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Moving the Needle as a New Manager

Leadership
Impact

11 May, 2021

Jimmy DePetro
Jimmy DePetro

Senior Director and Head of Engineering at Wag Labs

Jimmy DePetro, Director of Engineering at Wag!, believes in striking a balance between maintaining systems that work and challenging the status quo.

Problem

You don’t want to dive into a new leadership role and change things just because you can change things. When in this position, I find myself asking how things are done ordinarily. The team speaks their peace, often telling me that they do things the way that they do because that’s simply how they have been instructed to do them from the beginning.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons behind some tedious or time-consuming tasks. Other times, I find that there are opportunities to optimize. As a leader, it is always your responsibility to continuously be pushing your team forward.

Actions taken

Instead of barging haphazardly in when leading a new team, I try to enter the scene knowing that I am a fresh set of eyes. I take a step back and look at things from a more high-level perspective. How are we doing things? Why are we doing this? How are we staying organized? I question everything.

Take it all down to the nitty-gritty details; understand the processes at work, forward and back. Then, you can drill down with a more granular analysis. Now, the questions change. What are we spending most of our time on? Is all of this really necessary? You want everything to be organized and connected to the goals of the team.

I’m not one to remove pieces of the puzzle unnecessarily just to move faster. To me, what’s more important is automating the little things that do not require higher-level thinking and energy that would be more wisely spent elsewhere. One of my key mottos that I constantly tell myself as well (And everyone around me) is to "Work smarter, not harder.". Even the smallest changes can have significant impact over time.

Lessons learned

  • Always be asking “Why?”. You get people out of their bubble of comfort. Suddenly, they see that the grass is greener after all. Ask questions at every intersection.
  • Challenge the status quo when necessary. One of my mottos: “Complacency kills.” You don’t want to get too comfortable in whatever you’re doing. It may be detrimental to you in the long run, especially in the world of technology; our industry is incredibly aggressive and constantly changing. If you can’t keep up, you’re just going to end up falling behind.
  • Always think outside of the box. There is always a better way to do something. Never adapt to an approach just because everybody else is doing something a certain way.
  • With that being said, you should never make a decision just because the change is something that you want personally. It has to be in service of the team and the goals of the company. In a mid-level role, you are not responsible for creating the vision; your job is to communicate it to your people so that they may help you execute it. You must be able to sell your ideas in this way. It’s the same as when you’re contributing as an individual Engineer; your work must serve some purpose within the group’s effort as a whole. The last thing that you want is to try to implement something that earns no buy-in or trust.

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