Management, TRIBE, and other thoughts

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Posted by: stak
Tags: mozilla
Posted on: 2015-05-31 13:07:46

At the start of 2014, I became a "manager". At least in the sense that I had a couple of people reporting to me. Like most developers-turned-managers I was unsure if management was something I wanted to do but I figured it was worth trying at least. Somebody recommended the book First, Break All The Rules to me as a good book on management, so I picked up a copy and read it.

The book is based on data from many thousands of interviews and surveys that the Gallup organization did, across all sorts of organizations. There were lots of interesting points in the book, but the main takeaway relevant here was that people who build on their strengths instead of trying to correct their weaknesses are generally happier and more successful. This leads to some obvious follow-up questions: how do you know what your strengths are? What does it mean to "build on your strengths"?

To answer the first question I got the sequel, Now, Discover Your Strengths, which includes a single-use code for the online StrengthsFinder assessment. I read the book, took the assessment, and got a list of my top 5 strengths. While interesting, the list was kind of disappointing, mostly because I didn't really know what to do with it. Perhaps the next book in the series, Go Put Your Strengths To Work, would have explained but at this point I was disillusioned and didn't bother reading it.

Fast-forward to a month ago, when I finally got to attend the first TRIBE session. I'd heard good things about it, without really knowing anything specific about what it was about. Shortly before it started though, they sent us a copy of Strengths Based Leadership, which is a book based on the same Gallup data as the aforementioned books, and includes a code to the 2.0 version of the same online StrengthsFinder assessment. I read the book and took the new assessment (3 of the 5 strengths I got matched my initial results; the variance is explained on their FAQ page) but didn't really end up with much more information than I had before.

However, the TRIBE session changed that. It was during the session that I learned the answer to my earlier question about what it means to "build on strengths". If you're familiar with the 4 stages of competence, that TRIBE session took me from "unconscious incompetence" to "conscious incompetence" with regard to using my strengths - it made me aware of when I'm using my strengths and when I'm not, and to be more purposeful about when to use them. (Two asides: (1) the TRIBE session also included other useful things, so I do recommend attending and (2) being able to give something a name is incredibly powerful, but perhaps that's worth a whole 'nother blog post).

At this point, I'm still not 100% sure if being a manager is really for me. On the one hand, the strengths I have are not really aligned with the strengths needed to be a good manager. On the other hand, the Strengths Based Leadership book does provide some useful tips on how to leverage whatever strengths you do have to help you fulfill the basic leadership functions. I'm also not really sold on the idea that your strengths are roughly constant over your lifetime. Having read about neuroplasticity I think your strengths might change over time just based on how you live and view your life. That's not really a case for or against being a manager or leader, it just means that you'd have to be ready to adapt to an evolving set of strengths.

Thankfully, at Mozilla, unlike many other companies, it is possible to "grow" without getting pushed into management. The Mozilla staff engineer level descriptions provide two tracks - one as an individual contributor and one as a manager (assuming these descriptions are still current - and since the page was last touched almost 2 years ago it might very well not be!). At many companies this is not even an option.

For now I'm going to try to level up to "conscious competence" with respect to using my strengths and see where that gets me. Probably by then the path ahead will be more clear.

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