Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Over the past several months, I've noticed an alarming trend in the way I answer questions. When asked about a product feature or a particular nuance regarding a release schedule, I find myself responding with a shrug of the shoulders and a simple "I don't know. I'll have to ask my team."

This trend forced me to examine my role. As a manager and to a large degree, as a director, I had command of each issue, task, and aspect of a software release.

When our customer support team would urgently inquire "What is the status of issue ABC?", my immediate response would be "It's being coded today, tested tomorrow, and a patch is shipping to three customers Friday".

Those days are gone. What changed?

Have I lost mental ability? Have I risen to the infamous level of incompetency? Am I slipping?

I think I finally figured out the answer. I matured.

Laugh if you will, but I am 100% serious. You see, 15 months into this Vice President role, I am beginning to act like, well, a Vice President. I'm not talking about the Dilbert pointy haired boss stereotype. You know, the one who is essentially an idiot, unable to inspire or generally function as an adult. No - I'm talking about beginning to think holistically about the business. In other words, contributing to my company's financial health (not just budgets and headcount, but sales, revenue, and margin), culture (not just organization charts, but how we think about each ourselves, the broader company, our markets, and our customers), and operations (not just product development, but marketing, support, services, customers, and so on).

It's not about losing my mental capacity or becoming incompetent. It's about me letting go of details.

I simply can't know everything going on anymore. As my responsibilities grow, I can't be everywhere. We all try to stay in our comfort zones. When I was promoted to Vice President, I fell into the same trap I did when I became a first time manager years ago. I kept doing what I did before, and assumed that the "new" part of my job would settle down once I learned it.

I continued to attend meetings that I should have let my managers run without me. I continued hanging around developers and designers making tweaks to the product (when I should have worked with my team on my vision for the application).

By clinging to what I had done well in the past, I eventually started to hate being a Vice President. I subconsciously yearned for the comfort of knowing everything going on. Fortunately, somewhere along the way, I realized that I have a team to build software. My job is to build team identity, product vision, and grow my managers to eventually take my current job. Their job is to deliver "results".

This realization has given me a new found understanding of what being a Vice President means.

In a future post, I'm going to be joined by friend and colleague Igor Vershynin. Igor and I will further explore our thoughts on what it means to be a senior leader. For now, please take a moment to share your experiences regarding when you first realized you had to let go of details. I am eager to find out if I'm indeed "normal" or "crazy".

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