Today I want to share with you a lesson in leadership that caught me by surprise.

When I started as an engineering manager, I had to learn a ton of new things. Most of them were hands-on. How to run 1:1’s, performance reviews, and many more. But what are the things that make you evolve as a leader? They come from ideas that change your perspective.

I thought my first performance review would be about my hands-on skills. Little did I know my manager would share a lesson that would blow my mind.

Playing by the rules

Before I became a manager I played by the rules.

One of the teams I was a Scrum Master in, was drowning in important work. Compared to other teams we were quite small, with only 3 engineers. With an additional engineer, we felt we could stop drowning. Sure I can report this to my manager, but over time I learned these were never granted. After a few rejections, I stopped asking. And you learned what rules you need to play by.

Flash forward to the first months of being an engineering manager. My (now different) manager threw me a curveball in one of my first reviews. He mentioned that I never requested any headcount changes. And that a part of being a leader is that you now have the power to make changes. Not to just work “with” the team, but to make actual decisions about the team.

As a leader, you are the one who is making the rules. And you can change them if they are in the way of getting results.

I was so used to playing within these fixed boundaries. My mind did not even consider the option of changing headcounts on teams. Sometimes all you need is a perspective-changing idea.

From there on out, It clicked that I could:

  • Add or remove team members
  • Move projects to different teams for a better fit
  • Move team members for strategic needs

So the next time you are in a tough spot ask yourself. “Am I following the rules, or can I set them”?

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