Leadership Safe Words: Know when to say when!

127 days ago seems like a lifetime!

Leadership Safe Words: Know when to say when!
127 days ago seems like a lifetime!

Exactly 127 days ago, I was walking down the Champs-Élysées when I got a text from the CISO that hired me in May 2022.

I knew it might come while I was on my European vacation. It had been weighing on me although learning to drive a stick again and navigating French and Belgian traffic circles and so many wind turbines had been a nice distraction, it was still there. I did manage to forget about while stumbling across this rocking Belgian 80s cover band in the center of Bastogne on a Friday night!

Le Nuts Cafe, September 29 — The Cure, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, they sang it!

He shared the news that he would no longer be my boss after the dust settled from the merger in November. The decision had finally been made. The team would be told the following day during an all hands while I would be flying across the Atlantic. He just wanted to give me the heads up.

One of the reasons I chose him as a boss (and yes you choose your bosses just as they choose you!) was his overcommunication and empathy, so it wasn’t a shock that he reached out. I was still high on Paris and starting to feel better as my first bout with COVID peaked, but the weeks and months since then have taken its toll. It has not been easy or fun.

Since then, some days I wish I had been let go in November, especially since all my RSUs would have been cashed out and I could have taken time off. That would sure would have been nice. Last week a member of my team told me I looked so tired. And, no, it was not just from the jet lag or whatever bug so many of we picked up in Bristol.

My last full day in Europe, 1 October

Yesterday, I gave the same news to my team. Some also were not shocked. Saddened, yes, and it is unfortunate that in management roles sometimes you only get those kudos when you say good bye. No one wants to suck up to the boss. It was a definitely “cameras on” conversation. I thanked them for the kind words. I knew because 127 days ago, some members of my team wondered how long I would stay given the CISO that hired me was not selected to remain.

I heard this in a 1:1 a week before the layoff from someone I had to let go in the layoffs. “Will Matt quit, too?” was a conversation had during the all hands. I can’t remember how answered this, but I know I didn’t say no. I heard this question last week when I was asked how long I would continue hold on and push an fight for what we thought was right. Yes, we.

I texted with my old boss on Friday afternoon and I told him the endgame was coming. He told me he was surprised I’d held on for so long.

Maybe this was just the little nudge I needed, since he knew me so well and we’d been through a lot together, joining just six months after he became the CISO and I helped support his agenda of change. As I shared the news with Engineering and IT leaders yesterday 1:1, there was equal sadness, but I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished together and the strength of those relationships. I hope they survive.

The higher you move in the organization, the greater chance that leadership changes above you will not align with your vision for the function you are responsible for. Or your values. As a leader, you have a choice in how you respond.

Do you actively resist up front, challenging the new leader? Go passive? Do you become the bad cop so your team can play the good one? Do you attempt to reshape, reframe, or educate behind the scenes? Do you let things fail so the lessons sink in? Maybe you are the one that is wrong? Or nobody is wrong and things are just too entangled and messy because that is how organizations are.

How do teams and individuals retain their humanity when business decisions turn things upside down?

This is the story of 2023 with no end in sight in 2024.

Leaving Bristol, probably for the first and last time last month.

At the end of the day, there are limits to your power and influence, even if you are respected and trusted. It doesn’t matter if you are right or not or whether you will be proven right in the future. It’s over. It doesn’t matter. Move on. “It doesn’t mean a thing,” remembering seeing Hamburger Hill in Basic Training in 1988 in the Missouri Ozarks.

This is a risk factor you should consider should you choose to move into management, especially at the Director and above. This is why you have a nest egg and should live frugally. Be ready to jump if you need to.

As usual, Charity gets it right. I found these words were chilling in mid-December when I read them, because I knew she was right and I knew I’d eventually need to go. I was being eaten up. My sleep was orange and red since late August. My wife did not like some of the things I was saying about the situation. They were not like me.

As an engineer, you can work for a company whose leadership team you don’t particularly respect, whose product you don’t especially love, or whose goals you aren’t super aligned with, and it can be “okay.” Not terrific, but not terrible.
As a manager, you can’t. Or you shouldn’t. The conflicts will eat you up inside and/or prevent you from doing excellent work.
Your job consists of representing the leadership team and their decisions, pulling people into alignment with the company’s goals, and thinking about how to better achieve the mission. As far as your team goes, you are the face of The Man. If you can’t do that, you can’t do your job. You don’t get to stand apart from the org and throw rocks, e.g. “they told me I have to tell you this, but I don’t agree with it”. That does nothing but undermine your own position and the company’s. If you’re going to be a manager, choose your company wisely.

Unfortunately companies change. The leaders that hire you move on or are let go. It is business. It had happened to me before. You know when it is time to go, whether you have a job lined up or not.

Part of this decision is knowing if your team is ready. Are they where they need to be? Do they understand? If you’ve done your job, you can move on. You’ve said what you needed to say.

Always be seeking to put yourself out of your job. Make yourself irrelevant. Sure it hurts, but you can find peace. Really, they’ll be OK. Don’t put too much on yourself. I also heard this from a member of my team. I was listening. Thankfully, my wife gives me good advice about things like this as well.

And I listen to her.