Aug 09, 2019

3 things we learned at Plato’s Elevate conference

The problem with a lot of conferences is that it feels like people are talking at you, not to you. Sure, sometimes they have something smart to say, but just as often they’re pitching a new book or bragging about their clients and the result is a bit like getting stuck in a conversation you’d rather not be having at a birthday party for somebody you barely know.

Plato’s Elevate conference wasn’t like that. It centered a lot more around panels full of smart people having smart conversations. It wasn’t chock full of product pitches or empty jargon. And it had pretty great tacos at happy hour. All told? A great conference.

A few of us at Lingo Live spent the day there this past Wednesday. We were lucky enough to moderate a panel on communication in the afternoon and to soak up a lot of really insightful ideas about leadership, team building, and managing with a purpose. Here’s a bit of what we learned:

Everything’s about trust. Everything.

We heard about the importance of trust during nearly every panel at Elevate. And it didn’t really matter what relationship folks were talking about: managers and their teams, one team and another cross-funcitonal one, managers trusting execs–the list goes on.

Which all makes sense, of course. We need to know our colleagues are going to do what they say, that they believe in us, and that they take us at our word. But it goes beyond that.

We were especially struck with a few things that Brian Zotter from Medium had to say here. Sure, he mentioned trust (and that psychological safety is perhaps even more important than that) but he also grounded the conversation in autonomy. We enjoyed that. Think about it this way: while trust is important, how do you actually show someone (or a group of someones) that you do in fact trust them? You give them permission to make decisions. You give them authority. You give them autonomy. Your trust isn’t worth a whole lot if you need everyone to check with you before they act. In fact, it’s not really trust at all.

Sure, remote teams can be challenging. But they’re well worth the challenge.

Time and time again, we heard people champion the value of remote teams. At least three people called them the future of work. But anyone who’s worked in a remote-friendly office knows that there are a few challenges that you have to be conscientious about mitigating.

Asanka Jayasuriya from InVision did a great job laying out the pros and cons of remote (or distributed) teams. The pros, well, most of us know what they are. You get access not just to a single geographic area but all of them. You enjoy increased diversity. You let people who have roots in their communities stay there and raise their families. And, to top it off, if you’re building global products, global teams just make sense.

The challenges, of course, are that you’re separate. You can’t grab your team and whiteboard your way through a tough problem. You don’t have the casual conversations while you’re waiting for a pot of coffee to finish brewing. So you have to be intentional about your interactions. You have to go out of your way to meet people on their level and learn about what they like, how they like to work, and so much more. You won’t be able to just pick it up naturally like you would in person. You have to make the effort. And the effort’s worth it.

Jayasuriya mention he dedicates the occasional one-on-one to anything but work. Maybe last week they talked about an upcoming sprint, but this week, they’ll talk about sci-fi books or the last good meal they’ve had or a child’s piano recital. He also thinks it’s important that, no matter what, you make some effort to meet in person, whether at a yearly all-hands or a retreat or, really, anything. In other words, you do your best to bring the benefits of working in the same place to a team that’s working in twenty places. You’ll never get all the way there, but you’d never get the same level of talent if your candidate pool is just a couple zip codes either.

Don’t play the role of a manager. Be the manager you should be.

We talk a lot about authenticity here at Lingo Live. It’s central to how we view coaching, organizational success, and sustainable growth. That’s just one of the reasons we were so struck by what Dana Lawson from GitHub had to say about it.

Dana was a panel entitled “Lessons in Leadership.” She had a ton of great stuff to say, but near the end she hit on a lesson she’d learned through her experiences managing. Dana was honest about the fact that early in her career, she felt like she was playing the role of a manager as opposed to being herself. A colleague told her, essentially, “we hired you because you’re great and we believe in you. Don’t try to be someone you aren’t. Be you.”

“People want to see authenticity,” she said, and, well, we couldn’t agree more. Think back to the best bosses and managers you’ve had. Chances are, they weren’t cosplaying leadership. Rather, they were leading the way that came naturally to them. And they weren’t all doing the same. Some might be naturally empathetic or effortless funny or prone to flashes of insight or really, anything. But great leaders are themselves. They lean into what makes them them. They aren’t trying to mimic a boss they’d liked earlier in their career or leading from some script or playbook. They’re authentic. And chances are, they let you be your authentic self too. Those are the teams that succeed.

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