I’m pretty swamped with career chats, annual performance review season (writing, meeting with all the organization’s managers and senior individual contributors to talk about everyone and how we can help them meet their career goals), and hiring for three positions that opened in 2021 (I hired 2/3 by the 19th of January, so I feel pretty good about all the work, even if it does feel like a metric ferk-ton of effort already). Despite being so busy, I try to schedule time for self-reflection. I wanted to share with you a brief scene from a recent performance conversation. During one topical conversation I had with one of my direct reports, I caught myself saying, “Look — your success is my success. I’ve got your back, but I need you to do your part: pay attention, and talk to me. “

I noticed, as I said this, that my words had quite the affect on him. I could tell from the long pause, from the hitch in his voice when he replied, that he felt deeply moved. I think he had never seen that kind of buy-in, at least not at the level I projected, from a manager before. (I wish I’d asked whether he had or hadn’t, honestly…I might sometime soon.) Having a strong effect on him meant a lot to me, in return. I like these moments.

One of the things I absolutely love about management is actually the ability to get to know someone at more-than-surface level, where I get to do what I call ‘play 3d Tetris’ with business goals, personal / career goals, project work, and deadlines. I get a lot of joy from meeting the business’ goals by fulfilling my team’s career goals. I enjoy meeting customer needs by crafting new business goals and massaging my teammates’ curiosity and their stated goals so that everything synergizes into a greater whole. (Except, I kind of hate that I used the word ‘synergize’!) I work to understand my space deeply, foresee and outline a compelling vision my engineers can get behind, and work to give it all life.

Hopefully as 2021 moves along, I’ll get to share with you, the blog reader, stories of building and sharing a vision, rallying the troops, and delivering customer-obsessed software. Wish me luck!

I have a longer post brewing in the back of my mind about how I formed my management thesis. The tl;dr: Over the years, I’ve had several truly terrible managers (and no, they weren’t all in my tech career, and no, I will never say who! So don’t bother asking, mk?) I’ve developed my management thesis more by weaponizing my self-awareness, than through any exceptionally good example in my direct manager position. All the while I occasionally think “no, I don’t want to be *that guy*”. I use that directional indicator to ‘sharpen my sword’ and improve despite the adversity of having terrible managers who weren’t in my corner, who would take advantage of my caring kindness. I’m also less of a pushover these days, thank goodness.

If you have any questions about how I learned to set reasonable boundaries, pay attention to my thoughts & opinions, etc. please feel free to comment or direct message me somewhere! I’m easy to find online. I’m sure I will write more on those topics, later. I just can’t be sure when, until I start to actually write.

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!