Guest

24

“I had to work really hard on controlling my own emotions, and finally becoming mature. A lot of growing to the most senior levels and in leadership is about maturity."

In this episode

In episode 24, Camille Fournier talks about the art of managing technical teams and why leaders should always strive to develop and improve their own skills.

Camille is the Managing Director of Platform Engineering at Two Sigma. Her previous roles include being the Chief Technology Officer at Rent the Runway, a VP and Technical Specialist at Goldman Sachs, and a Software Engineer at Microsoft.

In addition to a vast portfolio in the technology world, Camille is the author of two great management books; The Manager’s Path and 97 Things Every Engineering Manager Should Know.

Listen to this episode to learn about the importance of structure, repetition, and self-awareness as a leader.


Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the podcast with your colleagues.


04:31

Camille’s favourite manager

05:38

Being a technical leader, while also tackling challenges

11:06

Frustrating times can be remembered as rewarding times

12:27

Why you repeat information three times

16:44

Little structure is okay, in the early stages

18:11

Avoiding hidden hierarchy by adding structure to your teams

19:05

Formal engineering ladders

20:58

Adding structure is easier than removing structure

23:23

Promotions are about maturity, not just skill and experience

28:51

Overcomplicated processes and why this can fail systems

31:29

Resolving a culture of fear

40:12

Managing stress and preparing for hard conversations

42:38

Open Mindedness leads to more engaged, self aware and growing leaders, and teams


Resources


Episode Transcript

Aydin Mirzaee  2:27  

Camille, Welcome to the show. 

Camille Fournier  2:29  

Thank you for having me!

Aydin Mirzaee  2:30  

It’s great to have you on the show. What I wanted to do is something slightly unconventional, which is start by asking you about this quote, that you start off your book, and you have two books, you have the Manager’s Path and 97 Things Every Engineering Manager Should  Know. But in the beginning of the manager’s path, you have this quote that says, “The secret of managing is keeping the people who hate you away from the ones who haven’t made up their minds”. And I think this is a really funny quote, I’d love for you just tell us like, why include that, you know, what were you thinking when you put that quote there? 

Camille Fournier  3:05  

So I mean, look, I am not a person who takes herself super seriously, for better for worse. And I, you know, a lot of the managers’ path was about mispricing mistakes I made along the way of becoming a good manager, and whether I am a good manager now or not, I’m sure. You’d have to ask my team, they would tell you honestly. And I do think that for a lot of new managers, you know, you’re gonna screw up, you probably, hopefully, you’re not going to actually make people hate you. Right. I hope I hope I don’t have too many people who have worked for me who actually hate me, you’re gonna screw up. And you’ve got to be kind of kind to yourself through these screw ups, you want to learn, you want to grow and kind of move on from failure. Don’t get too hung up about trying to be perfect. We as you start this process, there’s always new things to learn. And, you know, don’t take yourself too seriously. I guess that’s that’s kind of the inspiration for that. 

Aydin Mirzaee  4:04  

Yeah, I love it. It’s, it’s incredible. And a great way to kind of set the tone for the rest of the book, too. You’re obviously Managing Director at two sigma today. You were CTO of Rent the Runway before that VP of technology at Goldman Sachs, written two great books. Before you become the management guru that you are, I wanted to rewind and ask you about who’s been your most memorable or favorite boss? And why? 

Camille Fournier  4:31  

So I mean, I think my favorite boss is a guy named Mike Marcel. He was my boss for several years at Goldman Sachs. The thing about him is that he has managed people, he may manage people now I’m not actually sure, but he’s definitely not a traditional manager like I have become, you know, I have definitely myself followed the managers path as it were right. I manage big teams, that is my career. He was actually always very much more of a technical lead, he was like a technical fellow on a very deep technical person, he would occasionally manage small teams, you may be doing that now, maybe he’s managing a big team for now, for all I know, he managed me the first time that I managed people, I became kind of the tech lead and manager for a subset of this very small core team that I was on at Goldman. And he was kind of the first person, he was the first person to put me in a management job, that was still actually very technical, which was what I wanted to do. So I had been offered management D positions at other times in my time at Goldman before that, but they were all very much more. I really like management. And I really wanted to stay very technical at that time. So he let me stay very technical and put me in kind of a leadership position. So he’s my most memorable manager, probably because he was, first of all, just like a wonderful human being very just like, hind very smart, he taught me how to really lead big challenging projects, and how to deal with people who are sometimes a little bit challenging themselves. And I think that he just kind of like set me up to be a thoughtful manager, but also to realize that you can manage and you can be, you know, you can be a manager, or you could be an Icee, I don’t, you know, just like to realize that it was a little bit of a choice in the matter, I actually think it was just, it was really valuable working for someone who made it clear that like, you don’t have to manage big teams if you don’t want to. But here’s how you do it. Well, if you’re gonna do the management thing, you owe it to the people you’re managing, even at a small scale, to do the best job. And I really respect him for that. I just learned so much from him. So I don’t know, he actually has one of the chapter intros in my book,  he wrote it and I still keep in touch with him and just, you know, learn a lot. 

Aydin Mirzaee  6:56  

Oh, no, that’s awesome. Did he do something in particular, like, I love this concept of like, if you’re gonna do it, do it? Well, you don’t have to do it. But if you’re doing it, obviously, you know, put your all into it, did he have a special style to him or something that he was that you remember him most for?

Camille Fournier  7:13  

 I mean, I remember him most for being so good at pushing me and the team. Without being cruel or hard on us. I remember him for things like telling me sometimes you gotta stop thinking and just start, start coding, start writing, start whatever, right? You know, which I always like. Remember that sometimes it’s like get out of your head, sometimes the best thing to do, you’ve been in your head for too long on this topic, just start doing something you’re going to learn more, if you just start after I remember him really well also, for, you know, he was the person who really taught me how to really run a long running hard infrastructure project and how to plan a project like that, at the level of detail that you need to be able to plan it to be able to be reasonably sure that you’re going to be successful. And that was a very painful process of me bringing a plan to him. And him saying not good enough, these areas, you need to go back and get a lot more detail on. And me doing that over and over and over. I just remember it as being several passes through that before finally getting to something good. And that was one of the most, it was a very hard process. But it was so important. I think, for me, learning a set of skills that I just don’t think I would have gotten to where I am today if I hadn’t learned them. And he managed to do it while I would get frustrated and you know, upset about it, but it never to the point of feeling like I hate this job. I just want to quit, you know, it was more like it’s temporary for the temporary frustration of like, I don’t know what I’m doing. And this is hard. But all right, like, Mike gave me enough to go on that I can go away and try again. And I and I’m getting closer to where I need to be. And and those things were really valuable. 

Aydin Mirzaee  43:27

So I have to ask you. So it sounds like you talk back on this. And you know, you look on it favorably. You learned a lot. It was good. He pushed you at the time. Did you like did you have favorable emotions towards him for doing that? Or did you dislike it? 

Camille Fournier  9:17  

It was favorable, I feel like I don’t ever remember not thinking well of him. I certainly remember being frustrated by the process. But you know, my best managers and I’ve had I’ve had a few now that I’ve been lucky in general actually, I think in managers that I haven’t had. I’ve had very few really terrible managers, my best managers and the times that I think of them most fondly. were the times when I was initially frustrated by the experience because I thought I was bringing them the thing they wanted or doing the right thing. And they said no, this isn’t right. This isn’t enough. This isn’t what I need and send it back to me. And some of them said that more nicely than others. I would have to say more

Like I was much more patient and kind, then, you know, when I, one of the things I talked about in the book was writing the strategy for to sit for the Rent the Runway engineering, or, which was something that I had to present to the board to become CTO about the runway. There were times when the CEO reviewed it. And she was like, nope, this is not it. This is not enough and isn’t good enough. And I wanted to tear my hair out, I was so frustrated. And why is this not good enough, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. This is so much more than anyone I know who has ever become a CTO has ever had to do you know, I have this whole story. But, you know, when I look back, that’s one of the best things she ever did for me was pushing me to not just own it and do something sort of lazy that actually wasn’t particularly strategic or thoughtful, but to actually do the work to get there. And so I think I do think that like, for me, at least, those times when I am a little frustrated with my manager, actually tend to be times when I’m growing, I’m frustrated, because I’m trying to do something. And they’re telling me it’s not enough, I hate it in the moment. But I tend to love it in retrospect, because that’s really the time that I’m learning, that’s of course, different from being frustrated by your manager, because they’re just like not listening to you at all. And, you know, you’re, there’s lots of other ways you can be frustrated, but when it’s frustration purely, because they’re telling you your work isn’t good enough, and you need to do better. That, for me, has always actually led to great periods of learning. 

Aydin Mirzaee  11:28  

That’s, I think, incredibly wise advice for everyone out there that is, you know, you should be uncomfortable at times. And so, as long as you said, and I think in all these cases, it was always well intentioned, it was always about, like, you know, raising the bar, and I think that’s super valuable. But you know, I will dive off on a point that you just mentioned, which is like, you know, it was fine, if they were commenting on the quality, or they wanted to raise the bar or, you know, get me to do more. But obviously, if they’re not listening to you that something else, there’s this other thing that you talk about in the book, which is kind of related, which is this, this concept of repeating something three times, it’s really interesting, because you know, oftentimes people I you know, I’ve complained about stuff like this, which is, I feel like I have to repeat myself three times before they even hear me. And what’s interesting is like, this is something that, you know, I think like a lot of people complain about, and you’ve just taken it and said no, like, this is actually a thing that you should expect to do this three times. I’d love for you to elaborate, like, Why Why is that even a thing that we have to repeat ourselves so often.

Camille Fournier  12:31  

Everyone’s busy, right? And everyone has their own ways of thinking about things, you know that you hear something and you think it means one thing, right, we often don’t take the time to make sure we really understand what someone was saying to us, like I do it too. I think I’m a pretty good communicator. But you know, there are definitely times when people say things to me, and I am sure that I know exactly what they want, and exactly what they’re saying. It turns out and you know, when we, when we regroup on the topic, I thought x and they thought y and those two things were very, very far apart. And so I think that part of it is that, you know, when you have to repeat yourself, sometimes it’s a matter of look, you actually aren’t that clear of a communicator, and also you’re being run through someone’s mental filters, or whatever those mental filters are. And so, you know, saying it three times saying three different ways, you know, saying in three different formats, helps them, helps them like, you know, triangulate right to what you mean, some of it’s just like getting their attention, right? Like, no, you really have to, like repeat it, if you if your boss hears it a bunch of times, they’re finally gonna realize, oh, like, this person is serious about this thing like this is not they’re not just going to drop it. They’re just venting this one time about this issue. They brought it up repeatedly. And that means I really need to do something with this. And I think that is, you know, that’s the other thing, because you know, people are, I guess people are busy, up and down, right? Everyone is busy. And so sometimes repetition is what’s needed to help people know that you’re really serious, right? Because if the other if you all you do is like jump at every single hint of an idea, or an instruction or an issue or whatever, you will find yourself overreacting way too much. And I think everybody knows this, hopefully, my engineering team knows this to some extent, right? But there are times when you know, as a manager, right, you’ll realize that Oh, crap, like, I didn’t realize that they took that thing I said as an offhand comment, as like an instruction to go change several roles. And I think experienced people who have been through that, realize that like that the boss is really serious, she’ll say it again.

Or, you know, they kind of know how to check the seriousness of a statement. So I think it’s just, you know, we’re all human. We’re all busy. We’ve all got our own impressions of things, repeating yourself helps it sink in also to really understand what you’re saying and makes it clear that it’s serious. 

Aydin Mirzaee  14:50  

Yeah, you know, I think the other reason why I really like this is because almost like arming yourself with the knowledge that many people operate in that way, no one’s trying to like it’s not against you. It’s not like you said something and they didn’t listen to you or they ignored you or something else, you just have to understand the mental filters, like you said, you know, for people who want to get stuff done within an organization, just being armed with that knowledge. That can be like a very useful toolkit, a tool in the toolkit to have.

Camille Fournier  15:20  

Yeah, absolutely. 

Aydin Mirzaee  15:21  

The other thing I wanted to, you know, kind of talk about was, you obviously, advise a lot of startups, Rent the Runway was a startup, you grew, it wanted to ask you about this thing that startups tend to do, which is when they started out, everybody is like, so passionate about this concept of like having a flat organization, no titles, we make decisions in a group Kumbaya. So you talk about this in the book, curious, like this concept of like, organizations with no structure, is there a place for them? Or is it a complete disaster, from the get go, 

Camille Fournier  15:56  

I mean, it’s not a disaster from the get go, right? Like, if you’ve got three people, and you’re obsessing over titles, or whatever, it ‘s not particularly healthy, right. And I think that there are a look, and when you’re in a very small group, where the mission is so incredibly clear about what you need to be working on, there’s more than enough work to go around for everyone. And you all feel reasonably equally incentivized you’re all you know, really bought in on the mission, maybe you’re all, you know, early employees, they all have a lot of equity, that will, you know, make you a lot of money, because if this company is successful, right? I think that in those situations, you know, they, they it’s okay to have like, you know, very little structure or very lightweight structure. I mean, you know, even in an early stage startup, at some point, there is a CEO, there is a founding team, they doubt they will have more authority, and the rest of the company, or there’s never like no structure at all, no hierarchy at all. But, you know, I am sort of forgiving in those very small, very, very early teams of not worrying too much about structure. And I do think that once you start to grow, you know, once you start to grow and mature a little bit, once you quickly find that like, you know, look, people human interaction starts to come in, right human politics, human habits, whatever starts to start to come into play. And if you don’t have any structure, and you’re starting to get to, you know, 10s of people, then the structure becomes whoever, the earliest employees or whoever’s best friends with the CEO, or whoever is loudest in meeting again, like maybe that’s okay, maybe if the CEO put the formal structure in place, it would also be the earliest employees or their best friends or maybe even who’s loudest, but having it be this kind of informal thing leads to uncomfortable situations where, you know, people feel bullied, they feel like they they don’t, you know, their, their ideas aren’t being heard. Um, there’s, there’s almost like, extra conflict. And there’s always some kind of hidden hierarchy, right, sort of shadow hierarchy that’s happening, where, you know, people who have the informal power or wielding it to decide what happens and what doesn’t. And I think that just, you know, that kind of tends to breed, just, you know, it just breeds like, unfair behavior, and doesn’t even have to be like, you know, bias behavior or like unethical behavior, it can just be like, look like, it sucks that the boss’s buddies are the only people who get to make decisions that people are gonna resent that and that, you know, that that kind of undermines the cohesion of the team. 

Aydin Mirzaee  18:46  

Yeah, I love what you said, which is, like, if there’s no structure, there’s going to be a shadow structure. I think that makes a lot of sense, in your opinion, like, at what point like, is it? Is it 10 people 2030 like when when do you actually need to like formalize teams titles and, and, and all that that comes with it? 

Camille Fournier  19:05  

Ah, it’s tough, right? Because I do think one of the things that I probably contributed to in the tech industry, and I think is mostly for the best, but I’m sure some people hate me for it is the like formalization of engineering ladders, as like a thing that you don’t really have much of an excuse not to have an engineering career path. There’s a whole bunch of them published on the internet now. And I was one of the early people to kind of do that. And I do think that a lot of engineers, so you know, for just about engineering teams, right? I think a lot of engineers kind of expect that even at somewhat early stage startups, and it’s like, look like, Where’s my career going? Am I you know, how do I become a senior engineer? How do I become a manager? How do I become whatever? And so I think that it’s harder these days to have teams that have really no structure and no career path, even at somewhat early stages, right? I don’t like to work with 10 people. You have to have that probably is a little bit of over engineering, you know, it’s probably it’s really good to have like some kind of teams, and you may need to have like, some distinction of like, No, these really are the more senior people, but I don’t know if it’s really that necessary, right? Once you start to get to 20, 50, definitely, right, you want some kind of structure, it’s very hard to coordinate, you know, 50 people, without any structure at all, you know, especially if you don’t have managers, like, you’re gonna have some managers 50, I hope, or else you’re really not doing right, but you’re probably going to want to have senior folks to teach the, you know, less senior folks, right, that it can sort of oversee some some technical decisions, or product decisions, or whatever. So you’ve got structure that’s coming in, whether you officially have it or not. Um, and so I definitely think that somewhere above 10, and certainly, well, below 50, you want to have some structure, and you can decide how much you want to put in, in the early days, it’s always easier, I think, to add a little bit more structure than it is to take it away. I’m certainly in the case of engineering, career ladder type things, right. So you know, growing from engineer, senior engineer to stuff, right, definitely companies, I’ve seen and heard about companies who had a lot of levels, and then they were like, oh, we’re gonna roll back to having fewer levels, that that tends to not go very well, it’s almost always a little bit easier to add more. But it can also be a little tricky to add more, because now all of a sudden, someone’s like, Oh, well, it used to be like, I just had to get promoted once to become a staff engineer. And now I have to get promoted three times to become a savage here. So, you know, adding is always tricky. It’s always a little bit fraught. But these are things you do need to really start thinking about, you know, at the, you know, between 10 and 50, sighs just because your team is going to want it or people are going to want it, you’re going to want to be able to offer them a career, a feeling of a career and career progression, you’re going to need to have managers and Senior Technical people, you’re delegating decisions to right, and those people need to be need to have some some more open authority in their roles. Because I think that I do think that is important, right? That it can’t just be the sort of shadow authority of who yells loudest or who is the boss’s best friend. And you know, and I think at that point, also, you can’t necessarily know everyone super, super closely to actually know, you know, who is the right person to make every single decision? So, you know, this is also scaling for whoever’s in the leadership role. 

Aydin Mirzaee  22:31  

Yeah, no, I think that’s awesome. And you also talk about this concept of like, breakpoint levels. I think that’s a thing that and I know, you come, you know, from, from Goldman in the early days, but that’s the thing that investment banks have had forever, right. Like, just analysts, I guess, to associate.

Camille Fournier  22:48  

 Yeah, yeah. And I think, um, I mean, a lot of companies call it like terminal levels, maybe now, I actually can’t remember why I called them breakpoint levels in the book, it was, you know, I have a terms that I used for like a year and that I never used again, and that might be one of them, you know, I think there are critical career progressions that sort of everyone makes to goes to a point. And then you have, you know, you see people branching into different kinds of careers, different kinds of specialties, some people prefer to just kind of stay is sort of one of those levels, kind of indefinitely, and they’re, they’re perfectly happy to do that. And I think as well as there are just like, almost like big jumps in maturity that need to happen between different levels, I think that’s actually a really big, that can be a really big thing for people to really internalize is that particularly growing in more senior levels, what you start to see is that there’s a, the, there’s a huge like, maturity component, that’s not it’s hard to really write that into, like a levels guideline. But you know, people who are really smart and get a lot done, but but you know, cause sort of challenging relationships in the process of getting a lot done, often struggle to get promoted past a certain point, because they just don’t seem to have the like, inner relational maturity, in our relationship maturity, to, to grow. And I think that, you know, I do think that is a big thing that you see, and in senior levels as folks who just don’t want to do the legwork for personal development, to get that maturity growth, that’s going to get them to the next level. 

Aydin Mirzaee  24:27  

Yeah, so that makes a lot of sense. And I realize for the listeners, we didn’t quite define breakpoint levels, but you know, the way I understand it, it’s kind of like, especially in the early stages, if you don’t get promoted to a certain level, then it’s either get promoted or you leave the company. 

Camille Fournier  24:43  

Not every company has this. A lot of companies sort of have it but there’s always a few exceptions. It can be a little uncomfortable if you don’t draw the level just right. Are you telling me I really have to like to fire this person who’s clearly doing useful work for me and isn’t demanding? You know, like a ton of money or a ton of my time or anything, just because they aren’t promotable to this next level, like these levels do exist, right. But levels are terminal levels, a lot of companies call them I think, at Google, it’s like, level five, whatever that equivalent is, it’s like sort of senior engineer, right? Where they sort of say, look like, you’re probably you should get promoted to level five, maybe a little finer. I don’t know, Google levels that well. But, you know, if you can never get promoted to that level, where we’re having to do too much hand holding of you, you’re not independent, I think at that level, a person is independent. And if they’re productive at that level, independently and great, they do not need to be promoted more, to have a lovely career doing interesting work at the company. below that level. The implication is like you’re still developing them, there’s a lot of coaching and oversight required. And so, you know, I think that’s why companies try to do this, is really just sort of separate out the folks that we really expect to spend a lot more time sort of hand holding as managers and the folks that are independent, and you know, capable of doing valuable work without a ton of oversight, even if they don’t, not necessarily going to go, you know, become the next CEO. 

Aydin Mirzaee  26:09  

Yeah, no, I think that makes a lot of sense. And so, and I love the work that you’ve done to open source some of these career ladders. So go out there and get it. And we’ll link to it obviously, in the show notes too. Camille, you have this quote in in the book from John Galt, and it basically says, “a complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. And a complex system designed from scratch never works, and cannot be patched. To make it work, you have to start over with a working simple system”.  Is there like a story or an example, where you can kind of elaborate where this kind of rule comes into play? 

Camille Fournier  26:51  

Yeah, I mean, I would bet that almost all of your listeners have had the experience of their critical system at their company that everyone hates. But every attempt to rewrite it has failed. And this is not necessarily because the people trying to rewrite it are not talented or capable. But that there’s so much in the evolution of systems so much gets baked into them, that is kind of undocumented and hidden, that it’s actually really hard to write them from scratch. So the systems become complex, by being useful and growing additional functionality over time. And being used essentially the act of using and growing and evolving a system is what makes us system complex. Actually a great example from my time at Rent the Runway, right, I came into Rent the Runway, and they had this giant Drupal, PHP based monolith that was running. Like most of the software for the company, they had some other systems for the warehouse that were separate, but it’s giant Drupal, PHP monolith. And it was really like getting crushed under the weight of its own complexity, the person who hired me was like, oh, we’re gonna rewrite all of this into services. And we did this hack day, and maybe it was a hack week, and we got, like, 80% of the way there, I’m rewriting the whole thing during this hack week. So we don’t think it’s gonna be really hard. Well, long story short, you know, three years later, or whatever, it was finally done going from, you know, the, the complex system that was the monolith of this, you know, website application to the complex system, that was the collection of services that represented all of that behavior. And then some new behavior was by no means a simple process, we actually had to start Well, you know, sort of piece of functionality or piece of functionality, start simple, redirect some of the traffic or some of the logic or whatever to the services, throw them out over time. And eventually, you know, get rid of the old model, I think you see this in like, teams and processes when you get these really over designed processes from nothing, right, you have no architecture review process at all. And now you have a process that involves writing this kind of doc and then getting these people to review it and then updating these jiras. And then, you know, checking this box and the system and getting a different group to review to do it, you know, those systems in default heart. Whereas if you have no process at all, and you say, Okay, we have no process, we’re gonna, we’re gonna just add a simple thing to start to start to, like, you know, track how we’re doing this. All right, and so having we have no architecture review right now. Okay, we’re going to say that, before we push any, like, Major, brand new thing, you know, into production, we will do a review of that with this small group of people right now you’ve gone from a, you know, no process at all to a simple process. And from that simple process, you may evolve something that is actually a little bit more complex, but it meets the needs of your team and the people and the systems that you’re building, in a way that if you start with we have nothing Okay, well here are the five people that have to be signed off. And you have to review this component at this part of the lifecycle and then test this way. It’s just never going to happen. Right? So I think that I think this is just like a rule that folks need to remember, because I think engineers are often extremely tempted both in, in management and process things and in technical things, to say, Well, I can just, it’s easier for me to rewrite this thing. Essentially, it’s easier for me to take this complex process, and just completely rewrite it. And you know, and I will capture all of its value, but it will be better to take this complex system completely rewrite it in a new language, you’ll be faster, better, smarter, and those projects just fail all the time. I see as he goes, process, these projects fail, really, just constantly. 

Aydin Mirzaee 30:44 

Yeah, no, I think that’s super valuable. I mean, and like you said, even for processes as well. So starting with something simple is often the best way to tackle there is something else that you you talk in the book, and I think it was, it was related to I guess, a performance review that you got at some point where, you know, inadvertently, you know, some people may have perceived there to be somewhat of a culture of fear, like within the organization, and so on and so forth. You know, it was very, really cool how you shared that in the book, and I think you even had a quote from that performance review. I’m wondering how you went about tackling this concept of culture of fear, like, and how long did it take to solve or mark it as solved? 

Camille Fournier   31:29  

Yeah, I mean, that was certainly a very memorable moment in my career, getting that performance review. And I, you know it is a, it says a lot about everyone involved in the situation, the people who are willing to write that feedback and share it with my boss, my boss probably wanted to share it with me. And I’d like to think as it says something about me that I took it, and I didn’t, you know, and I tried to actually do something with that feedback. my early years of my career, mostly were sent to goldman sachs and the culture at Goldman at the time was in the teams that I worked in was, you know, it was definitely a little bit of a like, top down, you know, the boss tells you what to do kind of culture, there was a lot of yelling in general, it’s hard for me to like, think about it now. You know, I didn’t personally get yelled up, for whatever reason managed to escape it, but I was around it. And I certainly internalized it. Now I’m at Rent the Runway, I’m running this engineering team. I’ve never done this before. I’ve never met run a team at this scale, the systems are very unstable, because we’re a startup and we’re going through this big rewrite, you know, the people are unstable, because it’s a startup and like, people quit as startups all the time, even when you’re doing, you know, great, great work. It was like a super special situation, I was actually pregnant with my first child, there was a lot going on, I’ll type a kind of personality, I am conflicted. And we’re comfortable with conflict. I’m used to, I prefer to have kind of open conflict that can be good. In some situations, it can be bad in some situations. And then I just like I had these very high standards, they weren’t being met, I was stressed out, I was in a high pressure situation. And the result was basically that, like, I was just not behaving well, right. I was, you know, getting really mad at people when things went wrong. I was blaming them, I was definitely yelling. And you know, so I get this feedback. And I’m like, well, crap, that is not the person I want to be, you know, and I think of myself as nice and fun. And you know, I don’t take myself too seriously. But I’m also super intense and super opinionated, and can be very intimidating. I had to really just like, take a step back and really start working so I had to work on how am I communicating with people when things go wrong? Am I losing my temper? Or am I taking a breath? Am I picking when I think something is really important? And when I’m just in a bad mood, or, you know, not feeling good about it? Right? You know, I still am a short tempered kind of person, I’m still an intense person, this is still, you know, I still occasionally get feedback about being intimidating. And I’ve just had to work really hard on controlling my own emotions, and finally becoming mature. And I said earlier, a lot of growing to the most senior levels and in leadership is about maturity. A lot of us, I think, have this mental image, that if you’re smart enough and talented enough, you can get away with being a jerk and still become really successful. And look, that’s obviously clearly sort of true, because there are plenty of successful jerks out there. Let’s not pretend like there’s not not some truth there. Most of us are not good enough to do that.

Camille Fournier 34:50  

This is not what I want, I did a lot of work. And a lot of I had a coach and multiple coaches that I’ve worked with, when I was at Rent the Runway just on like, Alright, like being aware of my reactions, being aware of the way I’m communicating, people meditating, you know, doing a lot of like, sort of personal introspection work, thinking about how I relax and unwind. And I’m just sort of aware of the person I’m being in various circumstances, you know, learning to let go and trust my team a little bit more setting up processes by which my team could show that they were, you know, doing things so that I would trust them more to some extent, right, I think that help helping the team be more like me being less scary, help the team perform better on the team performing better helps me be less scary, because I was less stressed out. And so it isn’t, there’s a little bit of like a virtual cycle that happens, right? You know, you apologize to people. I mean, I definitely spent time like acknowledging, I’ve screwed this up, guys, I hear this feedback. Thank you for giving me this feedback. I am going to work on it. I’m actually doing a similar thing right now, I did a 360 review this year. And you know, some of the feedback was still that, like, I’m still on the critical side of things, right? I’m not calling creating a culture of fear. I don’t think most people who work for you would say that anymore, I hope. But, you know, there’s still shades of that in me. And so again, I’m going through the process of I’m sorry that I you know, sometimes when I’m having, I’m not my best self, I get too critical, I shut things down. I’m not, you know, I’m not bringing kind of an open mindedness to my interactions, that creates a negative cycle. So my goal with all of these things is like, Look, as I work on myself, and give the teams opportunities to do well, I feel better, they feel better. And things just sort of get better in that way. But it took, you know, this was a multi year thing. I think by the time I left the runway Three years later, after that review, like nobody would say that I at that point had a culture of fear. But I you know, it probably took at least a year and a half to two years after getting that feedback before I felt like I had really done a pretty good job of getting away. 

[AD BREAK] Aydin Mirzaee  37:09  

Hey, there. Just a quick note, before we move on to the next part, if you’re listening to this podcast, you’re probably already doing one on one meetings. But here’s the thing, we all know that one on one meetings are the most powerful, but at the same time, the most misunderstood concept and practice and management. That’s why we’ve spent over a year compiling the best information, the best expert advice into this beautifully designed 90 Plus page ebook. Now, don’t worry, it’s not single spaced fonts, you know, lots of text, there’s a lot of pictures, it’s nice, easily consumable information, we spent so much time building it. And the great news is that it’s completely free. So head on over to fellow dot app slash blog to download the definitive guide on one on ones, it’s there for you, we hope you enjoy it. And let us know what you think. And with that said, let’s go back to the interview. 

Aydin Mirzaee 38:05  

Thank you for the detail on that. You know, I think what I love about your book is that, you know, it’s really from the very beginning, where you’re kind of like the technical lead all the way to very senior leadership. And, you know, this concept of like, you know, telling, you know, people that you know, to get to those senior levels of leadership, you really need a different like interpersonal relationship, maturity, working on yourself, I love that you elaborated that, hey, this is actually hard work. It’s not like you just flip the switch. And then like, everything gets solved. introspection coaching, you know, a lot of these things. And one of the things that, you know, we’ve learned is that, like, the greatest managers out there are actively working on becoming better ones. And again, thanks for all the detail on that there is this thing that is, I think, relevant that you also talk about, I don’t know if you still do this today. But you say that, like in the mornings, you have this exercise where you write free form content, is that a thing you still do? 

Camille Fournier  39:00  

So I will admit, I haven’t done that, probably since my daughter was born. So I now have two kids, and one of them is less than two years old. And I kept that habit up for a long time. But I think at some point, I stopped it I’ve actually been thinking about when do I want to bring it back or not, it wasn’t really helpful have it for me for a while of like, just dumping, you know, my stresses and thoughts in the morning into into writing is that is a little bit of a challenging habit for busy parents to do the practice a little bit more, and I think that right now is kind of is helpful. 

Aydin Mirzaee  40:06  

And yeah, what would you say is like the biggest thing that when you were doing it that that it helped you with and like who should do that? 

Camille Fournier  40:12  

I mean, I think the biggest thing was like, it just kind of helps like clear your mind, I think if you’re like, really, in a really big stress situation, I think being at a start up can be a really big stress situation, it would help me do things like land, how I was going to have conversations, or like, you know, get sort of feelings and emotions out. So when I had like, big feelings, big emotions, big stresses, big conversations, I kind of wanted to just like, write, like, how am I gonna have this conversation with this person, I think it was really helpful for that. So I think if you are a person who likes to write a feels, likes to think about things through written word, it’s very helpful for that, I think it’s less helpful. I’m in a situation now where, you know, things are less stressful, and I have stress in my life, but it’s much less, you know, sort of hitting me from all ends. And the way it was a startup, originally, that practice is actually for people who want to be more creative. It’s actually a creative practice. So aimed at like, people who want to be like creative writers, or painters, or whatever it’s like, do have creative writing to two pages in the morning or whatever. And I just never, I’m just not that person. Right? I’ve written, I’ve written a lot of things, but it’s all like, you know, advice, business stuff. That’s what I that’s just the way my brain works. So that’s what I ended up writing. And that was what was helpful.

Aydin Mirzaee  41:24  

We’ve learned a lot like chatting, obviously, we are going to link to both of your books. And we’re gonna put links to the career ladder, in the show notes, we just end off with old guests, just asking them the final question of for all the managers and leaders out there looking to get better at their craft? What advice words of wisdom resources, or like, what what would you leave them with? 

Camille Fournier  41:47  

Oh, I mean, there’s so much I think you You said it earlier, right? Like the best managers are working on it all the time. There’s always more to learn always more to grow, you know, I think it’s really important to figure out where do you need to develop, to kind of be the person you sort of want to be, and that can be either, like from a career perspective, but also just from, you know, the way you interact with people perspective. So, you know, my guess is some of the some of your listeners are just amazing people, persons, they don’t have this culture, if your problem that I do, and maybe the thing that they actually need to really develop is like, have you have hard conversations with people until you know, give them hard feedback, don’t shy away from the things that are hard for you, you know, if you really do want to be great at this job, it’s going to require getting out of your comfort zone, and you know, learning and I think the other thing I always have to remember is like, you got to be open minded. Nobody knows everything. A lot of management people is like, every situation is a little bit different, right? People aren’t computers, they’re not there. There’s no like one trick way to deal with every kind of person, I could not actually give you the formula for me right manager because that formula changes all the time. You know, there are things that I wrote about in the book that I did, and then I didn’t do and now I’m doing again, because they’ve worked in some situations, they didn’t work another security, stay open minded, keep learning, listen to your people. Even if you’re learning stuff that has nothing to do with management, you’re gonna go, you’re gonna go into work every day, and you’re going to be more energetic and open and positive and fun. I think the act of always learning is a is a very powerful one. So that I guess is my final advice. 

Aydin Mirzaee  43:27

I think that’s a great place to end it. Camille, thank you so much for doing this. 

Camille Fournier 43:30 

Thank you for having me.

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