006. Autonomy 👣

· 407 words · 2 minute read

So lately I’ve been consuming leadership literature the way a Labradour consumes… well… anything. I used to read these kinds of books as an IC but for fun, and I could never compare them to my own experiences because I didn’t have any. Now they’re really starting to hit home, and the two books† that have stuck out to me recently have been:

And it’s the first one I want to reflect on today, we’ll get to the other one next time.

Dan (can I call you Dan?) mentions the three ingredients of motivation are:

  1. Autonomy - the desire to direct our own lives
  2. Mastery - the urge to get better and better at something that matters
  3. Purpose - the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

An engineering manager has a lot of influence in creating an environment where these three things are maximised for their team and reports, and it’s been the first one that I feel like I’ve been tripping up on.

Autonomy to me, in a software team is, given a goal I get to decide how to get there. This means less hands on guidance from the EM (less micro-management if you will). The EM can provide the context and ultimate goal (”The business wants us to release x in November because y”), but how to get there is the ICs responsibility. Even if as an EM I am ‘accountable’ for it.

EMs should have input of course (and you bet your ass I do) but to dictate is demotivating.

Yes, I’m learning the difference between responsibility and accountability. It’s fun.

Transitioning from an IC, this is hard because I’m so full of ⚠️ TECHNICAL OPINIONS ⚠️ honed over many years of projects, poor decisions, good decisions, study and experimentation. To let go, stand back and ‘just’ guide feels like I’m not doing my job.

Keep your opinions to yourself

But I’m starting to realise my job now is to support others doing their job. So, even though my glorious serverless lambda* driven event sourcing architecture may never see the light of day, I’m happy to trust the team to come up with a much better solution and feel ownership and direction over the work, since the result is always better.

— Milly

†Both recommendations by the amazing Hannah Browne

*Just kidding. I would never use lambdas.