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Level Up - Issue #141


Level Up

April 24 · Issue #141 · 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.

(Some) stress often means growth
In one of my very early leadership roles, I was leading an extremely large team for a client with demanding deadlines. I was in a great position. I worked with some excellent co-leaders who I trusted and could lean on in tough situations and we had a great team. There was just an overwhelming number of things to do at the same time. Given various reasons and despite a good support network, the stress started to compound. I started losing sleep which eventually led me to falling ill, literally losing my voice and forcing me to take time out from the team. Despite good intentions, great skills and experiences, everyone is susceptible to the boiling frog syndrome and the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Having time out was essential for me to recover. If you have ever lifted weights, you might know the feeling of DOMS (aka good muscle soreness) and a key part of any healthy training program is recovery. In my situation, the forced time out from my team gave me a chance to reflect. Being the systems thinker that I am, I realised that a long-term solution wasn’t about getting rest, “topping up my tank” and jumping straight back in. I needed to fix some of the contributing causes and change the system.
Reflecting deeply on factors that added to my stress, I realised I was taking on too much responsibility and not delegating enough (i.e. the typical leadership problem). But, I realised that I would need to delegate differently because I had different team members with a varying mix of experience - some who could lead teams themselves, and others very very new to the industry. This is where I introduced the idea of Feature Leads to delegate ownership of different areas and I could adjust my support for the Feature Lead to the riskiness/significance of that area and the people’s experience.
One other significant factor I wanted to address was the imbalance in work-life. Unbeknownst to my team, I would take topics home and use my evenings to do “leadership work” such as thinking about how to break “big” problems into smaller problems, plan how I might run a certain conversation or simply get through some administrative tasks. I made sure not to write any code in the evenings as I didn’t want to set that example.
To break this bad habit, I took up running. I’m not at all a great runner but I signed up for a half marathon and started training to force myself to find a better balance. Having a training schedule forced me to “turn off” work mode and make sure I was balancing it out with other activities. Ever wonder why CEOs of companies seem to take on extreme activities like marathons, climbing mountains, etc? It’s probably in response to stress.
I like to share my example in my training courses because I think many leaders might benefit. In order to grow, we need to experience some level of stress. I do hope, however, that the stress doesn’t put your health or other family situations at long-term risk. But stress is not enough. When you have stress (or a challenging situation), you also need a regular time out. For some leaders it might be meditation, a long weekend, a longer holiday or for others, having a more support outlet like a mentor/coach to force a regular support cadence and also provide outside perspectives. Learning often means doing things differently - building new skills, adjusting old habits and growing but you need the time to gather and reflect on feedback, not simply repeat the old habits.
Your challenge for this week is to reflect on the level of stress you have in your current role. Is that manageable or are you ready for a time out? Do you have a place to reflect and space to learn? If not, what can you do to create it?
Enjoy this week’s newsletter and please pass it on to a friend or colleague who might benefit.
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Stress (but not too much) can be a healthy sign of growth
Stress (but not too much) can be a healthy sign of growth
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Tweets of the Week
A great reminder 👇 and why I’m a big fan of systems thinking
Avdi Grimm
Your team is a system. Your org is a system. 90% of "performance" factors are systemic.

I'm currently propagating for my garden, and I could write harsh reviews of the seedlings that didn't sprout. But I'd really be reviewing my propagation environment.
Another great twitter thread 🧵 about ML but just how easy they are to manipulate/game. Click the tweet to read it all👇
Cory Doctorow
We're in the middle of a giant machine learning surge, with ML-based "classifiers" being used to make all kinds of decisions at speeds that humans could never match: ML decides everything from whether you get a bank loan to what your phone's camera judges to be a human face. 1/
Thanks for making it this far! 🤗
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Patrick Kua, Postfach 58 04 40, 10314, Berlin, Germany