I want to take a break from blogging about being a startup CTO and instead answer a question I often see asked: “what is your management style?”.
I operate on the basis that I absolutely trust everyone on my team, and I want them to trust me. If this isn’t happening then either the trust needs to be improved, or the individual isn’t right for my team. Trust is an overused term, and I think it’s worth defining what it means in this context:
Importantly, this works both ways.
If trust isn’t there then everything gets slower and less joyful. I’ve not yet met anyone who relishes being untrusted. I’ve seen plenty of cases where tasks take longer because people are covering themselves because of a lack of trust.
I don’t know everything. My team probably doesn’t know everything either. I like to work collaboratively with my teams. I believe that being collaborative makes it easier to get buy-in for decisions and helps people understand why those decisions have been made.
I feel it is important to clarify that this isn’t an excuse for laziness. If I want to change how we do something as a team, then I’ll do my research and come up with a reasonable starting position that we can then work on together (or scrap if it turns out to be terrible).
As I trust my team and we have worked together to make decisions, I like to be hands-off and let people work in whatever way suits them. I’m always available to help and talk about things. I’ll try to spot when my team is in trouble and too deep to realise they need help. Other than that, I’ll let my team get on with it with minimal reporting.
I want members of my teams to learn and develop. This means that sometimes I’ll be hands-off to the point of watching people make safe mistakes. That’s a deliberate choice as I believe people learn a great deal from making mistakes. It’s part of my job to make sure that those mistakes are safe.
We spend a lot of our lives working and working together. We should enjoy it. I try to take a light-hearted approach to everything I do. It’s entirely possible to deliver hard and serious things with a smile on your face, I want my team to find the joy in their work too.
Oh, and I’ll also bake a lot of cakes.
Many companies act as if their employees will be with them forever and if they ever left then that would be a massive breach of trust. I really don’t like this.
I prefer to acknowledge that the employer/employee relationship is a temporary one. Ideally, team members would be with me for at least two years. Ideally, those team members will continue to learn and grow while they work with me. Ideally, I’d have new roles ready for these people as they grow. The reality is that they will get to a point where their logical next step is outside of my team, and they need to move on to an opportunity I cannot provide. That is something to be celebrated. It is an fantastic experience to have a team member come to me and say “Colin, I need to resign as I’ve been offered a more senior role that isn’t available here”. When that happens, I feel I have done something right.
I know many people have different management styles. I like mine, it makes me happy and leads to effective teams that I’m proud of. I think my management style has a lot of positive feedback loops that make it powerful. Being hands-off shows that I trust people, which leads to greater trust, which leads to more enjoyment. That’s what I want for myself and my teams, more skills, more empowerment, more trust and more joy.