During one of my last dot com forays (prior to the bomb era), I remember one of our business associates pulling me aside after a particularly grueling day at work. We had been in some of the same business planning and technology requirements meeting. I was the CTO and he was playing a dual role as a domain expert and business manager for our growing equities research arm. Like most professional traders I’ve come to know he was as brash and arrogant as he was exceedingly competent at his job – something I welcome and can deal with (we’ll cover that on a later post). He and I had built a rapport mostly revolving around his keen insights and my sarcasm rooted in self deprecation. I’ve fixed the latter. Mostly.
But on to the story.
He laughing pulled me into his office as I walked by and closed the door. Inviting me to sit with one of his infuriating knowing smiles. Did I mention it had been an exceedingly long day? As he beckoned me to sit, he opened up with one of his signature lines
“You know, you’re like the team’s dad.”
I was a little dumbfounded. Things started to click into place. He took my silence as an indication he could go on.
“That’s what this team needs, a dad. Not a touchy, feely mom, but a Dad. The team knows you love them and go to bat for them, but they also know there’ll be hell to pay if they fuck up. And you’ll be the one to make sure they pay.” (I did mention he was a professional trader.
“I see.” Was the best I could rally with
“No, I’m being serious. They know they can joke around and horse around with you, but they also know when it’s time to put down the nerf guns and crank out the sweat equity. And they know when you walk in there with a belt and they hop to it. I’ve seen it.”
“So …?” Yes, a man of few but mighty words.
“So I wanted to tell you you’re doing a great job something Mark (our CEO and my report-to) doesn’t tell you often enough. He’s hard on everyone and you’re hard on yourself. Cut yourself some slack, you’re doing great, the team loves and respects you. Don’t doubt yourself.”
“Gee, Shane, uh, thanks.”
“Ok, great, now get the fuck outta my office and back to work, or do you want a sandwich with that side of ass-kissing.”
Haha. Much laughter and back slapping and off to work we went.
What Shane said stuck with me. It has defined my management style and almost all of my managers have always noted something similar, regardless of what level I’ve managed at. It does fit me and I’ve been blessed to have strong teams who’ve always delivered results and taken ownership of their messes, gladly burning the midnight oil to meet commitments and deadlines, knowing I never abuse that drive. It’s a cross between herding cats, fishing and breaking horses. Somewhere in that nexus is what it takes to be a leader of engineers. It’s where I’ve lived for over fifteen years and I look forward to getting back to that nexus.
Hello, my name is Sam Adams and I’m the team dad. What’s your style?
Dilbert – Managing the Impossible