A regular cadence of posting has never been my forte with this blog. Part of it is because, well, writing isn't my first passion and the rest of it is that I made a commitment to try and maintain quality. So unless I had something to share that I felt was worth sharing, I basically kept quiet. I assume that I probably place the highest value on a contribution, so if even I don't find it worthwhile, who else would?
But I am still here, I am still waking each day to face challenging problems and doing my best to solve them or even better, make them go away completely. As Einstein said, "A clever person solves a problem, a wise person avoids it." In the past year, the challenges I've faced haven't been technical though, they have been how to transform myself from a good engineer to a good leader and transform an organization with challenges to one that engineers are excited to be part of. Sharing this evolution as it has been happening hasn't felt appropriate until now. In large part because, I was not and still am not a transformation expert with multiple turn arounds on my CV. I am still figuring this out as I go, but I have learned enough to at least begin to share those lessons.
Marshall Goldsmith has written a book titled What Got You Here Won't Get You There. It would be great to tell you just go read Marshall's book, follow it and you'll do great. Of course, before I would recommend his book, I'd probably have to read his book. I haven't. I've heard great things about it. I often hear great things about a lot of business books and there are a few I have read and would also recommend. But I've also discovered over the past year that reading too many business books will just leave you confused and potentially bored. Most have some fantastic points. We'd all be better served if the authors could just get to them, state them once, give some supporting evidence, then close. Unfortunately publishers don't want 50 page business books, so we get 200 pages instead, covering 50 pages of material. Still, at least most authors know this and front load their books with the bulk of the content and I appreciate that.
The title though sums up one thing I have learned. We all have something we excel at. And if we are very good at it, we are rewarded with ever increasing scope of responsibility until at some point we are a leader. Except, few of us actually get coaching on what the finer points of leadership are. We excelled by having the solutions to hard problems. By having the answers to tough questions. Especially if you are an engineer, your success comes through creative problem solving and unique insights into the technical problems that face your company. And as you move from an individual contributor to a team lead, those continue to serve you well. If you are leading a team of 5-10 people, you will continue to be successful by being the brilliant problem solver although, the issues with this will begin to show, especially if you suffer from insecurities or have natural control issues.
The problem is that leadership isn't about being the person with the answers, it's about being the person with the questions. You have to shift your mindset from answering questions to asking them, even when faced with questions. I know that sounds bizarre and it is also the hardest thing most of us will ever do as we expand our scope. The reason is simple though, to lead people have to follow. For people to follow, they have to believe and they will only believe if they feel a sense of ownership. We own the solution to a problem if we contribute to it. You have to lead people to the solution by challenging them to solve the problem themselves. And even when someone asks you for help on a problem, you need to consult, not dictate. You have to ask, not answer. The problem you face isn't the problem they gave you, but rather what set of questions can you ask that will uncover the solution, but by them, not for them.
I haven't mastered this. I am and always will be a problem solver. I've been blessed with a natural ability to comprehend a considerable breadth of constraints when presented with a problem and a certain amount of lucky insights in solutions. My instinct when a particularly hard problem is laid before us is to roll up my sleeves and start solving. At this point, I probably manage to resist doing that about 50% of the time. The remaining 50%, I have to remind myself to keep an open mind to alternative approaches and to allow exploration in areas that I personally wouldn't consider. The important thing is to remind myself that what got me here, won't get me, or the amazing organization I am responsible for leading, there.