Growing managers

There’s a fairly common practice in growing start-ups.

When the headcount ramps up and a more complicated structure is needed, the natural tendency is to promote founders or early stage employees into managerial roles. This happens only marginally because people making or vetting the decision believe those employees are the best for the job. Most of the time, the promotion is seen as a reward: after all, the person has been with the company when things were getting started, typically a difficult moment to be in.

There’s a problem with that, though. The skills needed to do your job are considerably different from the skills needed to have others do their jobs.

In this [new] capacity you have plenty of work to do yourself: setting strategy, hiring and firing, coaching and development, obtaining necessary resources, making certain decisions while delegating others, and embodying the culture you wish to foster.

Ed Batista

Most growing companies ignore this problem, and end up in a situation in which a hiatus develops between managers and employees. Managers are not willing to find the time to do what they are supposed to do, employees are left alone and in the blind. Eventually, one of two things will happen: growth will flatline, as managers factually act as bottlenecks; or value will be destroyed, as negative working culture spreads (think Uber).

Founders and early stage employees can (and should) still be rewarded, but if it is decided to promote them into managerial roles, the company should at least make sure they understand their new responsibilities and get appropriate training and mentoring to deliver on the expectations of their newly formed teams.

The practice of empathy

A while back, I have written about empathy and about how it is not something that comes natural to most people (me included).

But what does empathy look like in practice?

It is certainly not to feel sorrow for someone’s issues. When we do, we tend to approach the relationship from a position of strength, it is kind of a top-down feeling. We do not really empathize with the other person, as we are not in the same “frame of reference”. Feeling sorry is more sympathy or compassion, and as BrenĂ© Brown brilliantly puts it, it is not something someone who is in trouble wants to receive.

Empathy is also not giving people a free pass for their problems. Again, this is an approach that assumes a position of power, and it is not fundamentally different from sympathy: we feel sorry for our colleague, and therefore we close an eye to the fact they are making a poor job.

Empathy is acknowledging the other person’s situation from a neutral, non judgemental position. In Ed Batista’s words, “we comprehend their perspective and emotions, and we are able to envision ourselves experiencing that perspective and those emotions under similar circumstances”.

And then, it is suspending our natural inclination to suggest a course of action, or give an advice to “fix” the situation based on our own experience. We stay there in their world, and we acknowledge it as it is. And if the time comes when it is expected of us to say something, paraphrasing a beautiful thought by Seth Godin, we do that from their own place.

When you have to do with somebody, you have no idea how many times this person has been kicked in the teeth. All you know is that they act in ways you would not. If you care about the outcome, the question is not ‘What would I do?’. The question is ‘If I had been exposed to what you have been exposed to, what story would resonate with me?’

It is possible to get better at empathy, and by doing that you will find you can establish more meaningful and stable connections. It is an investment worth doing.




Sit down and watch it grow

One of the most difficult thing when you are in charge is to understand when it’s time to let go.

With the best of conscious intentions, a leader in a growing company may inadvertently generate an endless number of “problems” in order to stay busy, feel needed, and defer the difficult work of figuring out what leadership looks like now that the organization has evolved.

Ed Batista

I have experienced this first hand in different companies. The idea that being busy means being important is something that we all buy into at one point or the other. It is often very dangerous when a company is growing, as the focus of managers and leaders should mainly be on letting go of their duties and their responsibilities, on making sure that the people they manage and lead get the necessary attention, and that the high level strategy and vision gets appropriately translated into day to day actions from their team.

You can get used to this little by little: take something you have built, sit down, delegate and watch it grow without you. It will be liberating and incredibly rewarding.


This week, I have found this beautiful graphic depiction of how resistance works at times.


It’s from Ed Batista’s blog (that is strongly recommended, by the way), and it displays how it is incredibly more important to move from doing nothing to doing something, than it is to move from doing something to doing something perfect.

The greatest of intentions pale in comparison to the smallest of actions.

Noah Lomax

Very often, we get stuck in search of perfection. That is useless, as most of the time the difference between something and something perfect is barely noticeable. I like to represent it slightly differently with the following chart.


The fact is, perfection is often an excuse do escape doing. It’s been for me for years, it still is sometimes. But eventually, we’ll have to stop hiding and start shipping stuff that is As Close to Necessary to Perfect. Make a habit of it, it’ll be liberating.