Beyond the Usual, Passive DEI Efforts in Tech

Blog: On Leadership Balance

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Manny Becerra as a child

July 2016

I've grown into a position at Tesla where I get the opportunity and privilege to lead a team of dedicated, smart, and committed individuals from diverse backgrounds. Every now and then, I get asked what it takes to lead a team effectively and how to balance it all, especially under a fast-paced environment like ours. There's a bit to unpack here, but I thought I'd share a few quick things to supplement some relevant, earlier thoughts, and continue to do some follow-up posts on this topic. So, here it goes...

Your teammates are smart, capable and likely very eager to contribute in meaningful ways, so trust and support them.

Trust

For starters, realize that you hired your teammates for a good reason. They're smart, capable and likely very eager to contribute in meaningful ways, so trust and support them up-front. Trust them to want to do good work and trust them to deliver on the work. Trust to hold one another accountable in the work and products you strive to create.

Interdependence

We're all interconnected. Your success, is your team's success and vice-versa. Same goes with failures. Same goes with the products you and your team create which can drastically impact others' lives in the community at-large.

Guidance and Parameters

Instead of perfection, seek progress; pursue growth.

In parallel to trust, you, as the leader, should aim to provide your teammates with the necessary guidance and parameters to arrive at the desired result under a realistic timeframe, so they can actually deliver on expectations and requirements in a timely manner; otherwise, if you don't set and agree to some parameters with your teammates on how to arrive at your North Star, you'll likely be dissappointed on what they deliver as the norm. You don't want that, and they don't want that, and, upper echelon likely doesn't want that as the norm.

Strategy & Tactical

Depending on your leadership role, you may or may not be 100% strategic oriented, for instance, you may be more tactical, even a hybrid role. Regardless of your role though, your team needs clear direction from you on where you are going (or need to be) and the ability to execute on that vision. When the time comes, even having a leader that can get into the weeds with them can be super helpful and appreciative.

Find the balance of knowing how much to get involved on the tactical level matters, and how much to be hands-off and trust your team to take care of. Be available to remove barriers.

What that means is that you need to find the balance of knowing how much to get involved on the tactical level matters, and how much to be hands-off and trust your squad leaders to take things to the finish line. But, always be available to remove barriers, such as scope creep and general distractions. Also be on standby to jump-in and wrangle some code, push some pixels around, talk through an implementation problem, etc. if needed.

Scale or Multiply Yourself

If you're doing 5 core things right now, as a part of your responsibilities, pick 1 or 2 things from your responsibilities that you can train and mentor an interested teammate or two to help you out with. This accomplishes several things. First, it allows you to focus on a few things more carefully, while, secondly, nurturing another teammate's careeer path toward continued growth. In turn, this may free you up to also explore additional growth opportunities yourself. When you mutliply yourself, and create a culture amongst your team where others do the same, it's a win-win all-arund, and it also becomes more smooth and less stressful for individuals to take time off for personal reasons, whether it's just needing a mental day, spending quality time with their kiddos, or going on an extended vacation.

What you don't want to do is hire people and be doing all of the same things you were doing before indefinitely; otherwise, you may not be utilizing your people resources effectively.

What you don't want to do is hire people and be doing all of the same things you were doing before indefinitely; especially tactical matters, otherwise, you may not be utilizing your people resources effectively.

Progress & Excellence, Not Perfection

Diversity in idea and thought is great, but go further; cultivate a workplace culture that also values diversity in background, gender identity, and life experience.

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Perfection is an unobtainable, subjective construct that serves to create an environment full of regular disapointment. Instead of perfection, I suggest embracing progress and excellence as forms of measuring desired trajectory. This goes hand-in-hand with Guidance and Parameters; effectively, identify what is a passing grade for your team, including yourself. Define this, and get regular feedback from your coworkers in being key contributors to what excellence means to your team.

Once you and your team know where you're going and how you're going to measure yourselves in arriving there, retrospectives for continuous improvement can be helpful.

Retrospectives and 1:1s

Give your team public praise for their dedication and accomplishments, both collaborative and technical achievements.

Lastly, but only for the purposes of this post, setup some team retrospectives and individual one-on-ones (1:1s) so your team has an opportunity to share individual and collective lessons learned for any given project and day-to-day workplace experiences. This intentional exercise can help in identifying any challenges that need addressinng before they create toxic behaviors and environments.

A retrospective is also a great time to give individuals of your team—and the team as a whole—public praise for their dedication and accomplishments, both collaborative and technical achievements, which can help cultivate a safe and trusting workplace culture where everyone can be seen as a valuable, contributing teammember.

Onward.

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Manny Becerra as a child

I operate from a place of compassion, possibility and imagination. My work and efforts share a common goal: create a better, sustainable and equitable world by building inclusive communities, products & experiences.