A high performing employee threatened by a new hire of his caliber
VP of Engineering at TripActions
About four years ago, when I was a Director of Engineering at Twitter, I was a manager of both individual contributors and managers. I had one particular direct report which was a very high performer, let's call him Lee. He was one of the founding members of the team and grew that team to 15 people. He was highly respected by everyone.
At some point a new hire joined the team, and Lee took him under his wing to integrate him. They were of the same caliber, quite high performing. They would bounce ideas and have very productive conversations.
A few months later, Lee came to me, almost in tears and he seemed very desperate. He was lost about his role. The new hire had gained a lot of domain knowledge and took a higher position in the team. They began to have conflicts and Lee felt threatened by him.
In that situation, I believe the most important thing is to not try to solve the problem directly but rather take a step back.
First, I asked Lee what were his personal aspirations and what did he dreamt about. The idea was to let him build and foresee opportunities and perspectives for the future. A few questions I asked:
- "Where do you see yourself in two years?"
- "What do you want to do?"
- "How do you want others to see you?"
He told me he wanted to be an architect and in charge of larger systems. For such position, he needed to be exposed to many different systems and broaden his responsibilities.
Second, I tried to make him understand that the new hire was actually a good thing for him - his successor - and that he needed to see him not as a competitor, but as his best asset to evolve in his career. Having a succession plan is critical when you want to evolve in your career.
"When engineers have an ego war, it usually means that they feel threatened. So a good starting point is to understand what/who is the threat. Once clearly identified, there are a few ways to turn threats into opportunities. Making them realize that there is always a place to grow is a good start."
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