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Category: Becoming a leader

Do you know “What you want to accomplish in your role?”

Do you know “What you want to accomplish in your role?”

I regularly ask this question to team members, colleagues, friends, and even my spouse.

Why? Because I believe a clear goal should guide each step we take, every minute that we spend. I believe in living consciously. Ironically, in modern life, we tend to have the clearest visions when we choose to let loose, to get away from work, to go on vacation. Our weekend and vacation plans are sometimes more structured than our career plans.

How do I know this? One in two people I ask this question to doesn’t have a clear answer. They are too busy with the day-to-day to reflect on their long-term goals. They focus their effort on what their boss or team needs of them today. Or they simply haven’t had a need to think about their goals yet. They just want to get a new job, or get the next promotion. Why think long-term if there’s a logical next step? Why spend time finding a problem we passionately care about when I’m already doing something seemingly valuable?

Because that is leadership. To react to external forces is not. Reacting without a clear goal in mind translates into doing everything that others want, without knowing what we want. Over time, we get frustrated at best, and feel lost and confused at worst. In my opinion, leadership starts by leading one’s life.

A big part of my role as a manager is thus helping people define, refine, and make progress on their personal career goals. In this blog post, I’m going to share three guiding questions to help answer “What do I want to accomplish in my career?

1. What do I passionately care about?

What problem do I want to work on?

To find a passion is to find a problem we want to tackle. A problem that speaks to us, and that energizes us more than other problems. This demands us to explore our values, to acknowledge our past, and to identify what motivates us.

There is an infinite number of problems in the world. People dying of diseases is one we can all relate to. Or the need to clothe people fashionably. The need to educate children so they become valuable and responsible adults. The need to protect our environment so future generations can depend on Earth for survival. The list goes on… The hard part is understanding ourselves enough to be able to identify which problems speak to us and which ones don’t. The more we learn about ourselves, the better our choice will become.

Is a problem more or less important than another?

In my opinion, the most important problem is one that I care about. A problem that I would lose track of time working on. It’s a sign that it makes me happy. Assuming that life is about being happy, how can anything else be more important?

One of my professional aspiration is “To breakdown barriers preventing us from understanding each other.” It speaks to me because I have friends from diverse ethnic, demographic, and cultural backgrounds, but I hate to hear about one group of friends speaking negatively about another group of friends, often based on incorrect assumptions. I also love opening my mind to different lifestyles, especially when locals from a foreign nation open their doors to me, and allow me to see a part of their daily life. I would love for everyone to experience that. To appreciate different mindsets, values, lifestyles, and not fear each other.

There are many ways to work on my aspiration, which leads to the next step…

2. What is my final destination?

Guided by our aspiration, it’s time to choose a goal that also fits our values, capabilities, and interests.

Ideally, what job position, role, or life do I want?

Thinking ideally at this step is important, because if we do not know what we want in an ideal world, then how do we know what we want in a constrained world?

For example, there are multiple options available if I aspire to relax. I can go to Disney World; I can stay home and watch TV; or I could travel to a beach in Bali. All are sound options, but I have to choose one that fits me. If I have a family and a week off, I may choose Disney. If I’m on a limited budget or simply don’t feel like going anywhere, I may choose to stay home. And if I want to explore a foreign country, I may visit Bali. There exist many ways to fulfill our aspiration. The final destination is a choice that we have to make.

One of my friend’s ideal role involved being in command of his organization’s Research & Development strategy. He wanted to shape the development strategy of future products. That came about from his aspiration to create new products and bring new value to the world.  He didn’t stop there. He also wanted to spend morning and evenings with his family, and also travel for at least 2 to 3 months every year to explore new perspectives. That sounds like a pretty clear career goal to me.

Is thinking ideally unrealistic?

It’s unrealistic if there are physical factors that are impossible to surmount. For example, we can never have more than 24 hours in a day, we can’t defy gravity, and we cannot be in two places at once. These are constraints we have to account for. For everything else, we can think Bold.

The fact that our ideal vision seems impossible or very difficult to achieve today is OK. Our final destination is not meant to be achieved today. It’s meant to serve as a guide. To give us direction. Some may say that we’re thinking too small if we work on a problem we can solve in a lifetime.

Should we ever arrive at our final destination, we will surely seek a new one.

3. What are possible paths to reach my destination?

Let’s first acknowledge there are multiple paths that lead to our final destination.

For example, if we’re going from New York to Disney World to relax with our family, we could fly there or we could drive there. If we drive, there are dozens of routes that all lead to Florida. We could even choose to take a detour to Pittsburgh to visit family before heading south. Which path we take is up to us, depending on our priorities, values, interests.

Where am I now?

Before choosing a path, it helps to acknowledge our current position. In the context of a professional career, this translates into our current role, abilities, skills, assets, resources… This defines our starting point. Our starting point may be closer to the final destination than we thought, which would be great. It could also be further than we thought, which is OK. The goal is to start taking conscious steps toward our end goal.

I had a friend ask herself “Where am I now” to unfortunately recognize that her role existed for no other reason than the fact that it existed before. Her job didn’t have a clear purpose or direction among the organization’s strategy. While it was a sad realization, it allowed her to set a new course for herself and move away from the current death trap.

What are my options?

With a clear starting point and final destination in mind, we can now identify all potential paths. What are possible first steps? What could follow after that? What do we envision happening if we took those steps? What do our friends, mentors, advisors think?

This is the moment to be creative and to avoid being bounded by existing structures. If one wants to become a professor at a university, sure he or she could get a PHD and start teaching. But if the individual doesn’t want to spend 5 years at school, there are other, creative ways to achieve the same goals. For example, many corporate managers and executives teach at business schools. Universities also enlist adjunct professors and guest lecturers that teach part-time. The point is that there are many possibilities beyond what is “common”.

A schoolmate I went to college with had the desire to lead her organization’s Quality Assurance division in an effort to streamline operations. Yet her organization didn’t have such a role available. QA was split across teams, each responsible for its own program. She identified several options to achieve her goal: 1) Merge all QA teams into one organizational department and lead it; 2) Create and lead an office that shares best-practices across QA teams; and 3) Outsource QA and manage that work. She then proceeded to investigate the pros and cons of each option, detailing potential outcomes of each scenario, and what changes needed to be made. She pitched her ideas to the CTO with help from her boss, recommending, in her opinion, the best option for the company. The result was that her organization saw the benefit of changing their QA programs, and asked her to lead the effort.

Which path do I pick?

Why not start with the one that will make us the happiest (it may not be the easiest or most probable, but one with the biggest reward)? Let’s rank our options from the most appealing to least, and start with our top choice.

Let’s also expect to face resistance and challenges along the way. Creative solutions will always face resistance. Let’s simply learn from any opposition and keep experimenting and iterating.

Can we take on multiple options at once?

Absolutely. Depending on what options are available, it may be convenient to try all paths at once. Let’s however be aware that the more initiatives we take on in parallel, the less energy and effort we can dedicate to each.


Recommended exercise

Do you know “What you want to accomplish in your role?”

What do you aspire to achieve? What does the final destination look like? What are plausible paths from where you are today to where you want to go?


Are you leading a startup team? Get started on the right foot with the Start-up Manager Handbook. And subscribe on the right for new insights every week!

30 lessons I learned managing people for the first time

30 lessons I learned managing people for the first time

I joined a startup out of college, wanting to effect change and make an impact right away.

Two years thereafter, I was thrust into a management role. It was exactly what I wanted. It started with a couple direct reports, and over time, I found myself leading 20 analytics professionals. Having no prior management training, I made many mistakes. People have quit, projects have failed, and targets have been missed. That said, I’ve also successfully helped the company grow from 12 to 100+ team members.

I owe my team for all the knowledge I’ve gained. The team that served as guinea pigs early on, forgave me time and again, and never gave up in our pursuit of success. Here are 30 lessons I learned on my journey so far:

  1. Don’t set any expectations with new hires, apart from the need for them to learn and ask a ton of questions. In other words, expect them to be curious. Expecting anything more has a high chance of catalyzing impostor syndrome.
  2. Before trying to influence people, first gain their trust.
  3. Perks, ping pong, and free beer matter less to team members than a purposeful mission, fast-tracked professional development, and fair compensation plans. Plus, all these standing desks, designer offices, and free food create a comfortable and entitled atmosphere that incentivizes chilling, rather than the underdog culture that pushes people to strive for more, to win. Which one do we want?
  4. It’s unreasonable to expect our boss to be perfect. It’s unreasonable to think that the CEO knows everything, and will always take the right decisions. We have a much better view of the challenges facing the business from down here. It’s thus our duty to speak up.
  5. One of the world’s top thinkers (Clayton Christensen) has researched and explained how to disrupt a market. We thus don’t need to reinvent the process or “figure it out” all over again. Let’s just make sure that our solution is actually disruptive and not sustained in nature (i.e. a solution that offers worse performance than existing solutions at first, and that existing clients don’t want right away, but that can be improved rapidly)
  6. Innovation isn’t brainstorming a ton of ideas and trying everything that seems interesting. There’s a systematic process that can make innovation projects much more effective, starting with problem definition, not problem solving.
  7. Forecasting is overrated. Scenario planning is much more critical when it comes to planning for the future.
  8. Managing my boss is just as important as managing my team. I have to understand that my boss doesn’t have time to explore what I need, how I’m doing, and what is reasonable to expect from me. It’s up to me to communicate all of that.
  9. As the organization grows, there is a tendency for teams to work in silos; caring only about their specific team goals. This can be detrimental to the organization as processes that require cross-team collaboration (i.e. everything) can break down. When/if that happens, everyone needs to come together and see the company as one unit, working towards the same goal.
  10. Surveys are misleading and lack context. Instead, let’s make time to observe. Observe team members to get a sense of their fears and motivations, observe customers to understand their pain points, and observe leadership for clues on the business challenges ahead.
  11. Toxic culture will destroy a companyThis includes both organizations where people stay silent and don’t bring up problems, and those where leadership listens to problems, but sweeps them under the carpet. Dishonesty prevents the company from seeings the obstacles ahead and plan accordingly.
  12. Don’t let instincts get in the way of a great work culture. Our subconscious can behave differently than desired, leading to biased decisions that hurt the company.
  13. Before hurriedly analyzing data to answer a question, let’s first why we care, what actions we plan to take, and what reports we envision being useful. Otherwise, it’s very likely we’ll get distracted by data and waste time.
  14. Adopting the right metrics helps to guide people when we’re not there and reminds them of what is important. It’s thus crucial for effecting change.
  15. Define the problem before solving it. Too much time is wasted solving the wrong problems.
  16. When it comes to decision making, the most important step is to evaluate all potential outcomes and to plan around each scenario. Nothing ever happens as planned, so we need to stand ready to face the worst case scenario.
  17. Before taking a decision, let’s first check our blind spot: Look for biases, subconscious tendencies, and invalidated assumptions.
  18. A hiring process is comparable to a sales process: A funnel with multiple stages that can be improved. The goal is to maximize the ratio of [people interviewed] over the number of [people hired and successfully working with us].
  19. Even A-players will feel unsuccessful without clear expectations and goals.
  20. Great insights are often lost because we don’t think to ask people about their past experiences. Before going live, let’s ask team members whether they’ve worked on similar projects, have experience with a new role we’re creating, or have previously implemented a change we’re considering.
  21. Implementing change is hard, because human beings are animals of routine. Before changing, we need to plan ahead, win hearts & minds, and reach mutual agreement. Ideally, change feels like a natural evolution everyone is excited about.
  22. Having too little processes makes operations chaotic, while having too many processes brings inefficiencies. A fine balance can be found via a set of guidelines that empowers team members to make individual calls.
  23. We should feel comfortable to disagree with our boss and challenge their opinion (with evidence). A healthy culture welcomes constructive debate and feedback.
  24. Shying away from having tough conversation and giving constructive feedback will make us frustrated in the long run. It’s a sign that we’re not comfortable exposing our thoughts. To make it less personal, we can focus our feedback on the behavior, not the person.
  25. Great leaders are also great coaches who diagnose, train, and support their team members. It’s unfair to delegate tasks to team members without diagnosing their capabilities first. It sets them up for failure.
  26. If someone is underperforming, they could be: A bad fit, not trying hard enough, or not getting the coaching they need. Work with them if it’s the latter case, but let them go otherwise. To avoid feeling bad when firing someone, set clear expectations, and give the team member a fair chance to improve. Let’s however not hold on to hope if there is no hope.
  27. Goals are important, but not more than everyday advancements. In addition to celebrating goals, let’s make time every day to praise team members’ effort and progress. This reinforces a growth mindset.
  28. +1’s matter. Showing support for other people’s ideas matters. It shows how popular an idea is, which influences the final decision. If we decide not to voice our support, then we are not entitled to complain after the decision.
  29. While we’re on this journey, let’s remember to breathe, to be mindful of the present, and to appreciate the value we’re bringing to our team, our company, and the world. There will always be a new mountain to climb, a new problem to solve. Let’s take time daily to turn around and appreciate the view on this adventure. Yoga helped me a ton with being mindful.
  30. Change jobs and move on when you’ve stopped learning and growing, when the culture is making you unhappy, or when you don’t trust the leadership.

 

Are you leading a startup team? Get started on the right foot with the Start-up Manager Handbook. And subscribe on the right for new insights every week!

Don’t let instincts get in the way of doing the right thing

Don’t let instincts get in the way of doing the right thing

I like to believe that I am an objective being, actively in control of my decisions and actions, especially at work.

Yet time and again, I find myself less than proud of some of my past behaviors. I’ve had demographic biases toward people; I’ve opposed arguments without assessing their basis; and I’ve agreed to ideas that are against my personal values.

Fact is, I am often a slave of my subconscious, of my brain running on cruise control. And I’m starting to recognize that like animals, I have instincts that are challenging to overpower.

Why is this a problem? It’s a problem if our actions differ from our desired actions. If our brain on autopilot takes decisions that go against those we’d take consciously. It’s especially a problem if our instincts get in the way of creating a fair, transparent, and innovative workplace. The type that startup companies in this globalized world need.

So let’s take a moment to recognize our instincts. Allow me to share three instinctual behaviors that get in the way of…

… debating with the boss

I can recall numerous occasions where I’ve disagreed with my boss and yet didn’t try to voice or argue the matter. I’ve disagreed over the team’s compensation plan, our holiday policy, and even our company strategy. Yet on many of these issues, I’ve kept my thoughts to myself.

Why?

Well, to survive of course. Self-preservation is the need to keep myself alive and economically healthy. It is also the reason I will avoid arguing with my boss. Fact is, I see my boss as the hand that feeds me, so the last thing I want to do is to create conflict and paint myself as an enemy. I simply don’t want to get fired.

How can I become more vocal with my thoughts?

Everytime that I disagree with my boss nowadays, I first note it down in my journal to first avoid losing that thought. I then let it sit for 24 hours to ensure that my reactionary emotions are gone. If I still disagree after that, I will start to work on a way to introduce my disagreement, gathering evidence to support my thoughts, and planning for the right time to speak up. I also find it helpful to state my goals (why I’m of this different opinion), because they are often the same as my boss’s goals, so it helps us start the conversation from the same footing.

… being excited about changes

Most people I know react to a new proposed change with skepticism. Not many individuals react to a surprise change with a “Hooray!” Ok, maybe extreme sport athletes do. But for most of us commoners, we love a good old routine.

Why?

For the simple reason that we are creatures of habit and routine. As explored by NPR and Psychology Today, our habits and routines help us navigate our days with greater ease, greater comfort. As I’m typing this blog post, I am not actively thinking about which letter to press on my keyboard, my brain has made typing a habit, and I only have to think about what I want to say. There are dozens and dozens of tools that each of us depend on to do our work. To become more productive, we make a habit of using all these tools.

Yet when things change, our habits and routines have to be reset. We thus are naturally upset by change. If someone was to change the letter placement of my laptop keyboard, I’d be frustrated regardless of whether it’s better for my health or not. It simply takes me outside my comfort zone and I have to re-learn basics of typing again. We thus dislike it when people change the tools or processes we’ve grown accustomed to.

Being skeptical of change is in my opinion a good thing – it ensures that we take the time to properly review any proposed change’s potential impact, and take the necessary precautions. Yet this instinct can also backfire when people are stubbornly opposed to change without reason. According to some studies, 70% of change management initiatives fail. I’m willing to bet that people’s instinctive opposition to change has something to do with that.

How can a workplace assess changes objectively?

On our team, we first make sure that there are no surprises. No changes are made or even proposed before we first accurately pinpoint the problem at hand. We then work to ensure that all stakeholders agree on the problem. Only then do we start working to find a solution to the problem. Since all impacted parties are already involved and have agreed to participate in solving the problem, there is usually little to no opposition to any proposed changes. They architected it together.

… objectively judging people, especially individuals that are different

When I interview candidates, I often find myself asking more questions to people that did not come from a background (education, experience) similar to those of existing team members. In a way, we could call it playing it safe, but on another level, I’m simply judging people differently because they come from different walks of life.

As I consulted colleagues from other companies and startups on how they handled these situations, it became clear that this problem exists across industries, and in companies large and small. Age, gender, education, ethnicity, and even fashion discriminations were rampant. My colleagues and I both suffered such discriminations as well as contributed to them. We realized that most of the time, people were not even aware that they were discriminating. We’re talking about really smart, often Ivy league educated managers that would fight for feminist causes or march with Martin Luther King should he still be with us.

Why?

In my opinion, it comes down to the fact that we fear the unknown. We are afraid of things we are not familiar with: Foreign cultures, people, ideas. Here, foreign can take the form of a different neighborhood in the same city, not just another country. In its worst form, our fear morphs into Xenophobia, as witnessed in the recent Brexit. Day-to-day, we avoid certain parts of the city, sit with colleagues that are similar to us at the cafeteria, or ask some people more questions than others at interviews.

Again, why?

The question then begs… Why in our multicultural society (at least in much of the western world), are we still so afraid? Haven’t we been exposed to enough different people, cultures, and ideas that we can comfortably shed away our biases?

Well, fact is that even though there are multiple cultures found near each other geographically, there are limited interactions between them. Cultures are not mixing.

Simply glossing over a demographic map of the USA will expose the fact that most neighborhoods in cities are segmented demographically. African Americans, White Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanic Americans can all be found living apart from each other, in different neighborhoods. How do we expect to really understand other cultures if we are never exposed to them? Do we really understand their differing values and cultures? The situation is even worse in rural areas and smaller cities.

So this leaves us popular culture to educate us on the values and lives of foreign cultures. Yet no luck there either. According to research from USC, 73% of actors in Hollywood are white, 13% black, 5% Asian, and 5% Hispanic. That means that we are all overwhelmingly educated on white American culture, but little else.

All these stats are further augmented by the fact that 75% of white Americans do not have non-white friends. White Americans thus have no clue about the values, culture, and ideologies of the ~70 million non-white neighbors they share their land with.

This problem persists in the startup ecosystem and Silicon Valley, where most people are White or Asian. It reflects the demographic of university populations.

So how can I avoid being biased toward foreign people / cultures?

Simply being aware that we feel safer around people like us, and less so around those that look and think differently is a good start. Acknowledging we need people who think differently for innovation may be the next step. Let’s not fear our differences, but embrace them. We are all different, not better or worse.

The next time that candidates are being interviewed, perhaps we should take cues from musical orchestras and do it behind a curtain with voices masked. I’m kidding. Let’s all start with being more aware of how our brain operates on cruise control.


Recommended exercise

The next time that someone proposes a change, at work or at home, on how we do things, take note of our initial reaction. Did we oppose it instinctively, or did we keep our mind open and curious?


Are you leading a startup team? Get started on the right foot with the Start-up Manager Handbook. And subscribe on the right for new insights every week!

5 Ways yoga makes me a mindful leader

5 Ways yoga makes me a mindful leader

There was a time when a day never had enough hours.

I’d start work at 7 or 8 in the morning, checking emails right after waking up. I’d either skip lunch, have it at my desk, or have it during a meeting. By the time I realized it’s already 7pm, I’d have gotten to less than half of my day’s to-do list.

And I loved it. Working gave me purpose. A busy day like that made me feel important and valuable.

Until it didn’t.

My family life hit many challenges. I was never present with them. On vacation, I’d get bored at anything we did, finding little value in spending time “unproductively.” I went in and out of top restaurants at the same speed as drive-thrus. And worst, I neglected my partner in life, my best friend, the love of my life. I spent very little time acknowledging her needs, often failing to listen… thinking that my life was more important.

That’s when I knew I needed to stop and smell the roses. I hadn’t been able to enjoy the moment for years… always preoccupied with the next step.

So I picked up yoga. I chose it because I wanted to take on an activity that I perceived as “useless” professionally, that would snap me out of my daily routine, and that would take me out of my comfort zone. And if I got a good stretch out of it, why not?

I thus signed up for a Groupon at a local yoga studio. It became the best thing that ever happened to me all year.

It was everything I expected, and more. It did take me over six months to start feeling what it’s like to live in the moment, to focus on what I’m doing. I still struggle at it. Yoga also made it apparent when I failed to be present: I simply fell from my poses. Falling helps me recognize my mind has gone astray, subconsciously. And that’s when I actively bring my mind back to the moment.

Ironically, taking the time to be away from work has also allowed me to reflect more comprehensively about work. That’s right, I owe to yoga many important lessons in leadership. Here are five of them:

“It’s ok to fall, it shows that you’re trying.”

My yoga teacher said this to me a lot when I first started.

I’d be falling left and right when trying to balance my poses. Her words encouraged me to keep trying and to push myself.

The same can be said of innovation. If we truly want to do something new, may it be a new product, new process, or new business model… we have to be OK with mistakes. We have to create an environment where team members are comfortable trying new things. It’s when we make a stretch mistake that we know we’re trying, that we’re pushing ourselves into unknown territory, that we’re growing.

“Observe differences, don’t judge.”

As a decision maker, it can be difficult to not judge everything around me.

Everyday, I have to judge individual team members’ performance, the team’s progress, the company’s culture, among other things. And it rarely stops when I go home. I keep judging my friends’ behavior, my spouse’s thoughts, and even strangers’ actions. I once judged a mother who seemingly was neglecting her child in a park… Yet fact is, I don’t even have a kid. Who am I to judge?

My constant need to judge also affected my objectivity. I’d often base judgements, and even take action, on unconfirmed assumptions and preconceptions. At work and at home. This hurt the people around me.

In one instance, I received note that a team member said something inappropriate. Without fact checking and without asking for that team member’s version of events, I proceeded to reprimand him. It fired back once we discovered that the person reporting the event misheard the conversation and took things out of context. The damage was done.

Then one day at yoga, we were doing a pigeon pose where we stretch our hips. After stretching the right hip, we proceeded to the left one, and the teacher said “Observe differences, don’t judge. Notice how the left one feels compares to the right.”

That’s when something clicked in my mind.

Being so quick to judge, I had forgotten the importance of observing things as they are. It impaired my objectiveness.

Slowly, with the help of yoga, I learned to simply observe. At work, this translated into spending more time assessing the facts before jumping to a conclusion. Instead of starting conversations with “I think that…,” I asked “Why is it that…” or “What’s the background on…” I became more confident in my decisions, but more importantly, team members trusted my decisions more.

“Practice non-attachment”

As I made my way to yoga class one day, I found myself with a substitute teacher instead of the usual teacher. I really enjoyed my usual teacher and reacted with some disappointment. Yet when class started, the substitute teacher said “I know that many of you didn’t expect me to teach your class today. It’s thus a good opportunity to practice the concept of non-attachment. To be OK when things don’t go as planned. To not be attached to a certain idea or desire.”

She was brilliant. Not only was it one of the best yoga classes I’ve attended, she also reminded me of the importance of being OK with not getting what I want. To simply go with the flow, react accordingly, and not be emotionally disturbed by surprises. Fact is, nobody can predict the future, so why get upset at something that was never certain in the first place?

At work, I applied this mindset when planning for the future. I favored scenario planning as opposed to forecasting when it came to strategic planning. I wanted the team to be ready if things went wrong, and not to be upset by surprises. We continued to try our best in achieving the best case scenario, but we were also much better prepared to face the worst case scenarios.

“Let the teacher and student in me honor the teacher and student in you.”

My yoga teacher ends her practice with this line every single class. At first, I thought to myself “I don’t get it… there’s nothing that I can teach her about yoga.”

Yet one day, while having a random conversation with my teacher, she asked for my advice on something about online marketing. It finally occurred to me that each and single one of us knows something that another individual doesn’t.

Armed with this mindset, I saw my team members in a new light. I perceived their diverse background and experiences as sources of learnings for me and for everyone around them. I actually went back and looked at each individual’s resume to see if I had missed anything about them. I also became a lot more active in asking whether anybody has had previous experiences when it came to implementing a new change or a new process.

Needless to say, I’ve learned a lot more from my team and my colleagues after seeing everyone as a teacher.

“Dedicate your practice”

At the beginning of class, my teacher often starts by asking us to dedicate our practice. I usually go to yoga without much planning, so that question always catches me by surprise. It forces me to ask myself “Why am I here?”

To which I’d respond with: To learn to live in the present, to avoid conflict with so and so, or to stop hating inconsiderate drivers. That question helped give meaning to the time I spend at yoga.

Then one day, I started asking myself that question at work as well: “Why am I at work today? How should I dedicate my work?”

To which I’d respond with: To help solve XYZ, to feed my family, to make a positive impact on…

On good days, asking myself these questions boosts my motivation. And on bad days, they remind me of the bigger mission I’m pursuing, helping to smooth out any temporary bumps in the road.

I can confidently say that dedicating my practice, and my work, helps to remind me of my life’s purpose.

I’ve been much happier since that first day of yoga. It helped me make some good headway in being mindful, in appreciating the time I spend with my family. And in addition to yoga, I also discovered a book that helped me reflect and practice mindfulness: Wherever you go, there you are. Highly recommended to all those that are always thinking about the next thing in line…


Recommended exercise

Let’s ask ourselves: “When’s the last time I didn’t try to get somewhere else?”


Are you leading a startup team? Get started on the right foot with the Start-up Manager Handbook. And subscribe on the right for new insights every week!

When is it time to move on, change job, switch career?

When is it time to move on, change job, switch career?

I acknowledge we all share different priorities, backgrounds, and ambitions, leading to very different career outlooks. I’m thus not going to answer the above question for anyone else but myself.

I do find it important to address this topic in the context of startup leadership. Moving on opens up an opportunity for others, while allowing ourselves to tackle new challenges. It helps everyone realize more of their potential.

What I’ve realized in asking myself this question is that there’s never just one motive. Deciding to move on from one role to another is the result of many variables. I’m thus going to share a set of questions that have helped me make such a decision:

“Am I the best player in the band?”

Learning new things every day is important to me. Therefore, if I’m the best person at doing XYZ at my organization, chances are I’m not learning about XYZ anymore.

To quote, Louis Armstrong (I believe he said this): “If you’re the best player in your band, it’s time to look for a new band.”

This can however be a tricky question to answer, since learning to teach XYZ to another individual is also appealing to me.  It’s not always about learning in the context of gaining new knowledge, but also giving new knowledge to someone else (especially as a leader).

In the end, it comes down to what my motives and goals are.

“Do I agree with where we’re going?”

It doesn’t matter if the company is heading toward a guaranteed gold mine or working on the trendiest technology. If the destination or strategic goals don’t jive with my personal interest, it’s a waste of time to me. I view the opportunity cost of not pursuing something I enjoy as extremely high.

For example, many people would jump at the chance of working on a space vehicle that goes to Mars, yet personally, I couldn’t care less. I am much more interested in solving problems with an impact here on earth.

“Am I more frustrated than I am happy?”

If I experience more anger, frustration, and sadness at work than I experience excitement, joy, and hope, it’s a sign I need to ask myself some serious questions.

My take on the goal of life is to be happy. If I am not happy now, I need to identify why, and do something about it. Yet sometimes, the negative emotions experienced at work can be r of issues outside of work. I thus need to be careful in finding the root cause of my negative feelings.

For example, I once experienced a period of frustration at work, getting upset at anything that didn’t go perfectly. I knew it was not related to work, but rather caused by an issue with my family. It was unacceptable and I needed to do something about it… So I worked to resolve my personal problem, which also made my days at work much more joyful.

“Do I trust the leadership?”

I need to trust that my leaders know where we are going, know why we’re going there, and are capable of taking us there. That they have an explicit strategy.

My trust for the leadership team tends to erode every time they say one thing and do another (words mean nothing anymore), don’t follow up on an ask of mine without explanation (don’t value my thoughts), or ignore concerns I bring up (don’t listen to what I have to say). At a minimum, I need to trust that they have the team’s well-being at heart. If they don’t, then there exists irreconcilable differences between my values and their. It would indicate that it’s time to move on.

A special case with inexperienced leaders / founders is their inability to act on their intentions. They will have the best intentions, but fail to execute. They lack skills, experience and knowledge. In that case, even though I trust their intentions, I do not trust their ability to lead. That’s a sign I need to advocate for more experienced leaders to take over, or move on as well.

“Am I excited to go to work?”

In one of my previous jobs, the first thing I thought about in the morning was leaving work and how I could shorten my day. I clearly didn’t enjoy what I was doing, wasting both my time and the company’s time.

“Is the culture toxic?”

Luckily, I haven’t experienced this first hand. But a friend of mine did.

His manager was verbally and emotionally abusive, often publicly blaming, shaming and yelling at my friend in public.

My friend didn’t fully recognize that his boss was wrong until he quit. The whole time this was happening, he felt responsible for the mistakes and problems blamed on him. It’s only when he compared his new job’s culture with his old one that he realized his manager’s behavior was abusive and discriminatory. To assess whether there exists an abusive relationship with our manager, I recommend reading the signs of abusive romantic relationships and replace “partner” with “manager.”

Beyond bad bosses, a company’s overall cultures can also affect our well being. Perhaps we’re selling products that hurt people more than they help, perhaps we’re deceiving our investors, or perhaps the culture simply doesn’t allow us to be honest with ourselves. If the culture is making me unhappy, it’s time to change culture.

Deciding to move on is difficult. It destabilizes our routine. Plus, we all have to pay bills, support our families, and respond to social pressures. Sometimes, no matter how unhappy we are, we stick with our job, thinking that it’s the best worst thing for us. I get that, it’s hard.

Yes, it does take courage to say no to a steady paycheck and look for a new job (which may not be any better), pursue a passion, travel the world, or found a company. But to make the switch easier, we can start by drafting a plan. Things suddenly get easier and look plausible once we identify small steps that we can take immediately, over the next weeks, and next months, to eventually achieve our goals.

We can work on our personal goals in the same way we helped our company achieve its goals. We can apply the concepts of scenario planning, market research, idealized design, and competitive strategy to our personal objectives. Don’t believe me? Many have done it… Check out “No fear no excuses” by Larry Smith.


Recommended exercise

Let’s ask ourselves: “Am I doing exactly what I want to be doing, and making progress toward my goals?”


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