On capability and capacity; week 5 as an Engineering Manager

On capability and capacity; week 5 as an Engineering Manager

April 11, 2021

Accountability, capability, & qualified yes

Yet another awesome quote that I picked up from a PM,

Accountability must come with capability

In other words, if you ask someone to do something, make sure that they are enabled and empowered to do it. Likewise,

If you are asked to do something, make sure to ask for what you need in order to be equipped to do it.

"Accountability must come with capability" feels like a heuristic principle for getting to a "qualified yes", a term I picked up from Sylvia Ann Hewlett's Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor. A qualified yes is when, instead of self-selecting out of an opportunity because of caveats, you go for the opportunity and work through/negotiate the caveats once the opportunity is secured. In other words, if a door is going to be closed, don't let it be because you closed it on yourself.

Mental models for saying no

The right "no" is just as critical as the right "yes". You need capacity in reserve in order to remain adaptable and explore new opportunities.

A heuristic that I picked up from a colleague for figuring out what to drop or delegate: If a life event came up such that you could only work at ~80% of your normal capacity, what things would you drop and what things would you keep in focus?

Some additions that I picked up from an EM: For the things you'd keep in focus, are they things that you are expected/required to do, interested in doing, or both? What does that distribution look like?

Living values

Want candor? Make it easy for people to be candid

Do you ever find yourself asking, "do I have the social capital to spend on giving this critical feedback or asking this challenging question?" When people find themselves asking that of themselves about something I've said or done, which I imagine is an inevitability, I want the answer to be "yes" more often than not.

To achieve this desired level of candor, be cognizant of power dynamics. If you default to, "do it cause I said so", that is one of many legit form of leadership. But it does not optimize for building trust, which is what you need to do if you want people to keep it real with you (prior to things reaching a boiling point, at least).

If you make it painful for people to be honest with you, they'll simply stop being honest with you (which impedes your ability to preempt problems).

Actively listening , "but", and follow up

In addition to being cognizant of power dynamics, I've found that being cognizant of how I'm using the word "but" helps to more adeptly navigate the line between coming off as defensive and providing context. Ultimately, the goal is to leave tough conversations having achieved the desired outcomes of understanding, being understood, and with relationships intact.

E.g., instead of "I hear you but...XYZ", I might go with, "I hear you. I made choice A because XYZ. Knowing that, does knowing that change how you feel?"


Extend yourself the grace that you extend to others

A principle that I am striving to live by: "Do as I say, not as I do" doesn't really cut it. If you are telling folks to take care of themselves, you better also be taking care of yourself.

Questions to help define career narratives

These questions may be making appearances in 1:1s in the near future

  • What are the themes in the feedback that you receive?
  • Are they in line with how you see yourself?
  • Are they inline with how you want to be seen?

Still figuring out

Remote celebrations

We've got a lot to celebrate. How can we have socially distanced fun without contributing to screen fatigue?


On boundaries as the antibiotics of burnout