know that my manager is looking out for me and my career and my interests… So I think knowing your employees and what motivates them is a good manager trait.

That makes a lot of sense.

Yeah, I was thinking while you were talking, Ashley, that you probably are a good manager, and it’s not about being the best manager, but just being good enough, and doing the best that we can… And while you were talking, I was thinking that I’m very good probably to many of my people, but I am sure that I’ve done wrong, and I’m sure that I don’t fit well with some of the management style that some of my people are expecting or need in order to succeed, or completely fulfill their potential. But at least I’m very much aware of that, and on top of being aware, I’m very intentional, so I’m trying to create that atmosphere of trust and sharing, where it’s okay to say that it’s not how you would like to be treated or how you would like to be communicated to… And I try to adjust.

So I think what makes me the best manager that I can be is adapting the way I communicate with different people based on what drives them, based on their preferences, based on what’s going on in their life right now, sometimes which is sensitive, and it’s nice to have somebody around that acknowledges that… And also, being just the female in the room right now, I think it’s maybe a plus that we have this emotional intelligence, but we’re also not in the position that we need to be scared of using it, because it’s kind of expected of us, or it’s more acceptable that we would use it. So I use that a lot, I use a lot of empathy, I show vulnerability, I show emotions, and I think that makes me more approachable. And then once there is good communication, you can solve a lot of things. On the contrary, when the communication is bad, then a lot of good things get ruined.

That sounds like it’s a lot of valid work to find the right approach with each person, for each situation… You also have to find the right balance between setting the goal and directing your team where should they go, versus allowing each member to do what they’re excited about, but that projects they want to drive. How do you go about finding a good balance there?

I think that you have to let people do the things that they think are fun, in order to motivate them to do what the business needs as well. There truly does need to be a balance. I think that they need to know - or it’s important for people to know - what you expect of them very clearly, but also giving them room to have some autonomy. If people don’t know what their manager wants for them, they will spend a lot of time trying to figure it out, and this leads to burnout. I talk about this a lot.

So being clear and intentional about what you want, about what the business needs are, and then allowing them some time to build the stuff that they want to build I think is important… And there’s room for that in developer advocacy, I wanna be very clear about that.

So - plus one, and I have a feeling we’re gonna agree a lot today, Ashley, because it’s quite repetitive… At the end of the day we know that as managers we cannot always give our people tasks that they would 100% enjoy, and would give them energy; sometimes we just have to do a lot of things that facilitates our successes, but are not fun. A lot of infrastructure work, a lot of maintenance, a lot of administration are not fun by itself, but maybe trying to be very vocal about that and not make them feel that I think it’s fun, but that I know that it’s not fun, but we still have to do that… And think about what is going to be the impact of us doing that good preparation, with all the things that are kind of boring, that we can get to do the interesting tasks, and they have a higher chance of coming out, the deliverables can be so much better and of a higher quality because we put a lot of effort into the mundane tasks as much as we do in the fun, interesting, intriguing tasks…

[12:20] And balancing the priorities of the organization - yeah, I think it’s a lot of work, but that’s the manager’s work. That is exactly – it’s not about being the best SME in the room, it’s about being the manager of the SMEs. They need to know they are the experts of something, and it’s my role as a manager to be a buffer in front of the organization, but also to communicate the messages and set up expectations and be clear, so they don’t operate in too much ambiguity.

Sometimes what’s good for your team would not be the best thing that’s good for the company. Sometimes the best thing for the company, which is probably what you got from your manager, is not necessarily the best thing for your team. How do you find a balance in such situations?

I think that there are some things that we have to do in order to earn our paychecks, and that’s okay. I think that – I don’t run up against many scenarios where the task is not best for my team, if that makes sense. The business has needs, and we’re all employed by the business, so there are certain expectations that everyone has. I go to work, and the business asks me to do something, and I do that thing. Yeah, I haven’t had any problems with that balance, personally.

I guess I can describe a situation that’s probably relevant for all sorts of developer lives, wherein you and your fellow developers on the team want to just work on the backlog, or maybe fix some bugs, or maybe do some refactoring, but the higher management says “No. Run forward with the features. We have to deliver this, this, this and that.” And then this eternal conflict between maintaining versus moving forward with the features. What’s the magical solution here?

I have two thoughts, now that you mentioned a very specific example… One, it’s easier to balance this when I allow my team members to have some pockets of ownership… So areas or projects will be part of a task force or something, where they make the decision; or maybe they’re more in charge of making decisions than in their core job, so they have some sort of balance, and a place that gives them energy, and a place where sometimes it gives them, and sometimes it takes, like the example you just gave.

And specifically with what people want to do versus what the organization wants to do - yeah, I mean, there’s no easy answer to that. Sometimes what helps is that when I return a question to my employee and say “Okay, tell me how the reality looks differently if you now work on that assignment that you think is more important? How much money would it save? How much human hours would it save? What would it look like on the business side?” and try to even have that conversation of the benefits.

Sometimes people on the frontline have a very different view of what is going on in the business than the ones in upper management… Good and bad, by the way. It’s not always to the same direction. But those are the question that are taken into account in senior leadership, and they are thinking “Okay, we have clients. We need to make this business viable.” We have commitments to our investors, to clients, to the market, and we know that there is a price, and there is some transactional tax that we will pay when we make this tough decision, but that is the decision that we choose to take.

[16:04] And sometimes, without transparency, I can’t understand how that could look random and arbitrary to people in the frontline that are subject matter experts, and they know what’s best for the product, for the platform, for the technology. Not always what’s best for the business. Because sometimes you can explain and give visibility, sometimes you don’t have it yourself, and you just do it. So that’s the balance, I guess.

This specific example was helpful. When I run up against this, just as important as it is to understand what motivates your reports, it’s also important to understand what’s motivating your boss. Why is your boss asking you to do these activities? Can you ask them to help prioritize your to-do list?

So if you say “Hey, listen, I understand that you want to push this feature. Here are the things in the backlog that have to wait. Help me prioritize this list.” And sometimes that conversation alone is enough. But understanding why your boss is asking you to push so hard, push this feature out when the rest of the team maybe isn’t aligned is a communication issue.

Definitely, yeah. It seems like the answer to the question so far is have a good balance and have good communication. Managers who are listening, I hope you have this noted somewhere.

So I gave one example of a question, and that was a specific story. Do you have a specific story about a great manager that you take with you, stay with you through your career?

I am sure that some of my past managers are listening, and I’m not gonna pick a favorite… [laughter] I might work for one of them again someday.

That’s a great point to make.

I’m going to do exactly the same, and not pick a favorite…

But I’m happy to talk about maybe managers that were giving advice that were pivotal to my career. Not naming any names, of course.

That sounds great.

[19:47] I will say somebody that’s been influential for me in my career, but has never managed me, is Kelsey Hightower. I get a lot of awesome mentorship from him. And I remember being really, really loyal to my employers. I’m not saying I’m not loyal now, but he gave me some advice… It was “Hey, Ashley, your company is never going to be as loyal to you as you are to them. You have to do what’s best for you and your family.” And I was like, “That’s such simple advice.” It changed the way I think about work, and I have better boundaries with work, work/life balance is better… I’m kind of in a burnout cycle right now, but for the most part, it’s better. So I think that somebody like Kelsey sort of gave me the permission, I guess, to put myself first, and change the way that I work.

That’s a great reminder to have, absolutely.

I think I had a manager who probably for the first time in my career said something like “No, I don’t need to ask anyone else. I trust you.” I like getting advice; I’m in sales, so often I like to have other people on the call with me as observers, because it’s always good to have another set of ears… So I don’t think that another opinion would change my mind necessarily, but sometimes I know that I’m not, just, I think I know 100% of the things. And he was so trusting in my abilities that he said “Yeah, I know you. I’ve seen you act, I’ve seen you make decisions, and I trusted what you say is true, and I also trust it if it’s not, then you will fix it after.” And then I said “Oh my God, stuff like that actually happens. There ARE good managers.”

That is motivating. To turn this to the other side of the feelings, what are some mistakes that your managers have made, or you as a manager observed that you are making, and maybe you stopped making?

Such a huge question… Oh, my God. So many things I can say right now.

This entire topic is so fun. Just, stranger management is probably, like there’s a reason people go through…

I’ll start with the mistakes of others, just because I have a lot that I can be judgmental myself about… But I had a manager who felt that in order to motivate me, they needed to be super-rough. And that’s not my style, but I like to communicate feedback to, so that was not instrumental in getting me motivated, but also really not instrumental for me to understand what else do I need to do, or how can I fix things. It was just about a feedback of how I’m not doing things right, and how I’m not as good as he expected me. And it was super-discouraging.

That was an example for me of a manager that was not attentive to how I like to be communicated and what I need in order to succeed. At that point I was already very independent, I would say, and we didn’t have a lot of interactions where I needed his feedback or encouragement, and I really just did not understand that approach. And then when I realized this is the only management style he knows, then I fielded it out. And then I could also be a lot more aware when he’s doing that to other people, as a means to elevate them; maybe show how bad things were before and how good they are now. I like to talk on just how good things are now, because if they were bad, why even stall there? Like, it’s already not a reality.

And for my mistakes, I think that sometimes I forget that other people are not like me, and they operate differently… And what really helps me is when I cut meetings short, so I have shorter meetings than what I used to have before. Maybe 20-30 minutes, but not an hour-long meetings, and try to leave some of the conversation to be asynchronous and come back to it later, so I would have time to reflect on what happened with that person, and come back with some introspection on what I need to do in order to help that person, rather that bring my agenda to the table.

[24:05] I’m a lot better at that, but I did have a very brave employee maybe 6-7 years ago that just told me “You know what - I’m not like you. You need to listen that I’m doing things differently.” I was like, “Oh my God, thank you for telling me. I did not notice.” So that was a very powerful feedback that I try to implement every day.

For me, I tend to project my motivations onto people. Say that somebody does not necessarily love rewards, they’re not necessarily motivated by promotion, or even more money. Maybe they’re actually more motivated by public recognition, and I’m like, “What do you mean, you don’t want more money?”

So I think sometimes I have a hard time understanding that we all have different motivations. To fix this, I have sent out surveys to all of my people, asking them various questions, like “How are you motivated? Do you like public recognition? What was the last time you were promoted? Is that even important to you? How do you like to receive feedback?” So these important questions that normally I think - at least in my experience - people don’t ask, I think that that is a common pitfall for managers to not really dig into how people are motivated, how they wanna receive feedback. Sometimes people want direct, sometimes people want you to be a bit softer… I think knowing those things are important.

That is such a making sense thing that my mind is just really blown. I was never asked that from my managers, and I never asked that in a managing role in the past. That makes so much sense. Would you say this is something you should ask during a job interview?

Well, it depends… I wouldn’t ask that directly, because in an interview people really want to perform, so for any very direct question they would give the best answer, like the good answer. And I’m trying to use questions where the answers would show me what the person would behave like in reality, rather than give me the right answer… Because people - sometimes when you ask them “Oh, do you like to work in a team?”, they say “Yeah, I really like the atmosphere at the office, and I like working in a team.” It turns out in reality they like sitting next to other people, and just have someone to go to lunch with. So that’s the art where experience maybe comes into place when you interview people.

I think if somebody is aware of the areas that they need to be aware of, and they are interested in developing in those areas, and you feel that they are coachable, then that is a conversation that you will later have with that person. But if I during the interview have a feeling or get the signs and hear expressions from the candidate that they are not very good in handling conflicts, or feedback, or people that don’t agree with them, or they need to disagree and commit then I will just probably decide not to work with that person… Because it’s very difficult to coach. And it depends… I’m just putting that at a very high level, of course; sometimes I would hire a person that shows signs of coachability during the interview, because that means that they are ready to develop… But not always.

I’ve never asked a question during an interview, but as you ask the question, it would be interesting for me if I was interviewing somewhere to ask the hiring manager “How do you deliver feedback?” to see what they say. Do they adapt to every person on their team, or do they have a style that they commit to and think is good for everyone?

That is interesting to ask as the interviewee, the part with “Do you have any questions for me?” Always a relevant one to ask. Would you say that as a manager, if I’m interviewing with you, and then I’m asking you something like “Can you motivate me in the way that resonates with me most?”, what would be a good way for me as an interviewee to ask you this as a manager, during a job interview? So I can gauge that, also so I don’t get the right answer for you.

[28:18] I don’t know if I would be able to answer that question during an interview; I don’t know you yet. I need time to get to know my people.

That’s fair.

I used to ask these questions in one-on-ones, but now I have a team that’s too big to sustain that, so I do the written surveys now. But I do go through those written surveys with all of those individuals, to sort of drill into areas where I want more clarity… Or sometimes people say “I want direct feedback”, but then you find conflicting answers in the surveys, like “Do you really want direct feedback, or do you think that that’s what I wanna hear?”

So an interview - I don’t know if that would be the best place for me to answer, but I would tell you in an interview, like I am right now, that I need to get to know you.

That’s very fair.

Yeah, I think it’s a difficult question to answer. I would probably answer in a question, and ask maybe what motivates you. What gives you energy? What sort of things that you do at work give you energy? What are you known for at work? Those are usually the areas where a person has this internal motivation and they don’t need any external motivation, or very little external help to get the drive to do things. And once I have that nailed, then I would probably go and ask “Okay, and then what are the things that you always try to avoid?” And that’s the moment where I would try to be quite transparent, or maybe open, and say “You know, I really dislike doing invoicing” or “I don’t enjoy doing huge Excel spreadsheets. I used to like that, but not anymore. So if I can just avoid that, my day is so much better.”

When I open up, I feel like the other side feels more comfortable maybe sharing, you know, what they really don’t like… I think it might sound to the outside ear like it’s a tricky question that I present, but actually, I think it’s super-important to know what you’re stepping into. And I want to know what the expectations of the candidate is from what I can offer. And if it’s not aligned, then I will be setting up that person for failure, but I will also carry that with me, because I don’t like to hire the wrong profile to the role.

So that gives me usually a glimpse into where are the challenges, and oftentimes I have to say it’s then my decision on how I want to position this candidate, rather than the decision if I want to hire them or not. So it just gives me a bit more clarity on who is this profile.

It sounds like a lot of emotional intelligence that you’ve been developing and becoming an expert over the years. That is a big deal about management, for sure. If you could help a person who’s a developer decide whether they should be interested to go into management or not, can you help them figure out this question?

I get this question a lot, actually… The longer I manage, the less I am in the technical weeds. I have not written a line of code in two years. I review code, but I’ve not written code in two years. I just don’t have the time. I truly like management though. I like it more than I do writing code, so I choose to stay here. But for someone else, that might not be what they wanna do. So I think understanding that the longer you’re in a management position, the less you are doing those IC activities. You have to make a choice, what’s more important to you. And that’s a hard choice to make.

[31:59] Absolutely nothing more to add. Spot on, everything you’ve just said. The management role is not a more in-depth role of an IC. You have so many other things that you need to take care of when you’re a manager, that it’s not about being a +1 IC. So the question would be “Are you willing to let go of the things that you like as an IC?” and “Do you have the understanding that as you move up the ladder, you’re going to have to shed more and more of those technical skills and be less in the know and less updated, but you will have other things that will compensate for the loss only if you really, really enjoy being a manager?” Because it’s such a complex type of role, and I think it’s – I don’t know if Ashley would agree, but it’s quite difficult to know what it’s like being a manager before you actually have to take that role.

It is. And I think that there are certainly people who are able to balance that deep technical work with management. Sarah Drasner is one of those people, @sarah_edo on Twitter. She’s incredible. I don’t think she sleeps. I feel inferior every time I talk to her. But she’s truly good at both. She is a unicorn in my opinion. I think that it takes a lot of work for her to maintain both.

Okay, another tough question… What is a critical conversation to you, in the context of management? Does it mean having a conversation of firing somebody? When I say “critical conversation” in this context, what do you think about?

I think it’s those conversations where I sit by myself and think about the messages that I want to communicate to a person, and I know that if I wait – it’s not going to be a pleasant conversation, but if I wait, it’s not going to be good for either sides of the conversation.

We all try to avoid confrontations. I don’t think there’s a person that says “Oh, I’m very confrontational because I like it.” There’s always a lot of emotion that goes into that, and as a manager even more so, because I want to protect people and I want to help them grow, and sometimes I do have to have more difficult conversations. And if I call them critical, maybe it’s because it’s critical, but I would do them, because there’s nobody else that would. I’m the closest one to that person, I’m the best person to give that feedback to, I’m the best person to set up clear boundaries and to set expectations, and I think that it’s also – you know, aside from being this difficult conversation and I have to take a deep breath before entering one, it also could be a start of something very different and new in the relationship.

[36:15] And I’m saying that after – you know, I even have two or three examples where I had people on my team that were underperforming, to a point that I had to have a conversation that this is not where we need to be. But then the conversation was started with “This is not where we need to be”, and then continued with “This is what we’re going to do to get you there.” And “We’re here as a team, and we’re going to do check-ins, and put more energy into it to make sure that you’re there.” And I think when the check-ins and the goals are the right ones, then the person really feels that sort of conversation is a good conversation. And then the next time you have to do that conversation with the person, they know that you’re there for them, and that the outcome can be very positive. I’ve seen people really turn things around for themselves. And in fact, looking back, I think there was not a single person where I had that kind of difficult conversation with on performance that actually didn’t deliver at the end.

I think that if I would just tell them “Okay, this is not the right place to be”, and just leave it at that, then it would just fail, because I’d just tell them what’s not good, but not tell them how to fix it, or how to behave differently… Also not give them tools to become more independent when I let them go from that phase.

I don’t know if that was such a clear example, but maybe the best allegory is just when I feel it’s like a parenting conversation; not in the sense that I’m telling a person off, but that I’m the only person that can have that conversation with the person; then it’s a critical one. And it’s really my obligation, my duty, my whatever you wanna call it, to make sure that I’m 100% on it.

I don’t have much to add to that either… Our conversations are hard. I think that if the person you’re having a conversation with is surprised that you’re now having a conversation about performance issues, you’re not doing your job as a manager. They should never be surprised.

I think that it’s very critical to have the path forward. So knowing that there’s a way to fix it is critical. Without that, it’s really easy to find another job. Nobody’s going to put up with poor management these days.

Yeah. From the perspective of an employee, I have an interesting point to people maybe from outside of Germany. In Germany, and probably in some other European countries, once you are past the probation period, which is on average six months, it’s hard to fire you. And there’s a lot of jokes about that, like “Go through those six months and you’re there for good.” But actually, there is a situation where you can tell your employee that they underperformed, and then you have to provide checklists, and plans for improvement, and put resources into that… But this can also come to an end; so this is kind of the part of the story that people don’t tell when this conversation about “You cannot fire people in Germany” comes up… That eventually, after trying, it does something that doesn’t happen but like you say, Ashley, these days you probably change more the other way around, because your manager is not good; not necessarily because you are not good as an employee. So that is an important point to keep in mind.

I also wanted to ask you, how do you go about having such hard conversations? But I think in your answer you shared some great ideas. So instead of that, I’ll ask you - how do you deal with conflict inside your team?

[39:57] Conflict is impossible to avoid in this position. You have conflict between your reports, sometimes there’s conflict with management… It’s impossible to avoid. I think leading with empathy is key. There’s conflict in having difficult conversations, but if people understand that you can have – I don’t even know a better word, but like “loving conflict”, again, there’s a path forward. So like, “Hey, we’re about to have a really hard conversation with you, but I still have your back. I’m here for you. Let’s find a way to get through it.”

A +1 on the empathy part. We’re humans, so it shouldn’t be any different than other relationships we’re having when we’re at work. We will have any type of human behavior with our colleagues as well. So just be aware of that. I like to put post-its sometimes on my desk, just to remind me of what people are like in general… And then be humble about it, because that’s how I am also. So conflict is expected, and conflict is also a way to get to resolutions, and it’s also a way to lead by example; when you show people how there is conflict and how you deal with that, and you express a positive communication style, the one that leads to resolving issues and to mutual respect and to diversity of opinions, then it could also be a tool.

And I’m putting aside the fact that yeah, it could be annoying. I’m a person, so it’s not that I don’t vent; I do, but I try to do it outside of work. And what really helps me is to just have my board of mentors, and have somebody outside available at any time, so I could vent, but not bring that with me back to dealing with the conflict.

Yeah. Conflict is something that would be of course wonderful if there would be less of it… Everywhere. At work, not at work, outside… What else would you wish that there would be less of? …in teams in general, not just your team.

I think I would like to see more recognition of the everyday mundane tasks that need to be done… Like making that spreadsheet, for example. I think that we spend a lot of time celebrating really big wins, and there’s a lot of small things that have to come together before you get to that big win. So I think putting more effort into recognizing those smaller things will lead to less burnout, but also less hero syndrome, where people feel like the only way to get recognition is to go off and do very large projects by themselves, and they’re not including their co-workers… You know, having the recognition, I guess.

Super-interesting point. I didn’t really think about that. And you’re absolutely right, how the day-to-day mundane tasks facilitate our success, so it’s so important to highlight the people who do a good work. And I think it’s more so true for functions that are not in the spotlight, that are creating the infrastructure… And they are not a salesperson, where their work is not measurable, and there’s not a clear metric that you can track every day, but it creates the base for everything

I was looking while you were talking on how a team is actually an entity that does not exist if you do not address it as a team. So you need to have rituals, and you need to have culture, and I think once you have that, then it’s a lot harder to see behaviors that are offensive, or that are more self-centered, that are like projects… And it’s fine; I mean, I also do things that are just for me, but they’re not taking anything away from other people, and I think the more you invest in a team, and the more the team recognizes that this is important, they also invest more in the team themselves… And that’s what I always like to see more of, and it’s actually really humbling… And sorry to say that, it’s super-moving for me when I see a team forming and they start to be this one organ… Even though they’re individuals, but they really work together. They have this culture and something that is unique to them.

[44:24] Okay. What is one piece of advice that you would give to new or existing managers to achieve all those behaviors that we want them to have?

Get yourself mentors. As many as you can. And talk to one every week, especially when you’re new; even every day, if you can. I cannot even stress how helpful it is. I have a lot of years of experience as an IC, senior leadership positions in management, in managing managers… But at any given time I had at least four mentors that are on duty to get my calls for me to consult with them… Because it’s such a lonely place to be a leader, and you don’t realize it until you are plucked away from the team, and then you’re this outside function and you cannot be part of that team as you were before. It’s very lonely, you need a lot of support, you need a lot of advice, you can get burnt out very quickly. Get your board of mentors ready for that day that you step into that role, and keep them throughout your career as a manager.

Mentorship is very, very important. I would agree with that. I think another thing I would say to somebody new is spend more time listening than you do talking. Make sure that you keep your regular one-on-ones, make sure that you’re actively listening to your people.

Wonderful advice. Thank you. And the opposite, or another side of the interesting questions to ask would be the time for our Unpopular Opinion. So this is something that can be unrelated to management, it can be related to management, it can be unrelated to Go altogether… But let’s hear Mat singing us about that.

[46:09] to [46:35]

So, Ashley and Ela, I hope you have an unpopular opinion to share with us, and I hope your unpopular opinion is… Unpopular. Because we will be running a Twitter survey and we will be asking people if they agree with you or not. And then we’ll find out how popular or unpopular is your opinion.

Yeah, I have two. The first is that empathy is required for management. And the second is avocado is disgusting.

I think we have a winner… Ding-ding-ding. [laughs]

I really wanna hear how you use avocados in management. I’m intrigued now.

It’s all of those developer advocates… Developer avocados. [laughter]

There are some people in developer advocacy that call us developer avocados. It’s not a term that I use, but it is somehow relevant. But I wanted to pick one thing that was management related, and one thing that was just deeply unpopular.

[laughs] That definitely resonates with me personally. I love avocados. Although it’s completely not native to anywhere near Germany, and it’s probably not good for the environment to eat all those, because they come from far away. Ela, how about you?

You don’t have to be friends with your team. I’m very friendly with people, very empathic, very accessible, I’m very open, I’m very transparent… I’m all of those things you want to have in a person you trust. But it’s impossible to be a good manager and to really take care of things and your people when you’re friends with them, because then you have a lot of things that interfere with your judgment. So it’s always hard for me… It’s still hard for me when I see my team hanging out together and I’m not part of that crowd. I’m not allowed to have with them, basically. But then I always remember why this is the way it is… So they can have fun without me, and maybe talk trash behind my back - completely fine - and I’m here to take care of their interests, my interests, the interests of the organization, and balance everything together. So we’re not friends.

I’ll be curious to see how that goes… Because that makes sense, but that also – I can see how it gets unpopular, so… Definitely interesting. A great choice as an unpopular opinion of you.

We are wrapping up episode number 203, and I want to share that the HTTP status of 203 is “Non-authoritative information”, which means that the response was okay, but the payload went through a transformation… So I hope that whatever information you got, our listeners, from this episode, you will transform into the things that make sense for you, whether you’re a manager, or being managed, or maybe both. Thanks again everyone for joining.


Our transcripts are open source on GitHub. Improvements are welcome. 💚

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