A little over a year ago, I became the technical owner of an acute Telehealth platform. I quickly understood the gravity of what I’d been given and the impact our technology could have on lives. It meant we had to be super diligent in how we thought about communication, scale, and the way the technology was experienced by doctors, nurses, and patients. This was, in itself, a lesson in urgency for someone who already believes in urgency.
When I look back over the last year I can tell you that the technology is not what changed me. Turns out…a platform is a platform. Scale means something very different when you aren’t at Amazon. Precision is a whole new ballgame when dealing in strokes. And as easily as I can admit that as a technologist, I am not a doctor…I have learned that one will die if they hold their breath waiting for doctors to admit the inverse.
What changed me is what I’ve come to think of as the privilege of leadership. A year ago I took over the management of a team of Product Engineers (a terms that is some sort of blend of Product Manager and TPM to the rest of the software world). They became my direct reports as their previous manager decided to return to Amazon and after what was a very rough summer and spring. They started reporting to me while the team was still under the thumb of an engineering tyrant.
They became my team…slowly but surely…over the course of the next 3 months. And I can say without hesitation, that leading this team…and by extension the UX designers and engineers…has been the privilege of my career thus far.
I can break down why in 3 short statements:
- They gave me a chance. I suppose you could say that they didn’t have much choice. I was put into place without much fan fair and with ZERO knowledge of the platform I was taking on. And yet, they were open to me and my attempts to make us better. To make us stronger. To make us faster. To make us more honest about our limitations and more forthcoming about our badass skills.
- They tried new things. I know from experience that not everything works with every team. But this team was willing to try things my way. Sure, there was some complaining and some uncertainty about my methods. But the team (and I mean the entire team…Product, UX, and Engineering) gave my ideas a try. They overcame their own objections. They got serious about running scrum. They wrote 1-pagers and did t-shirt sizing. They built burn-down charts. They practiced ceremonies. They showed up for team meetings and spoke their minds in our 1:1s. When things didn’t work, they didn’t throw their hands up in frustration. They worked WITH me while I tooled and retooled the team towards success. And in the end, they made it all work and I was the one standing in awe!
- They allowed themselves to be seen. Too many teams are broken down by disappointment, poor management, and judgement. This team was cracked when I took it over. And when I asked them to let me see the wounding, they showed me. They told me how they felt they’d been treated unfairly. And they admitted where they themselves had gone wrong or made mistakes. They shared what they really wanted as individuals, as a team, as humans. They worked with me when I helped them unpack their baggage, decide what would serve us, and then repack the bags…lighter, easier to travel with, and eager for the adventure.
It has been the privilege of my career to be allowed into this team. To be trusted by them. To have their backs each day. To watch them build a kick ass platform. To watch them suffer the pain of loss that comes when your hard work isn’t appreciated or recognized. To celebrate with them. To cry with them. To give them all of my energy…and accept all of theirs in response.
I couldn’t be prouder of these lovely people. I am a better version of me because I was their leader. For every mistake I made, I am grateful for their forgiveness. And for every laugh, success, and win, I appreciate them letting me take part. I’ve never been so happy to show up for the fight each day. And I’ve never enjoyed buying the drinks more. 🙂
My next team thanks you…they don’t know it yet…but they do.