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Level Up - Issue #130


Level Up

February 6 · Issue #130 · View online

Level Up delivers a curated newsletter for leaders in tech. A project by Ideal for busy people such as Tech Leads, Engineering Managers, VPs of Engineering, CTOs and more.

Managers are not therapists
This week’s post was inspired by some Twitter discussions connecting managers to therapy, which reminded me of an experience of mine…
A long time ago, I lead a team with about 10 people. On the team was a senior engineer going through a relationship crisis with their partner. When they shared their situation, it explained some strange behaviour I would not typically associate with them. In our 1-1s, I listened to them, trying to explore how I (and the team) could support them. We had a series of emotionally rough conversations but I learned a number of things out of this.
Firstly, I recognised I could not and should not provide therapy. I wasn’t then, nor am I now, a qualified therapist. You might consider some actions I took (e.g. asking questions, listening) associated with therapy. But I knew I wasn’t qualified to provide therapy, whose purpose is typically “to heal, or alleviate, symptoms of a concerning issue or condition.” That may sound harsh. I care about helping and growing people but I also recognise when I’m out of my depth. This person needed professional support, and we worked together to find external sources that could provide this.
Secondly, I knew we had a good level of trust because they shared this information with me. I can only imagine the scenario of what “might of” happened if they didn’t share this information with me. The boundaries between work and life are blurry, even if we don’t want them to be. If you are responsible for people, focus on building trust from the start. People will only share information with you, especially sensitive information only if they trust you.
Thirdly, we focused on what we could control and influence. Although I couldn’t influence what was going on at home, my responsibility to the company, team and this person was to focus on what we could control and influence. With so much going on in their personal life, this person needed more predictability and success at work. Translated into the work environment, this meant delivering solid work and being a team member, and not taking on “stretch” opportunities (which was ok).
Empathic managers will ask good questions, take time to listen and find ways to support their team, but also know where to draw the line. Don’t pretend you can “rescue” or “help” everyone in every manner. Don’t forget there are other professions for a reason.
Enjoy this week’s newsletter and be sure to pass it on to a friend or colleague.
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Don't confuse listening for therapy and remember there are other professionals for that
Don't confuse listening for therapy and remember there are other professionals for that
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Tweets of the Week
Jeff Hodges
If you're out there writing up one of your first engineering design docs:

Engineering design docs are pitch documents, not just explanations. You're convincing the reader that the design is good, that it has a reason to be done, and, implicitly, that you're expert enough
A fantastic thread with lots of responses on what you can do to build psychological safety 👇 Click the tweet to expand the thread
Tom Geraghty
If you had to decide on *one* practice that built psychological safety in teams, what practice or activity would you choose?
Thanks for making it this far! 🤗
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Patrick Kua, Postfach 58 04 40, 10314, Berlin, Germany