Ugggh! That “work for me ” reference !

I’ve been managing people for over 10+ years. Starting out, it was not easy. My first team was at Diageo where I was promoted to head the marketing intelligence team. It included folks who were my peers, some older than me. I also collaborated with them prior as an individual contributor before becoming their manager. They were high performing, focused, and self-sufficient.

In my first days, I struggled with delegation and where to focus my own efforts. I also wanted to keep the status quo of being “liked” and great buds. One day, an analyst on my team said to me – “Steven, I see you busy over there, and I see you deep in the mix. I’m still seeing Steven my peer from decision support role, who I worked with closely prior and not Steven my leader/manager.”

The problem was, I did not make the switch from individual contributor to leader/manager. An “IC” focuses on his/her deliverables, getting the job done, crushing the job, and supporting well. A leader builds, mentors and coaches a team to do the former. They do not care about the credit for getting it done, they care about the team getting it done. Her feedback was a wake-up call that changed how I approached leadership forever. It was the start of my journey building performance teams as I understood my role clearly. It is not about me; it is about the team. I am not here to deliver individually; I am here to help my team be the best version of themselves to deliver outstandingly.

With that, I developed an interest in developing, coaching, mentoring, and supporting. My key role is to remove roadblocks, understand who my team wants to be, aligning their strengths to the mission and guiding them to execution. They do not work for me, I work for them. They are not here for my goals; we are here for our goals. At the end of the day, they come on my team and leave as a better person to deliver beyond what they were employed to do.

It is for this reason I have a pet peeve with the term “person a/b works for me.” I may be touching on a hot button here because this reference is widely used, but it gels the wrong way for me. I lead the bus and if the GPS coordinates are set right, that destination was defined with the input of everyone on that bus. We are all clear on where we are heading. We are all training to be drivers, to be mechanics, to be engineers, to be whatever it is we are enthusiastic about that also aligns with the bus getting there within goal. If they work for me, then they are focused on what I want and not what the bus needs. I do not own the bus; we own the bus. I do not own the goal, we own the goal.

Here is how I approach my bus ride:

  • Understanding the bus we’re taking out the parking lot
  • What’s working on the bus, what’s not?
  • Where are we heading and what’s the goal?:    
  1. Is it to get there quickly?                  
  2. Is it to get there with half tank of gas?     
  3. Is it to get there with ¼ thread on the tires?

The goal defines the strategy.

Did you choose:

  1. “Get there quickly?” Floor the gas and plot gas stations along the way         
  2. “Half tank of gas?” Keep it steady at 20mph and break minimally               
  3. ¼ thread tires?” Stay on asphalt only, inflate to 40psi and keep within 50 to 60mph range

Who is on my bus?

  1. What are their strengths/passions?
  2. Who do they want to be when they grow up? Race car driver? Engineer? Tire Specialist?
  3. Align passions/future states of my team with the pillars of the strategy
  4. Define it clearly, and have them build the plan
  5. Share the plan with entire team and stakeholders to gain buy -in. 
  6. Execute

This roadmap has led to numerous business turnarounds, advancement of careers for others and as a by-product advancement of my own. 

Look closely and you will see that none of these steps are about me, they are about getting the bus there. I am here on the bus to coach, mentor, support and work through roadblocks. If someone on the team needs help, my sleeves are rolled and I’m changing the tire with them. In my world…no one “works for me”, we work together, and I happen to be fortunate enough to be the leader and coach for the team.

This is Steven!