Homework #2 – Focusing at the ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ of the organization

Thinking about the ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ of an organization

This week we have two podcasts for your listening pleasure.

There is a lot of interesting takeaways from this first a16z podcast. To me the systematic approach Chris Power takes to how he thinks about his company is a valuable framework as one moves out of the individual contributor or even front line manager role into an executive.

The next podcast thinks about things in a totally different way. Michael Lewis’ podcast Against the rules has an episode: Six Levels Down, which reminds us that sometimes the ‘bottom’ of the organization is where the real authority lies. Here we see some examples of the highest paid, most visible members of an organization fully incapable of getting it unstuck. To me it’s an important reminder of where I came from and who is really getting work done.

The goals of these homework assignments isn’t to provide any sort of answer. It’s an opportunity to discuss with your peers, or team members and see how these discussions affect your current efforts.

Take care,


Homework #1 – Management has Consequences

It’s not a lot to say one is a fan of podcasts, so with the homework series we can travel together though some of my favorite podcasts and perhaps from this we can leave a trail of something novel on the internet.

The first assignment is to look into Reply All’s episode on Bon Appetite.  The podcast is #172 The Test Kitchen.

When I first heard this it hit close to home, here is a set of white guys at the top of an org with little to no appreciation for the turbulence they were causing in their org due to them not appreciating the effects their role power and biases were causing.

Today I am responsible for 40 engineers, and their performance impacts the performance of quite a few additional people and customers.  I have often found myself leading the team astray or causing issues because of mistakes, misunderstandings, and poor assumptions on my part. 

In fact I developed one of my most important principles: Nate doesn’t change the plan in standup, as a remediation for my behavior in the past. We’ll have to revisit this in a later article, but the short version is that the blinking sign above my head as a manager can often accidentally be used to redirect a train that was humming along just fine without me butting in. Back to the podcast.

What’s profound about this podcast, is not only did it try to highlight this issue with management at the magazine, it uncovered this same behavior within the Reply All podcast team itself. So, now we have not only a case study of this magazine, but in real time we can learn from an organization coming to appreciate how hurtful and disruptive this behavior can be in any organization if we are not actively examining our impact.

Your homework, should you choose to accept it, is to listen to this case study (this will take a few podcasts) and see how you as a leader are perpetuating these same issues within your org.  Then take it one step further and see if you can illicit from your team honest feedback about where you are leading the team towards this same cliff. 

Just be aware as we (managers) ask for feedback, take our time and know that if we haven’t laid the groundwork of trust and felt safety, we will get nothing.  If we get nothing, it’s unlikely that is because nothing is wrong.  Further, it is not our team’s responsibility to give us feedback, traditionally feedback rolls downhill, we have to use our relational power to dim the blinking manager sign above our heads.  And ask with a penitent heart for the opportunity to help grow together as a team.