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Changing the Tone of the Room as a New Manager

Feelings Aside
Leadership
Conflict Solving

21 June, 2021

Sneha Singla
Sneha Singla

Director at Salesforce

Sneha Singla, Senior Software Engineering Manager at Salesforce, helped her team break free of the negativity that plagued them, improving productivity and bringing everybody on board together in the process.

Problem

This story comes from five years back, when I first started in management. I was growing from being a technical lead to being a manager, and, as I entered my new team, the first thing that I heard from the stakeholders was that this team in particular had a problem with delivery. They asked me to step in and to help, and I said okay.

They were pointing out each member of the team, telling me who not to assign anything important to. My first reaction? I’m not going to listen to that feedback. I will not let them create that mold around me. I realized, however, that there was still some dysfunction. The team was not delivering as they should have been.

I had those conversations with the team centered around delivery, but they were still stuck in that negative mode, and I found myself falling into it, as well. It became really hard. In spite of all of the emphasis that I was putting on delivery, I was still spending so much of my time on people-centric problems. That became a pattern that was difficult to break.

Actions taken

At the time, I realized that I was having sleepless nights despite the fact that we were all working very hard. I reached out to my leadership in regard to the problems that we were having. I didn’t understand why these conversations were not panning out to positive results.

I learned that we trap ourselves in these conceptions of what we think should be, ignoring what actually exists in reality. If the people around me do not conform to my own definition or to our stakeholder’s definition of who they should be, how is that a problem to the company? This concept also goes back to personal relationships, as well.

I read some books about how to free ourselves from the stories that we create in our minds. I was able to shift these dynamics in my own mind. This was a turning moment for me. Having those personal conversations and treating people with respect when they have the same hopes and dreams as you do is really, really important. That’s how you start to change things dramatically.

When there is a problem, I now speak much more transparently. Myself, my leadership, and the teams that I manage are now much more in alignment as a direct result. Every piece of news is simply news. There is no good news or bad news. We just communicate, and it solves all of these problems before they come to a head.

My one-on-ones are always centered around challenges and triumphs. The environment that we work in is high-paced and deadline-dependent. The standard of quality that we need to be producing is very rigorous, and checking back in often helps my team members to overcome roadblocks. We need this done in a week. Is this possible? If not, what is stopping us from moving forward? We can get other members of the team involved. No finger-pointing is necessary. When people feel a sense of trust and ownership, they feel more comfortable reaching out in times of need.

Lessons learned

  • At the end of the day, it really is a mindset shift. If I’m traveling by plane and every new person who comes aboard may possibly take my seat, my mind will constantly be overloaded trying to process that threat. Instead of enjoying the beauty of my flight or focusing on my destination, I’m just constantly thinking about how somebody is going to take my seat.
  • When I first joined the company, I was not open enough with my team. I was worried that they would not take me seriously. Influence does not come that way. Instead, you need to focus on how you can make a deeper connection. When you are truly empathetic to the needs and hopes of your team members, you regard them as you regard yourself.
  • My way is not always the best way. Having some way of leveling and connecting with your team on a human level allows you to both share your own ideas and to learn from them, as well.

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