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Your leadership job should change every 6 months, even if you stay put

This post lists the key insights from this article, by an engineering manager at Automattic, Cate Hudson.


Recently the number of the author’s direct reports more than doubled. This was a very obvious instance of change, and she opened up a discussion on her team blog about what that meant, and asked them four questions:

  • What do you see as the most important thing(s) I do (generally)?
  • What are the most impactful things I do for you specifically?
  • What is one thing you think I should stop doing?
  • What is the biggest area of your work where you want/need me to support you?

But even when it’s not as obvious, your job as a manager can still evolve.

The author would go as far as to say once you have significant responsibility, your job should change at least every six months. Your team should be evolving and you should be leveling up your direct reports. So at least twice a year, set aside some time and think about the following questions:

  • What are the biggest challenges for my team?
  • What are the biggest challenges for my peer group?
  • What are our biggest challenges as an organization?

Then look at how you spend your time. Does it align with the challenges you’ve laid out? Does it reflect your priorities?

Ask:

  • What can I delegate?
  • What should be dropped?
  • What new things do I need to take on?

These can be difficult questions to ask when you’re overwhelmed, and the answers we land on might scare us. Having a coach can be useful here, as it forces you to step back, consider the big picture, and explain it to someone who is not deeply involved nor invested in any outcome but you being your best self.

Left to our own devices, we might avoid doing the work of figuring out this evolution, either because we don’t want to confront the current challenges on our teams, or because we’re afraid that if we give things up, or because we’re so maxed out that we can’t contemplate the thought of assigning ourselves even one more thing to do. But these thoughts are illogical and counterproductive at best, and downright destructive if not kept in check. So let’s dismantle these ideas one by one.

1. You don’t want to confront the new challenges faced by your team?

This is literally your job as a manager. If you fail to do it, you’ll eventually get found out.

2. You’re afraid to give things up?

Perhaps this is because you fear you won’t have enough to do—but I can promise this is almost certainly not going to be the case.

3. You’re afraid to take on something new?

When someone feels so overwhelmed that they cannot do anymore, it’s easy for them to believe there’s no time to step back, no time to invest in other people to take some of this off. This is madness—you cannot overwork yourself out of the overwork trap. The only way out is to work smarter, and to get rid of some of the stuff that is currently filling your days, whether that means someone else does it or it doesn’t get done at all.

So, where to begin! Some ideas:

First, think about the team.

  • List your team challenges: What are the most pressing things for your team to accomplish over the next quarter / next year?
  • List your team constraints: What are the biggest things currently holding your team back? What constraints, if broken, would unlock the most potential?
  • Spend time on your team brand: What’s the gap between where you should be and where you are? How can you push that forward?
  • Build peer support into your team practices, rather than expecting to be the person who supports everyone else.
  • Look at the big picture at your organization and consider how your work and your team fit into it.

Then, think about yourself.

  • Rebuild your schedule: Eliminate everything from it and start from the beginning. What goes back in?
  • Ask people what you do that is most valuable.
  • Give away things you know.
  • Give away things you’re not sure about.
  • Ask your peers what they need.
  • Ask your boss what they are worried about.
3 min​ read

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