Lara is an author, public speaker, and coach for managers and leaders in tech. At Wherewithall, Lara and her team run workshops, roundtables, and training sessions on core management skills like delivering exceptional feedback and setting clear expectations. Prior to her role at Wherewithall, Lara spent her time as an engineering leader while championing management and authoring Resilient Management, a book that aims to help managers or leaders support their teams.
Listen to this episode (or read the transcript below) to learn how to support managers or leaders in your network.
1 When was the first time you started to manage or lead a team?
I started when I was at a DNS company, and it was one of those situations where there were no managers to be found in my area of engineering. I wanted to change the world and really see if I could do it and it wasn’t a recipe for success. A lot of us had to learn the hard way before we really understood what being a good manager was all about.
2 What was the biggest mistake you made early in your career?
The biggest mistake I made was assuming that everybody was like me. I assumed that everyone was motivated by the same things that motivated me and I also thought they cared about the same things that I did.
I remember one situation where there was an engineer on the team who was just not having it and he would give everyone the silent treatment and I had such a hard time figuring out how I could improve the situation because I couldn’t empathize with him or figure out what was motivating his behaviour. It took lots of listening and learning for me to be able to understand that everyone’s different and everyone is going to react and behave in super surprising and different ways.
3 How do you integrate new leadership practices within your team?
I like to tell people to do two different things. The first one is to simply tell your team you read a book or heard something in a podcast that you want to experiment with and put it into practice.
Next, I like to tell people to just say “I’m going to ask you some really cheesy questions” and proceed from there by really playing up the experiment. From there you can start asking the important questions like “how do you like to receive feedback” and “what are your goals for this year”?
4 How do you handle feeling successful when you shift and begin a management role?
It is such an important thing to start talking about because a lot of people that shift into a management role may not immediately feel as successful as they would have when they were an individual contributor because they don’t have the same metrics.
It’s hard to feel a sense of progress or improvement because you don’t always see an immediate impact on what you’re working on. One thing that I learned after I wrote Resilient Management is that our brains are wired to need socially visible progress to feel any sense of success. So much of management work is behind closed doors and you’re making hard decisions that you can’t really talk about so it’s hard to get the sensation of socially visible progress.
5 How do you figure out if someone is a good manager?
I like to look for how things progress over time, so I like to look at things like the promotion rate. Are people on the team getting promoted at a rate that’s equal to the rest of the organization? Are people switching teams to get away from them or are they hiring new people? I’m also looking to see if other teams want to work with this team. Are they isolated or siloed? I also want to know if each person on the team is presenting their work and how much the manager of the team is owning the optics of the work that their team is producing versus how much they are supporting and uplifting the people that work on their team. How is this manager helping the people on their team learn and grow?
6 Can you expand on the “bicep model”?
Paloma Medina is incredible, and she developed this concept. She’s done a ton of research on productivity and how humans interact and perform at work and from there she created the bicep model.
If you google Paloma Medina and Biceps, you will be presented with six corners that humans have at work. The B stands for belonging, the I stands for improvement and progress, the C stands for choice which means having flexibility and the chance to have more control over your surroundings, the E stands for equality and fairness which refer to being part of a supportive environment, the P stands for predictability which refers to the certainty you have surroundings things like money and hours and the S stands for significance which refers to your status, visibility, and recognition.
7 What can leaders do to help people overcome sensitivity to predictability?
The number one thing that leaders can do is ask questions. It’s extremely important not to make assumptions which is a mistake that tons of leaders make. I have a lot of really great resources on my blog that you can use to understand what your teammate’s core needs might be, and which ones may currently be threatened.
8 How can managers embrace coaching?
I give a workshop on mentoring, coaching, and sponsoring and I start off by asking everybody what one thing a manager has done that has skyrocketed their growth and no one ever says that it was mentorship.
Mentorship is advice. Giving mentorship is teaching and sharing your perspective or sharing what you’ve seen work or not work. As knowledge workers, we’ve been taught that mentorship is the biggest thing that we can give to somebody because it’s our biggest source of value, but it doesn’t help people grow at all. It helps people get unblocked and it helps them get onboarded but everything beyond that should be a coaching or sponsoring experience.
Sponsoring is delegating big projects or giving your team stretch assignments that put your reputation on the line and coaching is the one-on-one experience that is all about providing the person you’re coaching with the ability to connect their own dots. It’s about helping other people unlock the answers that are already within themselves by providing them with the space and time they need to reflect. It’s all about asking questions that prompt introspection while leading them to the answers they need.
9 Can you explain what a manager care package is?
When you become a manager, you’re often left to your own devices, and you don’t receive a lot of official training or support, so we decided to make care packages for people that are transitioning into management or going through a tricky time as a manager.
The care packages are put together by hand and curated by me with stuff that makes the recipient feel supported so it may be something your manager is sending to you when you get hired or promoted to a new role.
Everything in the care package is really loving stuff like cookies and aromatherapy oils but there are also tactical elements like tools and resources that help recipients lead successful one-on-ones. My book Resilient Management is included as well as other worksheets to help recipients be successful in their new role.
10 Do you have any resources or pieces of advice that you would like to offer to leaders that are looking to improve their craft?
I would say receiving coaching. I can think of so many occurrences during my career where my manager couldn’t give me the support that I needed to grow or overcome challenges.
I would connect with leaders or other managers so you can learn who’s coaching them because there are tons of amazing management and leadership coaches out there that can help you and give you the time and tools that you need to introspect and figure out what you want to do with your role or what you want to accomplish so you can feel a sense of improvement and progress.
I’ve been with my coach for many years, and it was a game changer for me. It helped me figure out who I wanted to be as a leader and a manager, and it also helped me identify what I could provide for the rest of the community. She’s helped me identify so many of my own stumbling blocks and challenges and it’s truly been invaluable to my career.
11 What’s an additional piece of advice for those that can’t afford a coach?
Something that should be done in tandem with coaching is building out your manager crew or support system. One person can’t be your everything so it’s important to build out a diverse network or connections that carry all different kinds of skill sets. You can start by figuring out who’s already in your network and identify gaps or holes that need to be filled.