Adrienne Lowe shares her journey as an empathetic leader and how her goal to give people energy (rather than take it away) paved her way through a success engineering leadership career.
I have given a lot of thought about the kind of person I wanna be in the world, the kind of leader I wanna be. And ultimately, I wanna be someone who gives others energy rather than takes it away. There's so much in our life that takes our energy away, that drains us every day. But I wanna be someone who, to the best of my ability gives it, who inspires, who helps others discover and own and honor their own greatness.
There's this dichotomy between being a leader and being a person's manager. And this can get confused between “I am here to protect you” as opposed to “lead you.” And a lot of failure modes I find when people are overly on one side of the fence.
We should never withhold constructive or difficult feedback out of fear of reaction. I have only ever built trust by being real and giving that very difficult feedback.
When a company says, “we're going to measure the morale of our organization,” and it's abstracted from a leader- Google's really famous for doing this, which is, "Hey, we're gonna measure the overall morale of an organization of several thousand people to see how the executive is doing." It's of the worst things you could possibly do. You have to do it at the micro level to understand how it's working on your team, not the division. But it's not easy. It’s not easy to manage several hundred thousand people.
Executives need to be able to operate in two modes, and to switch between these modes at the appropriate times:
In sociologist mode, you should think, "what would our organization look like? What would it operate like and how would it act?" But then you have to slip into psychologist mode and answer, "who do we have on staff? Who do we have that's available? Who could we get, or who do we have as stars?"
Jason believes that most executives spend too much time in psychologist mode and not enough time in sociologist mode. You need to operate in sociologist mode to make business decisions and then figure out how they affect individuals.
Adrienne talks about Sympathy vs Empathy from a manager’s perspective as she reflects on something we often say on the podcast: The best engineering managers/leaders are those who come from being individual contributors.
But isn’t sympathy good? Why even compare the two?
Well, actually, as Dr Brené Brown puts it:
“Empathy fuels connection, sympathy drives disconnection.”
The ability to take the perspective of another person in an understanding and non-judgemental way allows you to “feel with the other person.”
Sympathy is distanced. It acknowledges that the other person is going though something, but it doesn’t provide comfort through connection.
“Rarely can a response make something better, what makes something better is connection.”
As a leader, being able to show empathy when having difficult conversations is absolutely key when you’re trying to help someone on your team move through a tough time. And, as a leader, you know you’ll have your fair share of those.
The shit umbrella is the unofficial title for the person above you at work, who takes the heat from management. This individual takes the shit, while people below him/her are shielded from management’s, well, shit.
Here’s why this is problematic.
As Part 3 of Zingerman's Guide to Good Leading, “A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Managing Ourselves” explores self-management techniques, and the secrets that helped Zingerman’s go from a 25 seat, 4-person start-up to a $49M business with 600+ team members.
The book includes essays on managing ourselves, mindfulness, leadership at the four levels of organizational growth, personal visioning, creating a creative organization, and more.
Adrienne: I started out in frontline tech support you know, with multiple monitors in front of me with a queue on the wall, seven applications, open phone ringing off the hook. And I'm, I'm talking to customers about bugs every day. Well, when I got promoted to engineer, you better believe I was super motivated to go fix those bugs I was hearing about all the time.
Narrator: Welcome to Developing Leadership, the podcast for engineering leaders where Eiso Kant and Jason Warner share their lessons on the ins and outs of managing software teams.
Today we're joined by Adrienne Lowe. Adrienne has had an incredible journey from IC to a senior EM to Head of Engineering at multiple tech companies, and is known for her writing on Compassion and Engineering.
She spoke about aligning your actions with your values as an engineering leader, and shared her winning recipes on bringing your full self to work.
We also talked about the anti-patterns and failure modes in the tech industry, psychologist versus sociologist modes and more.
As always, this episode comes with accompanying show notes with a deep dive into the main topics, mental models and key moments from this episode. Find them at developingleadership.co and linked in the episode description.
Eiso: Hi everyone. We're back again with another episode of Developing Leadership. Jason and I have a special guest with us today, Adrienne Lowe. Adrienne has been everything from an IC to a senior EM to Head of Engineering at a whole host of different technology companies. I first found out about Adrienne through her writing on Compassion and Engineering, and I'm really excited to have you with us today, Adrienne. Thank you for being here.
Adrienne: Thank you so much for having me, Eiso and Jason, I'm so glad to be here.
Eiso: So, while we were talking in preparation for this episode, you touched upon a question you asked yourself at some point, which was, "what kind of leader, what kind of engineering leader do I wanna be?" And I thought it'd be fitting to start off today's episode to ask you to deep dive a little bit into that. How did that question come about and, and how did you answer it?
Adrienne: Thanks. That's a really great question and a great place to start. So, I care an awful lot about people. I love people and I want to help those around me. I wanna help them. I'm driven by a desire to help folks do their very best work with clear communication, clear expectation setting, driving alignment, transparency into the work, visibility into the work, and supporting my people along the way and helping them feel like they can do anything. And in preparation for our talk today, I, I went back and I looked at some of the books and resources that I had read and, and helped me along the way. And, and one of them was by Ari Weinzweig, who's the founder at Zingerman's in Ann Arbor. And he wrote a book called "A Lapsed Anarchist's Approach to Managing Ourselves."
Because I think where this starts is how we manage ourself, because the way we treat ourselves shines to those around us. If we are authentic, if we are kind to ourselves, if we make our choices mindfully and with intentionality, if we contribute positively to those around us, if we're kind and creative, it'll show, and it'll show and it'll create a, a safe place for those around us to show the same in them. So I start by asking myself, what kind of boss do I wanna be from the center of valuing self-management and self-awareness, and then holding myself accountable to allow my actions to flow in alignment with that intention and that vision.
We've heard on this podcast before, the quote, I think from Maya Angelou, people remember how you made them feel, not necessarily what you may have said or did. And that's, that's what I, I want, uh, to inspire people. I want them to feel that they can do anything.
It's not a matter of any inherent quality, but them having the right resources and support and access and sponsorship, they can do anything because I, I, I believe that and I do sincerely care.
So, you know, coming full circle, I have given a lot of thought about the kind of person I wanna be in the world, the kind of leader I wanna be. And ultimately, I wanna be someone who gives others energy rather than takes it away. There's so much in our life that takes our energy away, that drains us every day. But I wanna be someone who, to the best of my ability gives it, who inspires, who helps others discover and own and honor their own greatness.
Eiso: That's, uh, that's a beautiful start. I think it's one of those beautiful starts we've had on, on, on this podcast series as if Jason and I are both sitting here, of your words, I, I want to kind of double click on one of these topics. You say, you know, I, you're one of the first leaders that I hear off the bat saying, "I want to make people feel like they can do anything." Can you go a little bit further into that?
Adrienne: Yeah. I just, I believe it's possible. I mean, y'all, I grew up on a farm in northwest Georgia. My dad quit school in seventh grade. Neither of my parents have degrees. I was the first kid in my family to get, uh, a degree. And I put myself through college. And I don't necessarily feel like I'm particularly special [laughs], but I do have this sense of, well, you know, I believe it's possible.
And it's the people around me believing in me and sponsoring me and, and helping me see my own greatness and what was, what was valid and valuable in, in my voice and in my unique contributions. I just feel so inspired to try to give that gift to others, to help them develop their spirit and, and support those in need around me and just respect and assist everyone I can at every, at every opportunity that I can.
That said, I do have real strong boundaries, [laughs]. So, you know, I, I do respect myself as part of this, right? I want to help, I wanna be good for others, but I am a person too. And, you know, so I do respect myself and there are behaviors and there are things that I see out in the world that, you know, I won't be part of. I, I won't lie, um, I won't cheat, I won't steal [laughs].
Apart from that, uh, you know, there's a lot you can do to support someone and, and help and help them believe that they can do anything. And that's, it's just feedback that I've gotten over the years from so many different people, from so many different walks of life. You know, just very, very different people telling me, "You made me feel like I could do anything." And that's a really wonderful feeling.
Eiso: So Adrienne, how much do you think, you know, you went a bit into your background and you also spoke about the fact that there's the things you wouldn't do. T- this makes me think that you have seen some anti-patterns in your industry [laughs].
You've seen some things. Do you think it is, is, is your story and your background that, that uniquely positioned you to care about the things that Jason and I have spoken a lot about on this-
... podcast of, of-
... of, of compassion and, and, and being genuine?
Where does it feel, and, and when it fills on your team or with colleagues that you or your peers or your report to, how have you, how have you tackled it?
Adrienne: Yeah, no, that's one of the reasons I knew I was in good hands with you two because you absolutely have covered this before. And Jason in particular, I have resonated with some of the things you've said in the early episodes about, you know, when you came to Silicon Valley and you saw these people who you'd, you know, you saw them as just the humans that they are, you know, were all fallible. And I, I really, really appreciated you saying that.
Because early in my career I did spend a lot of energy myself and then helping others understand why we don't need to put people up on a pedestal, why we don't need to, you know, make heroes or idols of, you know, folks in tech who we really admire. They're just humans like us. They struggle just like we do.
I think one of the things that, about my experience going to the early part of your question, Eiso, is I don't start from a center of deserving, uh, or relieving that I deserve to be here [laughs], you know, like that I deserve to be in my role as director because of my own innate cleverness. Like, there's something just special about me that that means that I should be in charge or from a place of just enjoying telling people what to do just because I can. That is one of the anti-patterns I see. Absolutely. People will get that title of director or head of, and maybe Jason can speak to this a little bit, and they take it as a license to just boss people around. "Well, I mean, I'm imbued with the power. Why can't I just do it?"
And I mean, I've seen it very recently where very senior people, very, very senior people have this attitude of, well, they just need to go do the work. Like what... You're the boss. Like, why are they just not listening to you? And I think when we walk around all day with this attitude of, "I'm so clever, I deserve, uh, to be here," which we do see a lot, it makes it that much harder and more painful to look within and do that necessary self-reflection, which will help us grow because none of us are perfect. We may have had through luck or connections gotten that job, but we still have some major blind spots. And if we walk around with this attitude of, "I deserve to be here, I'm so smart, everyone should just listen to me." It is, it is going to make, be that much more painful, you know, to look within and see all of the ways that you don't. And growth is so critical for how we grow and deliver for others.
Jason: I had a, I had a, a really good friend and his dad is well off, uh, he's done really well for himself in life. Started from nothing, built up a busi- a bunch of businesses, all that sort of stuff. And, um, one day we were having this conversation, this is probably 10 years ago at this point.
And his, he was reflecting on the conversation he had with his father and his, his father said something about like, like,
" they just need to go do this. They need to blah, blah, blah, that they need to..." Something like this.
And he said to his father, he was like, "Dad, when was the last time you ever had a boss?"
And he's like, "I never had a boss."
He was like, "You have no idea what it's like for this person who's running a bunch of your stores and doing a bunch of things to be in this situation. You're projecting something." And I, I see this a lot in Silicon Valley where a lot of folks who are in position to say, just go do something, have never actually been the boss. They've never, or never had a boss. They've, they've never been in a position of being an engineer or a line marketer or even a line salesperson.
You know, this, a lot of VCs or a lot of CEOs started out as VCs or CEOs in a lot of cases. And I find that if you don't understand that other side of the fence at all, you don't understand how to run organizations, you know how to dictate to organizations, but you don't know how to run organizations.
And I think about that quite a bit because I'm sure that all of us can experience the same thing. But Adrienne, you and I in particular, I grew up as, as an engineer, and I came up through those ranks. And I remember at one point I wanted to become a manager just so I didn't have to deal with my manager anymore.
So just because, so I didn't have to feel a certain way when I was interacting with them, but even more so the, the people on my team didn't have to either.
All my friends who were on this team, we were all getting beaten down and it was not a fun experience.
Adrienne: Absolutely. And you know, I've listened to a lot of y'all's episodes in the last week in preparation for coming on today. And you know, one of the things that I noticed y'all kept kind of hitting on and, and Eiso said, "I just wanna put this to bed forever," is, you know, you shouldn't mana- you shouldn't manage if you've never been an engineer.
And I was like, why are these guys keep hitting on this? I mean, I know, like part of my brain understands. But ultimately I came down I made this analogy of they want empathy, they want empathy. Empathy versus sympathy, right? Because sympathy feels good in the moment. You know, somebody sends you a card, "Oh, I'm so sorry for your loss, whatever," but they don't get it. They don't understand. They're just showing you that they care.
But empathy, they've been there, they understand, they know how you feel. And I think that's one of the things that catapulted me so quickly from IC to manager. I started out in frontline tech support, you know, with multiple monitors in front of me with a queue on the wall, seven applications, open phone ringing off the hook. And I'm, I'm talking to customers about bugs every day.
Well, when I got promoted to engineer, you better believe I was super motivated to go fix those bugs I was hearing about all the time. So I don't know, I just wanted to share that with y'all. If there are listeners out there like, "Why do they keep, why do they keep harping on that [laughs]?" I think that sympathy empathy thing is, can be really helpful.
Jason: I think... In your words here, I think sympathy can be faked-
... empathy typically can't be. So when someone's a genuine person and on the other side of the fence and they feel it, they're like, "Oh, this person understands-"
"... what's happening over here." And I think on the, and you know, even make, taking it a little bit further too, is I believe you could do that. And I think a lot of people don't because they don't know how to do that. They don't, they can't actually be empathetic because they don't understand. And the lack of understanding actually leads to negative outcomes. And so the, the other side of the fence, when I think about what I wanted to do with my career is show that I could have the outsized outcomes just like Silicon Valley drives for, but in the style at which I wanted to do it and I, you know, it might be more work for me, but it's possible.
And then, you know, along the way people told me I was crazy and you know, you're just, you're absolutely nuts to think that this is going to be a way to do this. It's just easier to be the thing that we've known for years. But then I wanna be who I was. I want to feel like I was going to be as effective. I think I would be less effective. And one of my, the greatest satisfactions I have personally gotten, even though I'm not managing people directly anymore, I love the fact that, and my wife jokes about this all the time, all the time. But I will have had... You know, 10 years ago, have had some conversations with folks who basically I end up letting go. And they will call me today-
... asking me for advice.
And that is one of the most satisfying things in the world because you realize that they understand now, maybe it wasn't back then, but they understand now that, one, I probably had their best interest at heart, even if I had the businesses best interests, I also had theirs. And the other side of fence is they don't have anybody else, which is a very sad state of affairs-
... too that in 10 years timeframe between when I had my working relationship with them to now, they probably haven't found anybody else.
Adrienne: Yeah. That is so sad. And I can absolutely relate. I mean, I remember once when I had to let someone go after a long process of trying to work with that person, the, the first thing I, they said to me after I delivered that news, you know, today is your last day. They said, "Thank you so much for your leadership and the way you've coached and guided me and tried to help me. It's been amazing and I, I won't forget it." And, and just like the people who contact you 10 years later, like they feel that authenticity, they feel that you really do care about them. And I wish there were more of us, but I think this podcast and your work here and the work of Lead Dev, I think that we are kind of helping a new generation. But I, I, I hear you like, it is sad that in that 10 years that there haven't been others to help coach and sponsor them.
Jason: For everyone listening, I have a term for, a slight term for this, it's not, not the exact overlap, but I call it I call it psychologist versus sociologist mode.
And I've, I might have talked about this already on the podcast and I think I need to write about it a little bit more, but executives need to be able to operate in two modes and use them appropriately at the appropriate times. And I find that they get flipped. I find that when an individual executive is sitting across from somebody else, they're actually trying to convince the other person to understand them. They're, they're saying, "I need you to believe me. I need you to understand me. I need you to understand this." And they're actually trying to sell the company's outcome and all that-
... in an indi- to an individual and they're having the wrong impact.
And then again, in, when they're in, in the exec room, they're actually sometimes making business decisions based upon a specific person. "We need to promote this person to VP otherwise they're gonna leave. This salesperson's the best, that sort of thing. And we need to make sure that their region expands, therefore we're gonna do weird, unnatural machinations on the business." All that sort of stuff. You need to operate in sociologist mode and make business decisions and then figure out how they affect the people and then understand how you can have that conversation with the people across from them and be in psychologist mode at any one time. And again, there's no root to why I think that there's massive organizational dysfunctions in Silicon Valley. Um, but I think that this is, this is one of the ones that I find to be the most common. 'Cause people just don't know actually how to lead and manage. And they, they, they flip the modes around quite a bit.
Adrienne: And is so painful when you are the one in that room with that executive who's trying so hard to convince you of something. It's like, "Do you not think I'm a person with a brain? Like I see what is going on here. Like, I understand what you are trying to do, and I do not feel heard at all. I, I feel like you are talking at me and I am not getting anything out of this interaction." Because, you know, for me, I think a lot of what drives me is I love to learn. I've always been a learner. I love to learn. And one of the reasons why I spend so much time listening is because I get inputs. You know, I get inputs that will help me make better decisions, will help me more fully understand the situation, the reality of what I'm working with.
You know, I made an analogy in, in a meeting recently where I said, it's like we're, we're as a group, we're putting together a puzzle, but all of the pieces are turned over so that you can't see the image, right? And that's gonna be a really hard puzzle to put together [laughs]. But if we turn those pieces over, if we understand what we're truly working with, then we can put that puzzle together a lot faster and we can get to our outcomes a lot faster. And I just, it pains me that those executives don't see that, you know.
Eiso: There's something you're, you're touching upon, Adrienne, that I think I'd like to take a step back on, right? So, so getting to that point where you are feeling you can really bring your, your full self to work. You can show empathy, you can be confident to... 'Cause showing empathy doesn't come without showing vulnerability. Empathy without opening yourself up, it's, it's not truly empathy. It becomes sympathy. And, and I like that model by the way. I think it's a useful one and it's gonna join the ranks of the Developing Leadership frameworks in the show notes. So please go check them out everyone. At what point did you feel you were confident in your career to start doing so? Because that also doesn't come overnight.
Adrienne: You know, I started right off the bat, y'all, I really did. You know, I was at a point in my life where I was a career changer. Um, I had been a small business owner and I wanted to learn to code. And this was about, you know, 10, 15 years ago. And I just, I just, I just felt like there was a moment where, why not be real? Why not tell people what I'm trying to do? And I actually started a blog, a, a website called Coding with Knives because I was a, I was a professional chef. I, I owned a catering company and I was a, I was a private chef for lots of families in the, the city where I was located at that time. And so I could make kind of cooking and coding analogies, uh, and, and give recipes and share about myself as I learned how to code.
And I talked about how it was hard, and thankfully there were few key people in the industry at that time, like Jacob Kaplan-Moss, Carol Willing, Russell Keith-MaGee, who were also talking about the importance of being vulnerable. And they were, they were saying that they struggle too. And I was like, "Well, if, if these great people can talk about, you know, how they're struggling and, and how they have self-compassion through it, you know, maybe I, what do I have to lose?" And so I've, I've just kind of been doing it from the beginning and it is hard. I mean, I'm nervous to come on this podcast today. But I have found again and again that the reward for taking the risk and trying is so much greater than not. So, so why not try?
Jason: One of the things I think you said there, said there too is, interesting because I think the vulnerability is one thing I think we can talk about more on the podcast too. I have always thought of this as, I just wanna show people that I'm an actual human too. And I don't, I didn't ever approach it with a nec- with a idea of necessarily being vulnerable, but I just want people to know that I was a human too and I struggled with things and I had my own fears and wishes and wants and all that sort of stuff. Or I was going through my own shit at home with the kids or the spouse or whatever it was. Because I think that's important to, to show them on the other side. One of the, the failure modes I see in this when people bringing this up and say, "This is who I wanna be too," what I find is that there's this dichotomy between being a leader and being a person's manager sometimes.
And this can get confused, which is I am here to protect you as opposed to lead you. And a lot of failure modes I find when people are on this side of the fence and they're overly here, is I will be... this is... and I think Google term the term shit umbrella.
Which is, it's us against everybody else. It's our team. We're the land of well put together toys and everyone else is the, the island of misfit toys type of deal. We'll be the, that sort of thing. And I find that if, if that is where people are in that spectrum, universally, that fails. And they themselves burn out, fail a- all across the board because it's, it's, again, it's actually a disservice. It is, that is to me, a faked empathy, sympathy land, which is more of a, I'm not sure how to describe this, but it, it never works out.
Adrienne: No. And it's a bit of an overcorrection as well, just to be fair. You know, a lot of people have had terrible bosses. They have seen anti-patterns, they have literally been yelled at. And, and I, I see that from some great folks it's an overcorrection. You know, they say, "I don't wanna be that, and so I'm gonna go way over." But you're absolutely right. I think one of the ways I've been blessed is very early in my leadership career, I saw that the shit umbrella thing was a total illusion. It was a total dead end. It is not the kind of person that I wanted to be or how I wanted to lead. I don't want to protect people. I want to live in the world of real things of reality and the shit umbrella is not reality. You know, that is protection and that is just, it's just not the truth. And-
Well, it's a coddling of a different type.
It is, it is, it is. And I, I don't think folks always realize that they're doing that, but I think it, it's along the same vein of being afraid to give difficult feedback-
... because you're afraid of the re- uh, reaction.
And we should never withhold constructive or difficult feedback out of fear of reaction. Lord knows, I don't. I mean, I have only ever built trust by being real and giving that very difficult feedback in a loving way, in a compassionate way, not in an asshole way at all. But it's when you, when you acknowledge the behavior, when you state the behavior, we state the impact of the behavior and you encourage a different, more effective future behavior that is a winning recipe, you know?
Jason: There's a, this goes back to podcast we just literally released yesterday on Calendar-
[laughs] loved it.
... this is about being liked-
... as well. Because I find that, again, like there's again, many different, there's never ever one reason why somebody does a certain type of behavior. You can fall into behavior or pattern for a lot of different reasons. But one of the most common ones in my, my view is that someone wants to be liked by their team. And so they'll, they believe that to be liked by their team, they need to foster this kind of attitude or, or approach or whatever. And again, you know, GitHub, Heroku and Canonical is my most recent history, and I would say that I've seen, seen this pattern emerge, which is the, the most telling way I've always seen it, is us v them internal to the company mentality.
And in that case, it's like they have a small, tiny tribe of people and they're going to, to work like hell to keep that tribe together. And is always been confusing as an executive for the past 10 years, is I try to foster the inside versus the outside, the email domain type of attitude. And this is like subdomain mentality and it gets really hard to work through. And I would hope that we as people in the world would generally speak, think of like inside or outside the earth boundary domain. But we're never gonna get there. Like just, we're never, it's never gonna be a thing. But at a very minimum, I wanna be inside or no, outside my family and inside the, outside the email domain for work and, and that sort of approach.
Eiso: A lot of this comes down to what we, we see as the personality types or the environments that make people want to be king or queen of their own kingdoms. Right? Like an extreme, and this is academia, right? Anybody who's been in academia, and, and if you think about it, most people coming into academia do not have that mindset of wanting to, to own their own little tribe and their own little domain, but the environment in which the incentives are set out, the size of the organizations, like start encouraging this. And all of a sudden you find yourself like in, in, in that environment.
I think at companies, we start seeing the same thing happen directly correlated with size, right? Because we, we just start falling off like, I dunno if it's Dunbar's number or, or if it's something else, like we start falling off the fact that all of a sudden both size and incentives no longer align to actually put the company first, because that's what we're talking about, right? And, and putting the, and, and I think people not realizing that putting the company first does not mean not putting people first inside the company.
Jason: It's, it's gotta be a very clear distinction. I think because again, like going back to sociologists and psychologists mode, like it's putting the company first is, is absolutely putting people first too. If you take the mentality of, you know, rising tide rises all boats, there's an approach to this. Now what happens, I think overall here is that we lose sight of that. The incentive structures are really important. They break down because it actually fosters internal competition or a whole bunch of other things. And then there's the notion of what your day to day looks like and where you as a leader or manager sometimes can draw your energies from too, or how you re you might reflect upon yourself. And again, going back to what I wanted to be liked early in my career, and I was not as confident, that was an important feedback mechanism.
How my team responded to me was an important feedback mechanism that I over-rotated onto. And then I'll flip around to one other thing is when a company basically says, we're going to measure the morale of our organization, and it's abstracted from leader. So Google's really famous for doing this, which is, "Hey, we're gonna measure the overall morale of an organization of several thousand people to see how the executive is doing." It's actually I think it's one of the worst things you could possibly do if you're taking a company view approach first, because you actually have to do it at the micro level to understand how it's working on your team, not the division. And it's, it's just causes all sorts of bad behaviors. But it's not easy. You can, how, how easy is it to manage several hundred thousand people-
... and actually incent to the right behaviors and stuff that's not, not straightforward.
Adrienne: Yeah. I, I was, I was delighted when Eiso asked you that question in that episode, how important is it to you to be liked? And I feel like, you know, Jason being vulnerable here, you and I took kind of opposite paths, you know, earlier in your career you were more concerned with being liked, early in my career, I got feedback that I was intimidating. Okay, now we know that that's pretty common. Women get that, you know, feedback that say we're intimidating, you know, when maybe we're behaving just as the men are, but for some reason with us it's intimidating. Setting that aside, there was some wisdom in that feedback at that time. You know, I, I did carry myself with authority. I did speak authoritatively in meetings and there was an element of that that I needed to grow through and understand that I didn't need to, you know, maybe be as forceful as I was being, you know, because I, I had legitimacy in that room I was there for a reason.
But so now later in life I find myself coaching managers who are very concerned with being liked even though they've been in the industry for a long time. And when I've found that, you know, come up on my teams, I've tried to get them to focus on the outcomes and the, the what we want, you know, whether we're doing sprint planning or, you know, capacity planning. Like what is the outcome that we're going for here? Because the outcome of being liked, frankly, who in the world does that help [laughs]? I mean, it doesn't even help me really that much. It certainly doesn't help the people around you or the company, and it's not, you know, ultimately what any of our ICs want as a desirable outcome.
They want you to help them grow in their career. They want you to help them give them good opportunities. They want you to make sure that they're doing valuable work as part of the critical path. Whether they like you necessarily, that's, that's not super top of mind for them, right? Um, we should create collegial environments where people can feel safe to fail and they can experiment and they can be who they really are, but that hyper focus on being liked can, can really cause some issues.
Eiso: Can you, I, I wanna throw, uh... and, and while I agree with you, I, I want to throw a tough question. We talk a lot about safe environments, high empathy. Can you sit in a room with someone where there's high empathy and it's a safe environment when the person acro- when you don't like the person across the table?
Jason: I can, I'll take a stab at this one real quickly. Um, I think you can, while difficult to do it, it's not the default. And I think that no matter who you are, you will fail doing it more times than you don't in some cases. Now, the way that I think you can approach it and do it is you, you, you, again, you divorce yourself from the person and you make it about outcomes and you make it about certain behaviors. I, I, a- again, something else I've said on here too is I don't need you to agree with me, I might need a behavior change.
And that is, that is a distinct difference is sometimes we're trying to get each other to agree with us. And actually at the end of the day, I don't actually like care about that, in many situations I just might need a behavior change or something else. And the, the only time I've ever had this where I still, I can still have empathy and almost vi- visceral dislike of the person is when they're subterfuge or there's, this person who's like intentionally trying to sabotage you or your career, your, your reputation, but they also have a shitty home life and you know that they were brought up poorly. But at the end of the day, here's something else I want people on the podcast to take accountability for too, to hear from the podcast and, and everyone else.
If, if you reach adulthood and you're paying taxes and you're 30, but if you're particularly 40 years old, you need to become a fully formed functional adult and you need to live in the real world. And, and yeah, we all, a lot of people grew up like I, you know, Adrienne and I sounds like we grew up very similar in a lot of ways. You, you get one, that might get you in a door, but it doesn't keep you anywhere.
It can't keep you anywhere. You might be able to get through a door or whatever because of the way you were brought up or, or some of the other functions, you actually have to still do the job. And if you're not doing the job at the end of... that's all I'm gonna say, you gotta, you gotta do the job,
Yeah. You, you have to be the adult. You have to be able to sit across from somebody. And even if you don't like them to use a phrase, you have to find a way to be effective with them. And for me, I don't mind being a dork, I don't mind sounding dorky. I will literally say things like, "Look, I wanna win. I wanna win and I want you to win with me." And how fricking dorky does that sound? But I don't care. And so I really try to let people know where my heart is, even when... And, and Jason, you and I absolutely have this in common. I have dealt with some major manipulation in my career and that hurts because I'm an earnest person and I, I'm somebody who trusts people and you know, when I see that, that that is very difficult for me, but we still have to work through it as best we can. We have to be grownups and you know, we have to focus on that outcome and get there together.
Eiso: I think you said something Adrienne and, uh, I, I usually, I, I don't talk as much about my, my past on, on this podcast as Jason does you do say something that really resonates. What most people don't know about me is that I, I switched schools probably close to about eight or nine times, having been bullied a lot growing up. And, uh, and until I was in my mid-teens, I was pretty much scared to talk to people. It's kind of funny 'cause I do a lot of talking these days, but I have learned that because of that I became incredibly hypersensitive to being in environments with people who are assholes.
And, and if you, if you ask me, you know, "Why is it good to be a founder?" [laughs], and like you said, get the opportunity to, to be the boss and then you never are truly the boss because you're, you're part of a, of a massive team of people trying to accomplish something is actually, I always say, well, you know, well you get to create your own bubble and, and I think this is the part where the, the shit umbrella becomes difficult, right?
Because when you have a leader who is trying to create a great positive well and winning team bubble inside an organization where the environment doesn't necessarily lead to that, it comes with the good and the bad sides of it. And that's the tricky thing here, right? I think the shit umbrella can probably be brought out into some framework that we think about it some day that separates it into, you know, the, the, the shit umbrella for good reasons, the one for bad reasons. The, the separation between still putting the company first and putting the, the people first, but in the right way. And I think this is what we keep coming on today that there, there's good parts to it and there's there there's bad parts to it.
Jason: Well I think it comes down to intention. Adrienne, before the podcast, you mentioned intention a couple of times. I feel like that is what, what, what's your the real motivation for creating the shit umbrella? Is it a personal gain or is it because there's so much anarchy outside of it? And yeah, you're, you can still expose your team to it and say, "Hey listen, this is going on and be real about it and here's what we're gonna do." But you know, the intention is still to, to create a high performing team. Not, not, not something maybe personal or, uh, selfishly motivated.
Adrienne: Yeah. And I think that's one thing that I've tried to do with my managers is create a safe space where they really can explore that motivation knowing that I'm not gonna judge them or I'm not gonna think less of them when the ugly things come out of their mouth. Like, I mean, I've discovered part of the motivation for some of this behavior is I'm afraid I'll lose my job. You know, if people aren't happy and they leave, well then I'm gonna be judged on retention and then I'm going to get a lower performance score. And I'm like, you know, thank you for sharing with that. Thank you for being real. I'm glad we've been able to create a space where you can share that. But we need to talk about, you know, what we're really optimizing for here and know that I'll have your back. You know, people leave for all sorts of reasons and we will talk through that as part of your performance review if we need to. But yeah.
Jason: I think there's two things, and probably worth explaining in another future podcast too, Eiso. But one of the things would be this is, they have a saying which is, " It's never a good time to introduce yourself to your neighbor when your house on fire. That work should have been done a long time ago." And [laughs], I think about this with your reputation inside organizations. 'Cause you get a lot of leeway if you have a, you know, cultivated a good reputation. And this is about having people across the organization know who you are. And you know, in that way, that saved me a couple of times because in some pretty caustic environments, people would say some nasty things about you that weren't true. And like, this is the weirdest thing about Silicon Valley is that people will literally just make stuff up.
They absolutely will.
And, and it's, and it's crazy. But the thing that saved me personally in that situation, I think others, is that, you know, most people who would hear it be like, "Yeah, that, that sounds like that dude that sounds like him. Okay, whatever." And they dismiss it. And interestingly, they dismissed the people who are bringing it up more. So I'm very thankful that that was a work that was done on my part and I felt good about it and that my reputation preceded myself that way.
But the other important part about some of that as well is that it actually, again, it broadcasts out to the organization some values that you hold and, you know, everyone has different versions of these for themselves, but also says who you're going to be and what you're going to go do. And many people don't do that. So they're unmoored in those values and they can change on the whims and things of that in, in the world. But you don't, you don't need to. Everyone gives you a lot more leeway and benefit of the doubt too.
Adrienne: Yep. And, and one of the ways I help do a reset on one of the teams where I was seeing this as a particular issue is I, I did an all hands with the group and I just said, "Look here, we're here to drive value for our customers. We are here to deliver real things. Shipping is our heartbeat, Shipping is how we learn. Shipping is how we do better. But why does all of this matter? Um, it matters because it's what we're here to do, but it also matters because it helps you and I care an awful lot about you and helping you grow and helping you create a track record of delivery that you are proud of, that you are excited about, that will help you be able to go anywhere and do anything.
So let's use every day, every ceremony, every moment, every opportunity to make it the best that we absolutely can so that you can build that track record so you are unstoppable. And hey, your managers are going to help you with that. They are going to support you through that. They're gonna make sure expectations are clear and that you have the tools you need to be successful." And that is the expectation I'm setting as a senior leader. And that is what I'm holding them accountable for.
Eiso: Adrienne, I don't think we could have better words to end today's episode on. That was fantastic. Thank you so much for being, uh, with us here today.
Adrienne: Thank you so much.