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Mounica Veggalam

Think like a leader, not a manager

published7 months ago
5 min read

Hi Reader,

Hope you had a fun week!

Welcome to the first issue of my newsletter. After much deliberation, I started this newsletter to grow a community of managers in tech, who are deep into personal development and interested in learning and growth. My goal is to help you embrace the inside-out leadership mindset so you reach your career goals faster. I want to share with you some insights that can fast-track your career.

To start this off, I want to talk about 3 main elements of a leadership career. It might give you an idea of where you might be stuck.

But first, a short story.

Meet Tina. Tina has been a manager for a long-time and is avidly interested in her own growth & learning. She actively looks for resources to improve her leadership on any given day. She constantly seeks feedback and looks for areas she can enhance to outperform her role (in the hope of a promotion).

At the end of a 1x1 meeting, her report, Josh, asks her an age-old question - "Do you have any feedback for me?"

Josh has been her highest performer- A type-A personality and is one of the brightest engineers on her team.

She gives it a thought, "I think you're doing well. Focus on delivering this feature, and let me know if I can support you."

Then, she adds, "Do you have any feedback for me?".

Josh is taken aback for a second. "Nothing right now. I'll let you know if I do."

She 'End's the meeting, and all is well.

Or is it?

What's missing in this conversation?

I will argue - Leadership.

There is no leadership from Tina or Josh.

You see, most leadership books, trainings, and mentors talk your ear off about 2 things - Management skills and Relationships.

Management skills include planning, communication, and everything to do with execution and delivering the product. There is also talk about soft skills because people are involved.

Then, there are the relationships you build. You connect with your reports, build rapport and also expand your network. Btw, if you're not spending time on this in a typical week, you should.

The third missing piece that people rarely talk about is the Leadership Mindset.

I call this the Inside-out leadership - leadership based on personal transformation. That's where career transformation lies.

It's hard to explain a mindset, but I will try since I took that job up with this newsletter. 🧙‍♀️

Inside-out leadership is a unique paradigm where you look for the thought patterns contributing to your life as it is now and change those patterns to create a different life.

Well, to be fair, there is nothing wrong with your life as it is now. It's working for you. But, it starts to be insufficient when you bring an ambitious career goal to it.

For example, if you want to be a Director or VP in 5 years, it's not enough to stay in the manager mindset and expect to reach that goal. You need to step into a mindset where you're a Director NOW. Not 5 years later.

What is this mindset of an Inside-out leader? It has 3 elements.

Ownership: What is my underlying thought pattern that's causing this situation?

You own your emotions, beliefs, and reactions. You understand that outside situations are not responsible for your feelings (they can only reveal what's on the inside).

Responsibility: What is my responsibility in this situation?

You do not blame people or situations for the results (or lack thereof). You examine your responsibility in each situation and actively clean up your messes.

Creation: What can I create given this situation?

You take all situations, however challenging to be growth opportunities in disguise and create the life you want from them, aligning with your values.

When we embody these principles, the highly valued qualities such as executive presence, authenticity, and vulnerability start showing up in us.

So, what's missing for manager Tina?

She's operating from the mindset of who she is already rather than what she wants to create (Creation). She has not fully assumed responsibility for her growth (Responsibility).

Let's look at the possibilities when she starts thinking from a leadership mindset:

  • Tina would already know where she is in her growth path and what specifically she wants to learn from Josh. She doesn't give homework to Josh.
  • She thinks like a VP and she tunes to the possibility that Josh is then someone who reports to a VP. She would see him as a leader than an engineer.
  • She would use the moment of the feedback conversation as an opportunity to create intimacy and trust with Josh.

How about an alternate ending for the 1x1?

Let's meet leader Dana and her report David.

Leader David: Do you have any feedback for me?

Leader Dana: What are you looking for when you say feedback? Is there a particular area you're interested in developing?

Leader David: Well, I want to improve my ability to present my designs and explain them to an audience. I think a cross-team collaboration would give me this opportunity.

Leader Dana: That's awesome! What do you imagine presenting your designs and being able to explain, give you?

THIS is a leadership conversation.

Dana is focused on serving David towards his goals. She first clarifies his career plans, helping him in his inquiry. And then, the conversation is about the work that serves him (and the team's goals).

From her side, Dana is so aware of her own growth that she might say to David, "I m trying to improve my ability to listen and coach. How do you feel about the progress of this conversation? What is your takeaway? Is there any other area you would like us to focus on the next time we meet?".

Then, David's response is her feedback.

So there you have it, my model for Inside-out leadership.

At this point, I want to warn you about the possible downside of focusing on the inside-out leadership mindset. It's a fascinating approach to your career, but one can get stuck in it. It can turn you into an insight junkie - "All talk and no action." I emphasize the leadership mindset because it's not talked about enough. However, it is essential to combine it with the other two areas - management skills and relationships.

Here's an attempt to explain the career sweet spot.

Take a moment to dig into the diagram. Most managers stay in the intersection of Relationships and Skills - with all the firefighting, an overflowing calendar and on an arc towards burn-out. Where are you on this map?

That's a wrap for today! Thanks for being on this deep dive with me.

If there's a TLDR, it is this - Think like a leader (a VP, if you will), not a manager. Focus on your inner experience along with your skills and relationships.

What thoughts do you have on reading today's deep dive? I'd love to hear what's confusing, what's insightful, and what you're taking home. If you have a moment, hit reply and let me know (am I being Tina or Dana here? 👀)

Until next Friday,

Mounica

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