They Walked Away: Advice For You
In this series, I am writing about my interviews with managers/leaders that walked away. If you haven’t read the lead in to this blog series, please start there. You should also check out the second part here and the third part here. Now, part 4.
Despite walking away, all the interviewees valued the manager/leader experience. All mentioned how much they grew professionally and offered advice to those still in the fight (or thinking about jumping in).
1: Resist the urge to take control. Stepping out of an individual contributor (IC) role can be a shock. A quote- “As an individual contributor, you generally have full control over your successes and failures. As a leader, you cannot directly control everything . . . “ The lack of control tempted our interviewees to swoop in and save the day. Sadly, swooping in prevents your team from learning for themselves. Worse, swoop in often enough and the team will expect and wait for it.
The temptation to swoop in is reinforced by our love for the technology/mission. As a leader, you generally will be further away from the technical work you love and want to get back in. A little setback on the team is a convenient excuse for you to swoop. You may think, I’m the expert. They need me. Maybe you only plan to take control for a short time or only help a little. If you do either and it wasn’t critical, you’ve stolen their moment, their credit and their opportunity for learning. An interviewee said, “It’s a thankless job. You won't be knee deep in the weeds of the technology or day-to-day interactions and that is hard for some people to not do the tasks themselves.” It feels good to save the day and work on technology or mission you may know well. Stay out of it and don’t steal your team’s chance to do both of those things. They love them too .
2: Every year re-hire yourself. I love this next quote so much. The only thing I would add is: this quote is true beyond its focus on growth. It’s also true as the problem or team goals evolve. “I failed by forgetting to re-hire myself as we grew. Rather than continue to think about and [then] structure the team in a way that could sustain itself as we grew, I kept leading the team I had with the same principles I had been [since the day I took over].”
Several interviewees also talked about seeking out blind spots. A quote straight to the point, “get feedback on your blind spots.” A blind spot is a weakness you have of which you aren’t even aware. I have always felt that after 4 years in any job, your weaknesses become part of the way the team operates. When that happens, the weaknesses transform into liabilities. Knowing your weaknesses, especially blind ones, is the only way to assess yourself against the coming challenges and rehire yourself. One day you’ll find, you are no longer the right person. That’s the day you really need the next piece of advice.
3: Be brave. This is the final blog in this series and there is one piece of advice that permeated every discussion I had. For anyone that wants to get ahead, the aerospace industry puts a lot of pressure on people to enter leadership. My interviewees had enough self-awareness to know it was time to step away and had the courage to actually do it. Sometimes they stepped aside for personal balance; other times to head down a different professional path. It takes immense bravery to make a change against all corporate norms. Surprisingly, each interviewee was at peace with their decision. I have no doubt each one was right in making it. Each of us should take that lesson and constantly assess our path. Are you still the right person to lead this team? Are you really on the right path? Do you even enjoy it? If not, be brave. Make the decision that these folks did and Walk Away.
As always, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or thoughts! I want to thank all my interviewees for your time over email, phone, and in coffee shops. I know I was annoying. Also a big thanks to my friend that did editing for this series. That was a huge help.