What is this?
If you report to me, this document will introduce me to you as a human, give you an idea about my leadership style, and help you understand the ways you can rely on me.
If you are considering hiring me as your coach, this document will give you an idea about where I am in my own journey as a leader. But as your coach, I will support you, regardless of what your journey looks like.
The highest value of writing a Manager README comes from self-reflection. I tried my best to be as self-aware and honest as I can be while writing this document. But there are limits to what we can see and understand about ourselves from the inside.
If anything in this document doesn’t match your experience of me in reality—first, I apologize for misleading you, and secondly, I’m always learning, and appreciate your perspective. I’m open to feedback.
This document is not intended to cover my goals and plans for our organization, or my expectations of you as my employee, colleague, or a coaching client.
I see my job as creating an environment in which every person not only understands what is expected of them, but also feels like they belong, and are eager to contribute their best work every day.
Some people want more direction, others thrive with more flexibility. Some people are more comfortable speaking their mind, others prefer to listen. Some people are hungry for bigger challenges, others are content with where they are at the moment. My objective is to create the conditions in which everybody feels like they belong, despite our many differences.
I describe my leadership style as “mindful”. I’m influenced by Brené Brown, David Marqet, Sheila Heen, Simon Sinek, and Charles Feltman. Feedback, trust, curiosity, and belonging are the pillars of my management values. More about each below.
“When we give feedback, we notice that the receiver isn’t good at receiving it. When we receive feedback, we notice that the giver isn’t good at giving it.” — Sheila Heen
Feedback is the bread and butter of healthy organizations. We’ve all heard that feedback is a gift. It helps us learn, and grow, and get better at what we do.
Then why does it so often hurt, so much?
It is our innate human need to be loved, appreciated, and respected just the way we are. Yet, the mere existence of feedback seems to suggest that the way we are is maybe not enough. So, it’s only natural to feel defensive when we receive feedback.
It is my commitment to you that I will always strive to deliver my feedback with the care and kindness that all human beings deserve.
You can also expect me to be clear about what type of feedback you’re receiving (or I am expecting from you).
You see, most people understand the difference between appreciation and what we typically call “critical feedback”. But according to Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, there are three types of feedback: appreciation, evaluation, and coaching. And too frequently when we want one kind, but receive another, it leads to misunderstandings.
For example, imagine you are worried about your continued employment and want to know where you stand. So, you ask, “How am I doing?” But instead of clear evaluation, you receive coaching. E.g., “You can make much better estimates by spending a bit more time on breaking down projects into smaller tasks.” Which probably leaves you just as confused and worried, even if I’m in essence saying, “You’re doing great, here’s how you can do even better.”
My promise to you is that you’ll never have to guess where you stand with me or the company, and whether it’s appreciation, evaluation, or coaching I’m offering to you.
Even more importantly, I am deeply committed to creating and supporting a culture where it is clear to everybody that the reason we’re giving feedback is not to criticize, but to help us all grow as human beings.
Consequently, I welcome all feedback to me, either private or public, written or verbal.
I am deeply committed to staying curious. When we hear something that goes against what we believe to be true, it is all too natural to react with skepticism and judgement, declaring “this is BS”. Instead, I ask myself, “what’s making this feel like BS to me?”
What I’ve found over the years is that leaning into curiosity allows me to continue to learn and evolve, revise what I believed to be true with new information, and understand the other person better, which is incredibly valuable!
Naturally, my curiosity extends to receiving feedback. Whenever I hear something about myself that I have an immediate negative reaction to, it’s a reminder for me to lean in and dig a little deeper. There’s almost always something useful there.
"Trust is choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person's actions." — Charles Feltman
Trust is a fundamental building block of a team. If there is no trust, there is no team.
Some of us might consider trust to be something that has to be earned. Or perhaps we might believe that trust is first given unconditionally.
The truth is of course that it’s both—trust is a two-way street, and it starts with a choice. According to Charles Feltman, we choose to trust someone when we can say that:
- they care about others, not just themselves
- they are truthful and sincere, they say what they mean, and they mean what they say
- they are competent and able to deliver on their promises, and
- they are reliable and keep their promises.
The corollary is that Trust equals Predictability and often, especially in times of great uncertainty, like the last couple of years, even the little things can make a huge difference.
What you can expect from me is concise, to the point, and frequent communication about what is happening in our organization. Even when there are no updates, you can expect me to say that exactly, so you never have to wonder.
Contrary to popular belief, I probably don’t know how to do your job. If you have a plan or an idea, I welcome you to simply say, “George, I intend to…” I might ask you some clarifying questions or to provide more context if I have any confusion or misunderstanding. But very likely I’ll just respond with “very well.”
I choose to trust first, I believe that everybody is doing their best in their circumstances, and you don’t have to earn my trust. I also allow that trust is not “all or nothing”. It’s possible to trust a person in one situation or with one set of tasks, but not another. If we ever get in a situation when I don’t trust you with something—for example, if we determine that you don’t have the necessary skills—rather than distrusting you completely, we’ll simply take the measures to deal with the situation. Such as exploring the ways to increase your skills.
Belonging and Boundaries
“People are hard to hate close up. Move in. Speak truth to bullshit. Be civil. Hold hands. With strangers. Strong back. Soft front. Wild heart.” — Brené Brown
We all have filters and biases we acquire from our parents, teachers, our peers, the rest of society, and our experiences. Nobody is free of biases.
What makes an organization inclusive is the understanding of this simple truth and collectively developing the tools and skills for working with it, instead of against it.
The first of these skills is being able to become aware of what's happening for me, what meaning I’m making of things, and different emotions I’m bringing to the table. And then articulate it clearly and skillfully.
The second skill is the ability to step into another person's shoes and imagine the world as they see it. And then with genuine curiosity move from "this is BS" to "I wonder what makes it feel like BS to me". Then, again, to skillfully let them know that I understand or at least working towards understanding.
The third skill is the ability to step above the fray and name what's happening for me and for them, AND hold both of those often seemingly contradictory realities as true.
When we commit to getting closer and holding hands with strangers, as Brené Brown puts it, we’ll eventually have a real conflict. Painful, hard, and uncomfortable conflict. We’ll want to fight or to check out. Staying curious and considering all points of view during conflict is one of the hardest skills to master. We typically think that admitting our opponent has a point will mean betraying ourselves. In situations like that, I’m reminded of this quote:
"We're never so vulnerable than when we trust someone. But paradoxically, if we cannot trust neither we can find love or joy." — Walter Anderson
If we want to find joy in our work, we have to be willing to be vulnerable.
But do we have to put up with someone who questions our very existence? Is there a line that should never be crossed? Yes, of course!
I draw that line at physically threatening other people, taking advantage of other people, and dehumanizing other people. You can count on me to act decisively and swiftly when this line is crossed, either with behavior or language.
If you report directly to me, we’ll meet 1:1 for at least 30 minutes every week. Longer and possibly more often at first, then adjust the frequency, duration, and intensity as necessary.
When conducting our 1:1s in person, I prefer to go for a walk outside, so we’re not staring at each other across the table in some windowless conference room. But your preference overrides mine, and I’ll ask you every time.
What we’ll discuss in our 1:1s depends entirely on the situation, but my most important goal is to connect with you as a human being, not just my employee or colleague.
If you need to talk to me before our next 1:1, you don’t have to ask my permission, just send me an invite or a Slack message.
Meetings, aside from our 1:1s, must have an agenda published ahead of time and action items captured and possibly published afterwards. If either of these conditions is not met, it’s not a meeting but a social gathering. You’re free to skip any social gathering you do not wish to attend, no explanation is necessary. This is not controversial, I hope.
If alcohol is served in a meeting, it’s not a meeting but a social gathering. You’re free to skip any social gathering. This is probably controversial.
I do a lot of my communication via email and Slack, and I treat both as asynchronous. Meaning, I might send you a Slack message after you log off for the day—you are not expected to respond to me in your off hours or on weekends. Similarly, you can email and Slack me 24×7, and I might respond to you immediately, but I probably won’t.
If you’re on vacation, and we can’t resolve a problem without your help—it’s my fault, not yours. You never have to carry your work laptop with you or check your work email or Slack messages when you’re on vacation. Please disconnect and enjoy your time off! Likewise, when I’m on vacation, I’ll make sure there’s somebody you can reach out to in my absence.
Books, articles, authors mentioned and cited in this document:
- Brené Brown’s books
- ”Dehumanizing Always Starts With Language” by Brené Brown
- David Marqet’s books
- “Thanks for the Feedback” by Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen
- Simon Sinek’s books
- “The Thin Book of Trust” by Charles Feltman
This document is a perpetual work-in-progress, find the latest version here.