Celeste’s tenets for management

Lotus and turtle mural, painted on a retaining wall in Seattle.
I took a panorama shot of this mural on a recent winter walk. December 2020.

I like to use tenets to guide teams and projects, and for initiatives that cross team and project boundaries. Tenets are a pretty Amazon thing, but using tenets for your team, project, or initiative translates well to use in the ‘real world’, in my opinion. Tenets help you prioritize among many good ideas; tenets help you answer questions and challenges; tenets organize your thoughts about a certain space or theme area. Tenets also offer a convenient shorthand for sharing essential information – which I’m using here, to share my ‘managerial tenets’ with you.

At this point, you might be wondering — Why does Celeste have manager tenets? Management means different things to each of us, and while I find management to have deeply personal, critically important meaning, I might not find it easy to express that meaning to you in my day-to-day. So, I wrote this post instead!

In fact, you probably wouldn’t look at me in any single meeting and realize that I feel a sense of responsibility toward my teammates, business focus, and goal set. You’d probably assume I’m just chugging along like anyone else, trying to hold my head above water. But if you assumed that, you’d be mistaken! You’d also be missing some important context, and what you’d be missing, well, my tenets summarize that up pretty well. So let’s dive in! These are my tenets. Note, they are based on others’ “user guide”s and personal managerial tenets which I’ve collated, cut from, embellished, and added to over the years:

  • A healthy team requires a culture of trust, collaboration, and respect. Every one of you has my trust by default. Give me a fair chance to earn yours.
  • My job, and my goal, is to build successful, autonomous teams in which people can achieve career growth and a healthy work/life balance (or worklife harmony, or whatever you’d prefer to call it). I build and express clear tenets, charters, priorities, goals, and decision-making processes so that my teammates know what to focus on, and what they have permission to ignore. I like artifacts which contain plenty of context and may often stand on their own (but they don’t necessarily need to). These artifacts do contain enough data and information to justify their relative priority.
  • I believe in transparency and model it to the best of my ability. “What is happening and why?” … “What am I doing, and why?” …When you have to disagree & commit (and without a doubt, you will), then I will ensure you understand why I’m asking it of you.
  • I work for you. I measure my own success 100% by the success of the team — in delivering toward its mission, in the career growth of members of the team, and in the morale and drive of the team.
  • If I’m doing something you don’t like or don’t understand, please tell me. I’m not a mind reader. I want everyone to wake up in the morning wanting to work. If something is stopping you from feeling that way, let me try to help you fix it. Don’t suffer in silence.
  • I love systems: the repeated processes and actions that make people and teams successful. I focus a lot on inputs, outputs, and the metrics associated with them.
  • I love devops! If you want to learn about process improvements & process controls, you’ll learn a lot with me.
  • I love Amazon’s LPs. But first among equals, for me, is Ownership. Before you dive in, know what “done” is — and then get the details right.
  • “Escalation” is not a dirty word.
  • I believe that your “manager is the exception catcher”. Use your manager for that. Know that I will have your back.
  • I will always make time for you when you need it, but you probably need to ask me for time. I keep myself very busy. That doesn’t reflect upon you or your relative importance, by any means — it reflects upon me, and my desire to stay afloat in the current.
  • There will always be more work. Even so…You are important to me. You can pull me away from my work when you need me to support you and your work. It’s what I’m here for.
  • I hate, hate, HATE micromanagement. The times I micro manage, they’re not because I don’t trust people, but because I lack the visibility and information that I need to understand a situation & feel comfortable about it, so I start to dig deeper. A lot deeper.
  • Surprises rarely please me. Don’t surprise me with bad news. We won’t like the result.

I also use this quick / “lite” version for internal job descriptions and pitches:

  • A healthy team requires a culture of trust, collaboration, and respect. Every one of you has my trust by default. Give me a fair chance to earn yours.
  • My job is to build a successful, autonomous team where people can achieve both career growth and a healthy personal life. This requires clear tenets, charters, priorities, goals, and decision-making processes so that people know what to prioritize and focus on, and what they have permission to ignore or push back upon.
  • I believe in transparency and will model it to the best of my ability. What is happening? Why? What am I doing, and why? When you have to disagree & commit (and you will), I’ll make sure you understand why I’m asking that of you.
  • I work for you. I measure my success 100% in terms of the success of the team … in delivering on its mission, the career growth of everyone on the team, and the overall morale. If I’m doing something you don’t like or don’t understand, please tell me. I’m not a mind reader. I want everyone to wake up in the morning and want to work. If something is stopping you from feeling that way, let me try to help you fix it. Don’t suffer in silence.
  • I love systems: the processes and actions that make people and teams successful. I focus a lot on inputs and outputs and the metrics associated with them. I love devops! If you want to learn about process improvements, you’ll learn a lot with me.

Now I’m curious…What do you think — is this helpful for you? Do you understand how you might work with me? Do you understand how I approach work in general? Do you get a sense of how I run my teams, and what I feel is important, from this list?

I use these tenets to appeal to potential teammates, but I also use them to orient me to my own North Star. If something’s not on this list, then why am I spending a day on it? Do I need to iterate on my tenets and add this new thing, or do I need to drop the low-priority item and replace it with something higher-priority?

So what do you think – are you going to write your own tenets? If you don’t, well, what do you think is missing or needs to change in mine? If you do write your own, please feel free to share them with me!

2 Comments

  1. Thank you.
    This is really good to read and know there are managers out there who care. I have had really good managers out here at Amazon. However my time security met me with a bad team and manager to the point that a senior developer would try to push people out. I chose the high road and moved to a different team. I wish someone like you were my manager to have made my experience better since I was really looking forward to start a career in security.

    Like

    1. Aww, yeah, I classify stuff like that as “politics” and I can ensure you, I hate it when people play politics instead of respecting each other’s time and efforts! I’m sorry to hear that happened to you. There are other jobs available, in other security orgs! Hopefully you find the right one, someday.

      Like

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