Every Management Challenge Is Also A Growth Opportunity For Someone
Senior Director of Engineering at Woven Planet
As my organization at Lyft was growing, there came time to bring in another manager into the team. I was stretched too thin for far too long: drowning balancing front line management with leading the direction of the larger org of five other teams. As a result, my direct report individual contributors were clearly not getting enough attention.
So, with that in mind, I worked with the recruiting team to look for that talented leader we needed. It took us over three months to find the right person, finish all interviews, make an offer, and get that offer accepted. I was beyond thrilled and looking forward to it. Finally, I will have time to be strategic. Finally, my team will get the support they deserved.
And then, about two weeks before the start date, I got that dreadful email. The candidate decided to take a job elsewhere: a senior role in the exciting startup working for a past manager they truly respected. There was nothing I could do: just like that, I was back at the drawing board. Even worse, our recruiting pipeline was already dry and we were staring at the holiday season when hiring is especially slow.
I went through a range of emotions. Anger and annoyance towards the candidate who reneged. Hopelessness about being able to get any resemblance of work/life balance. Anxiety and fear of my team members rage quitting at that news. I needed to take control of the situation and find a solution that works, but that was easier said than done.
The trick was to go beyond the emotions. After the initial shell shock, I got myself together and switched into a problem-solving mode. First, I immediately took care of the logistics: notify all the relevant parties and get recruiting back into the high gear. Now, knowing that nothing is hanging over my head anymore and recruiting is already working on sourcing the new pipeline, I could actually calm down and think.
Suddenly, I realized that holding the fort myself and waiting for another candidate is not my only option. I decided to evaluate what has changed in my org in the last four months and see if any of the changes give me opportunities I did not have before. In fact, quite a lot has changed. I had four more months of data on the performance of my other engineering managers: some of them were doing really well and were craving more scope and responsibility. Also, as we were closer to the end of the year, it became clear that growth next year won’t be nearly as sharp as we anticipated.
Connecting these two together, it started looking like the beginning of a plan: instead of bringing a new leader from outside, I could reorg the existing team. This would give more scope and responsibility to my best managers, free me up from a full-time job of frontline team manager, save the company money, and, most importantly, give the team management help they needed. I was drowning in team meetings and 1-1s, and at the same time I had two managers who were looking for more scope: in retrospect, the solution was right in front of me.
Now my challenge has become very different. Instead of recruiting for this management position, I had to sit down and figure out the different ways to slice and dice the team. This process was no small task, as I needed to take into account many different needs. I needed to balance the management load, account for difficult personalities, balance senior and junior engineers, spread specific domain knowledge, give the managers coaching they need, and so on.
All of that was still hard work. However, it was something I like to do and something that I am good at: organization design, vision setting, and coaching. I was calm again and I was in control of the situation. I was enjoying my life and my work again!
Every problem presents an opportunity: I was solving a problem of a candidate who reneged on an offer, but I ended up building a stronger, leaner, and more engaged team. It was very important to recognize that opportunity at the moment.
Challenge the routine: It was easy to continue the status quo. I could continue being a mediocre frontline manager, continue being behind on recruiting and continue being unhappy with my work/life balance. Hitting a pause button, and re-evaluating the reality on the ground showed that this routine no longer makes sense and that there are better options.
Invest in your top-performers: Often one may think that their team members are not yet ready for the next challenge. But one should not be afraid of stretching and challenging them. Sometimes a small investment in coaching others, can actually meaningfully help you with your own challenges.
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Senior Director of Engineering at Woven Planet
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