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Every Monday morning I wake up about 4:30am, make coffee, and read Peter King’s MMQB before going to the gym. This morning I came across a quote that made me stop and think not only once, but twice.
Change Your Mind
I realized how important it is to not only hire diverse talent and leaders but to listen to them and admit when you are wrong. One of the things I call out in my ‘Welcome to our Team’ message to new leaders (chronicled here: Setting Expectations) is a warning about how I will often play the role of:
In our one on one’s or meetings I often will play the role of Devil’s Advocate. This can be offsetting (annoying/frustrating) at first as it will seem that your new manager is questioning everything or arguing all your points. I do this so we can vet the ideas in a safe environment before moving on to external stakeholders. Other times it will be because I have the same view as you and I am exploring for pitfalls or weaknesses in the approach and hoping you can help. If the debate or questioning is too intense it is OK to say “timeout”! See the topic above – feedback. 😉
I realized I need to add in “and trust that you can and will change my mind. You were hired because you are smart, resourceful, and make us better than we were yesterday – don’t ever stop doing that”. When I think back on some of my most memorable moments in leadership it was when I deferred to a team member’s decision over my own:
- Ron Burkett – sticking with aligning SE quota to Reps
- Shelly Blackburn – Ranger program implementation
- Nate Chessin – I forgot the details, but I remember he completely flipped my thinking on a hotly debated topic (I am getting old)
- Raj – how we implement POC extensions for Measuring & Tracking SE Teams – Solved?
- Ben Martin – I told him I would humor his application to be a Sr. Manager as it would be a good development and coaching exercise but that I would not hire an individual contributor with no management experience into that role. He made us change our mind.
Why was it so rewarding? Because when I changed my mind and tried their ideas they ended up being better than my own idea. Today I realized in crystal clear fashion – the way you build a team that is better than you is that you have a team that is strong enough to change your mind.
Change Their Mind
My second epiphany was when I thought of some of the greatest bosses I have ever had.
- Sonya Messer (Sky Media): I was a 16 year old punk in a growing call center startup. She let me create scheduling systems, excel tracking tools, script changes, etc.
- Deric Shea (Cisco CCBU): I was a first time professional manager and Deric a Director. I argued almost everything with him. He was patient and listened and I think I even won an argument or two.
- Doug Good (Cisco Enterprise): Doug’s style was very different than my own. He was thoughtful, caring, systematic, and organized. My approach was to shoot from the hip, experiment, push, prod, and drive. Those extremes aren’t always successful together but Doug never shut down my crazy ideas and in fact supported (most) of them. I can’t remember him ever saying no. He even let me hire Ben (see above).
- Stephen Rejto (MIT Lincoln Labs): my first job out of college. Stephen gave me a pile of data and a manual from Raytheon, told me to buy a super computer on Ebay, and go figure out how to reverse engineer a $600m radar for shooting down ICBMs. Every time I had an idea I wanted to do he pushed me to not only do it but do it more. Example: go get a passport and fly to the south pacific after only a few months on the job and be the local lead on an ICBM intercept.
- Jedd Williams (Cisco Collaboration): I wonder some days how Jedd never fired me. In fact I remember at least 3 times him being red faced and asking why me why he shouldn’t fire me 🙂 Yet, he always calmed down and often realize that my concept may have merit (even if my approach to it was not ideal). I always told Jedd that he needed me as I was the one who would tell him the truth.
It truly hit me why people quit jobs because of their manager (“First Break all the Rules”). A key trigger for me to leave past roles was when I was not strong enough to change my leader’s mind (or that they were not open to change).
Change Your Mind, Change Their Mind
What goes around come around. We should remember that smart strong people have great ideas. That is why you hired them. Let them change your mind. Remind them that they can change your mind.
And… never stop trying to change your leader’s mind.
As a final thought, I texted that quote to a previous team member who had more good advice:
Good lesson. Don’t be redundant 🙂