Interview with Rachel Neasham, Director of Product at Lola.com
Published on Jan 22, 2019
4 min read
Role: Director of Product at Lola.com
Location: Greater Boston Area
What’s your background and how did you get into management?
I’m a former Army officer and had my first opportunity to manage when I was 23. I was an engineering platoon leader deployed to Iraq and was given the honor of leading 30 soldiers. Together with my platoon, we improved the quality and protection of Soldiers living facilities across Northern Iraq.
Since leaving the Army and joining tech startups, I’ve worked my way back up from an individual contributor to now managing our product team. Being a leader, whether or not I am a manager, is something that has always been extremely important to me.
What are the biggest challenges you face?
In all companies and especially a startup, things move so incredibly fast. It is easy for people to misalign because of how quickly things move. That is why managers need to be constantly communicating not only what is happening but why it is happening. If people understand the what and the why then they will work harder and be more invested in moving things forward the best that they can.
What is your approach to hiring?
For any position or any level, the main quality I look for in a person is whether or not they have a growth mindset. Your mindset affects everything you do and if a person is not open or willing to grow then they’re at risk of their performance peaking and a whole slew of other issues. In addition to a growth mindset and because we are a tech startup, I look for comments or experience that demonstrates they can persevere when things get tough.
What’s your advice for managers who are just starting out?
Always remember… your one job as a manager is to make the people on your team better. Knowing this one truth gives you the freedom to be yourself and make everything about your team. It is a privilege to manage and lead people and as long as they are getting better then you are doing your job.
What’s your workday like and how do you manage your time, emails, etc.?
I always start the day by reviewing the meetings I have scheduled for the day. Next, I work through my inbox quickly before any of my meetings by taking action on any emails that warrant a response. Additionally, I find that if I don’t block off time for my own work then my calendar will quickly fill up. So I always schedule meetings with myself to knock out tasks that need to get done. Lastly, I always find time to check in with everyone on my team face to face (or virtually if they are not in the office). This connection is incredibly important for our relationship and gives my team an opportunity to raise anything that is blocking or bothering them which they wouldn’t always share in an email or slack.
What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
Without a doubt discipline is the biggest personal habit that has allowed me to be successful. I have found that by being disciplined and doing a little each day – whether that be cleaning out my inbox, checking in with my team, knocking out a task, etc – allows me to move things forward and over time that adds up.
Share an internet resource or tool that you can’t live without.
The Knowledge Project is an awesome podcast that has really expanded the way I think and I’d recommend it to anyone is who looking to become better.
If you could recommend one book to managers, what would it be and why?
Being a former Army officer, one of the most inspiring books when it comes to leadership (which is part of being a manager) is Gates of Fire. It is a familiar story thanks to the movie 300 and really illustrates how honorable, fulfilling and awesome it is to be given the honor to lead others.
What is your approach to mentoring and coaching members of your team?
Goals are a really powerful way to help mentor and coach people. However, you as the manager should not set the goals but work with the person and have them set their own goals. When people define and commit to goals set by themselves, they are inherently invested in achieving them. Your job is to then be an accountability partner. Set a check-in and be disciplined about reviewing their progress against their goals together.
Additionally, show that you care about them as a person. There are many ways to do this but one way that I’ve found to be successful is to go out for a meal or drink and don’t talk about work at all. Ask them questions about who they are, what they care about and what motivates them. Make it about them and not about you.
Where can we go to learn more about you? (LinkedIn, Twitter, GitHub)
This series asks engineering managers to share their experiences with the intent of helping other engineering managers learn and improve. Have someone you want to see featured or questions you think we should ask? Contact me.
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