Make Hard Time Easier -- Work With a Sponsor
26 July, 2020
A couple of years ago, given the reliability challenges we were facing, the company decided that we needed to bring in a new, more experienced CTO that I and the rest of Product Development would report to. While that was a hard time for me to go through emotionally, I understood that we had to bring in a more experienced person to manage the product development organization. Yet, I needed someone I could work with and get along with well.
I knew that we would be looking for a new CTO far and wide, and since I was part of the CTO search, I instantly thought of my technical advisor as a good candidate for the role. I recognized early on that we had a good connection and that I was learning enormously from him through our interactions. Also, I understood that my relationship with the person was going to be an important factor in me continuing to have an impact at the company. He initially was not available, but I worked to convince him to take up that role, and he accepted. Normally, people in a similar situation to mine have a hard time coping with new circumstances, but since I recruited him, I felt safe and knew that we were going to work well together. Also, he was appreciative of my role as a founder, who would be involved long-term with the company, and recognized the importance of investing in my personal and professional growth.
After he joined, there was a natural push to involve me in fewer things given my role changing, but I noticed that with him there, I was actually more involved than I used to be. If there was anything he thought was important or interesting to me, he would push to include me in those meetings. I joined many customer visits, presented at more of the staff meetings, and was involved in our budgeting decisions. He would put himself on the line to ensure I had a seat at the table even if he thought he could do it himself or it would be more efficient to do it without me, but he viewed it as an investment in my growth.
He also rarely told me directly to do things that needed to be done, but instead, he would approach me with elaborating on a problem and asked me of my opinion, or he would ask me to consider doing something. It was more a peer relationship than the one of subordination, and by doing so, he was showing me that I still had autonomy and ability to make my own decisions.
- Regularly ask for and listen to feedback. It takes effort to provide feedback, and by listening carefully and acting on that feedback you are showing that this effort is worthwhile. It will encourage a person who delivers feedback to do so more in the future.
- Don't be afraid to challenge and disagree with your manager. With the new CTO, voicing my disagreement helped me establish more of a peer relationship than a reporting relationship. Creating space around you that allows you to feel comfortable having different opinions results in greater discussion engagement and better decisions.
- Use what you learned to help turn your next manager into a sponsor. My sponsor ended up leaving the company, but he helped hire the next VP of Engineering, and that person followed a more traditional path of hierarchy. However, many things I learned from my sponsor I was able to embed in this new relationship to enhance it.
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