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Playing the Father Figure

Changing A Company
Product Team
Leadership
Team Reaction

24 September, 2021

Brian Flanagan
Brian Flanagan

Product Director at TripAdvisor, LLC

Brian Flanagan, Head of Product and Growth at Optimity, takes a personal interest in his family of cohorts.

Problem

In a lot of ways, managing other people is sort of like being a parent. There is enough of a similarity in how you communicate with these people and involve them in your decision-making process to justify the comparison.

I refer jokingly to being a benign dictator. At the end of the day, I’m the one making the call, but I would still like to hear your opinion.

The thing that was most memorable about my experience: we got no training on how to be a manager. They just gave me a team and told you not to screw it up. At that point, you’re just like...what do I do now?

Actions taken

Shortly after that, I moved on to a new company. At this company, they had always emphasized that, as a manager, your job is to support your team. How you talk about it makes a huge difference to me and my approach.

There will always be people who are all in it for themselves. These types build their careers upon the ashes of their colleagues. That sort of attitude was not tolerated at the organization.

When things like servant leadership started to become popular, they were all things that we had been doing for the last twenty years, only under a new brand name. Providing air cover and things like that were always on my mind as a leader. Sharing context is something that natural leaders do instinctively.

When you finally stop doing your day-to-day job, it’s a totally different skillset. Everybody wants to be promoted. Then, once they get there, they’re so overwhelmed by what the role actually entails. You honestly end up playing the role of the therapist very frequently. You have to be prepared for that.

Now, it becomes less about you. When you have kids, the focus shifts away from you. The growth of others becomes your primary concern. This is the biggest transformation that you make as you move up. You need to be able to instill your team with confidence so that they can work autonomously.

If you want the title and all of the stuff that comes with it, you have to take on the rest of the responsibility, too. People will have questions for you constantly. That’s your entire job now. Welcome to it.

Lessons learned

  • The higher up that you are in your company’s chain of command, the more careful that you need to be in your communication with others. The people who report to you take your words very seriously. There is a different filter that should be used according to what you’re saying and who you’re saying it to. Being self-aware in this way is part of the deal when you become a manager.
  • Being clear in what you’re asking of your team will prevent them from wasting their time with tasks that do not advance your position as a whole. You need to step back into the mind of your former self as an IC. Remember how you took in everything that your boss said to you. The good and the bad are that your team will generally do whatever you say. It is truly a double-edged sword.
  • Wording goals for people becomes a very important skill to hone. You have to find exactly the right way to frame things. You need to relate the work that you’re doing to the broader goals of the organization. What is the stated goal of your company? Good leadership keeps everybody and their work in focus.

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