Being a Great Tech Executive — Interview with Aviv Ben-Yosef, Tech Exec Consultant & Author
Published on Aug 1, 2021
33 min read
Vidal: [00:00] Good afternoon. Welcome to the latest edition of ManagersClub. I’d like to welcome Aviv Ben-Yosef to the show. How are you?
Aviv: [00:09] Hi. I’m great. Thank you for having me.
Table of Contents
- What’s your background and how did you get into management?
- What are the biggest challenges you face as an engineering leader?
- What do you see as the difference between a manager and an executive?
- Could you share with us a lesson you learned as an engineering leader?
- What is your approach to hiring?
- What’s your advice for managers who are just starting out?
- What’s your workday like and how do you manage your time, emails, calendar, etc.?
- What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
- Share an internet resource, app, or tool that you can’t live without.
- If you could recommend one book to managers, what would it be and why?
- What is your approach to developing, mentoring & coaching members of your team?
- What does it take to be a great engineering leader?
- Where can we go to learn more about you?
- Like this interview?
What’s your background and how did you get into management?
Vidal: [00:12] Thanks for coming on. I was looking at your background, but maybe you could tell a little bit about yourself to our listeners. I know you’ve been a consultant, but also an executive leader.
Aviv: [00:21] Sure. I come from a very down-to-earth coding background. I started coding when I was nine, I served in the Israeli Defense Forces as an engineer. And since then I moved up the ranks did a bunch of roles. I worked at IBM, worked as a first employee of a startup for the good first years. And for the past nine years or so I’ve been independent.
Part of it was just coding freelancing for companies. And then I slowly moved up to being the sort of a fractional leader, having managed teams and then teams and managers of teams. And then even teams as big as 40 50 engineers under me. And in the past few years, I’ve been transitioning to consulting and coaching tech executives to move them from needing someone like me as a band-aid to providing them the ability to just lead their teams as they need to.
What are the biggest challenges you face as an engineering leader?
Vidal: [01:21] Great. I was reading your book. We’ll talk about it in a bit, but what do you see as some of the biggest challenges that you face or your clients face as engineering leaders?
Aviv: [01:29] I think that there are very common things that I see globally. For example, there’s the issue of, as the team becomes bigger and you’re growing and hiring more people, how do you maintain the same level of productivity and how do you maintain the same level of engagement by our people so that they don’t feel like they’re joining this big machine and they’re just a cog and this big thing.
That’s one problem I’m seeing all the time. Another challenge I think is for us personally, as leaders as the constantly to upgrade our own processes, our own tools, because managing a team of five people is not the same as managing a team of 15. And it’s not the same as managing managers and so on.
So we constantly need to redefine what we’re doing. Let go of things that might’ve worked for us for years, but no longer make sense and that sort of thing. And that’s hard, like molting every six months in a scale-up startup is going to be hard. But if you don’t do that, you’re going to be left behind.
Vidal: [00:02:40] I think one of the hardest things you mentioned is a lot of leaders, have the tech part down, but it’s the soft skills that they have difficulty with. Is there any particular soft skill that you see as a big challenge?
Aviv: [00:02:51] Say when you talk to tech executives, yeah, they have the tech part nailed down and executive is really hard. And exec’ing is vague. We like the specified JIRA ticket, you can just go and implement, but when it comes to managerial roles and executive roles, we have to define stuff. So the first soft skill I find hardest for people to manage and learn how to wield but is extremely beneficial is learning how to work with your colleagues were not technical understanding their needs in a way that you can then relay to your team. So the first example would be talking to the CEO as an executive who reports to CEO and the first rookie mistake I see is someone coming up to the non-technical CEO and talking jargon and the CEO just sitting there and not understanding what do we want from her. That’s something that I almost always have to help my clients with.
Another example would be, how do you provide feedback in a way that doesn’t feel like you’re doing something not nice to your team? Too many people have been burned in the past. From their own bad managers who didn’t provide feedback in the right way. And so now that they are in this position, they don’t know how to do it in a way that won’t offend their employees as well. So that’s also something that I always see managers needing help with their teams.
What do you see as the difference between a manager and an executive?
Vidal: [00:04:18] I want to ask you about executives. So a lot of people who listen to ManagersClub they’re managers, but maybe they’d like to become an executive one day. Could you briefly describe what you see as the difference between a manager and an executive?
And secondly, how does someone transition from being a manager to an executive ultimately?
Aviv: [00:04:38] Yeah that’s a very interesting question to think about it because first of all the difference is usually more pronounced when the team is big because if you’ve ever been in an early-stage startup there’s someone who has the title of CTO, VP of engineering, but in practice, that person probably manages a handful of engineers and it’s just pretty much a team lead with direct connection to the CEO or whoever is the product lead in the company. So it’s not that different when you’re in a very small company, but as you grow to be an executive means that you have to maintain that long-term vision and slowly disconnect from the day-to-day, even though many of the people I work with are enthusiastic about the actual work that the team is doing. You will be doing your team a disservice if we’re just talking the day-to-day and you don’t put your head up and think about what’s coming ahead. So that’s the main difference from me being someone who looks ahead and actually forming the strategy along with the entire executive team.
So that’s for me, the major difference and something that I finding too many people not doing. When I work with an executive who is lacking in this, I always say that they are essentially a glorified manager. They have one heck of a title, but they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, so there’s that.
And when it comes to growing from a management position to an executive position, I would say that nowadays with the state of the market, most of the people I see going into those positions are probably because they have had some management position in the past, like being a director in a bigger company, and then they move to a small startup as a VP or as a director that knows that they’re going to be likely to be promoted to a VP later on. That’s just, what’s the standard nowadays, I think in startup hubs, like in Tel Aviv, San Francisco, London, and those kinds of places. And of course, there’s a way to manage yourself up and go up the ranks in an organization, but those tend to take longer.
Most of the people I’m talking to nowadays are really very into seeing themselves rank up faster. So they do this shortcut of jumping to the next company.
Vidal: [06:59] Let’s follow up a little more because I agree with you like at a small startup, it’s easy for someone to have a title of a VP, CTO, but really, as you say, they would be a team lead or a manager at a much larger corporation. It really doesn’t mean that much to be a VP of a tiny startup, but what do you see as the difference between, say a VP, I’d say a large corporation, a large engineering group. That’s definitely a different skill set. Is it just the strategy looking ahead or are there other things? I’m just curious.
Aviv: [07:34] Yeah, I would say first of all that when you have a really big organization, there’s even the place to have several executives that are responsible for the tech world. For example, I just recently was working with a unicorn and the VP of engineering had I think like 200 engineers.
And there was also a CTO and they had some form of a relationship between them. They had some overlap and the VP of engineering was responsible for the people. So he was managing 200 people and that meant that he had several directors under him. And the work was entirely different from even the work of managing 50 engineers because when you’re operating such a big kind of, I wouldn’t say huge because it’s not Microsoft scale yet, but it’s quite a sizable organization.
And at that size, you have to be working at the meta-level. By the time you realize who’s in your organization, 20 new people have been brought on. So if you do one-on-ones, we try to have a handle of what teams are doing by the time you finish your round trip with even skip levels, just the managers under the managers, you’re managing things have changed sizeably and so you have to learn to think in this aggregated way, have different ways of reaching out to your team and organization and realizing what’s happening down below because you’re quite separated and abstracted away from them.
And it also means that I think the best executives that I work with at these bigger corporations do their best work when they find a way to really create an autonomous team under them. So that every director is what I call a mini executive. It’s someone that has the right mindset.
Then they’re likely to become an executive either in your company or in their next role, but they start and do the same kind of stuff. The same operating system I talk about for executives so that you, as the top-level manager, there will be able to do your work.
Vidal: [00:09:47] It’s really interesting because I talk with engineers, and sometimes they’ll say that they feel, that executives are very detached from the work and they don’t know, and they don’t like that many of them, but you’re describing that’s really the way they should function. They should be more detached and work at the meta-level working like on the business it sounds like rather than in it, right?
Aviv: [10:08] Yeah, exactly. Sometimes I think that executives have to have what I call product mastery. They cannot become so disconnected that they don’t understand what’s going on that they’re not able to open the product and actually walk through it and provide some good feedback at that. Hey, that new feature, I don’t think it’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing.
Not because I want to rely on them to be those fire extinguishers, to notice things and comment, but because I want them to have that sort of understanding. I don’t want them to be completely disconnected, but when it comes to what I expect them to do, 90% of their time, it’s not going to be the person who is into those specific details.
Sometimes there might be some, I don’t know, a big business feature that we’re working on something that’s very important for the roadmap or the next quarter. And then it’s more common to see an executive that has a focus on a tiny part of their entire organization. But if you want to do good, you cannot allow yourself to be sucked in into the details.
Even if you like it, even if your people are asking you for it, because it likely means that you are doing some sort of micromanagement, even if you’re not doing it because you want to, and even if you are being asked to do it, we are just providing crutches to our teams. And especially in scale-ups and companies that are growing really fast, you can’t allow yourself to become the person who fills the void because then the team relies on you.
And then when you realize that’s the scenario you’re in, it’s probably too late and you’re going to have a really hard quarter till you have the coaching in place till maybe you bring on someone else. It’s just — it’s possible. But I from working with dozens of companies, don’t think that’s the way to go.
Could you share with us a lesson you learned as an engineering leader?
Vidal: [11:55] That’s great. A very interesting perspective. Could you share with us a lesson you’ve learned as an engineering leader?
Aviv: [12:03] Yeah, I would say that and this is I think something that pretty much everyone, every leader should be thinking about not just engineering managers or technical leaders. And that is that you always have to keep in mind the WIFM, the “what’s in it for me” when you’re talking to another person when I’m trying to get a change in my organization.
And that is that you always have to keep in mind the WIFM, the “what’s in it for me” when you’re talking to another person when I’m trying to get a change in my organization.
Be it a team or be at a big engineering group with dozens of engineers. I have to create a way for the team to understand how they are going to be better off by making this change. For example, just the other week I was helping an executive introduce an on-call duty to the organization. And no engineer’s going to be happy about now having to have this time every month or whatever that they have to have a laptop nearby because they’re on call.
But if you help them understand what value the company is going to be getting from this, if you help them, see, for example, what are we going to do as a team to ensure that this sort of on-call doesn’t mean that you are constantly being interrupted by beeps and alerts. Doing that often helps the team realize what’s in it for them.
When I talk as an executive with other executives, for example, your VP of engineering wants to make some changes to the roadmap, or you want to talk to your product counterparts because you want to change how you do your processes, your agile processes, your iterations, what have you, you have to think about what’s in it for them because they’re as busy as you are. And if you want to get their engagement, if you want to get their help, you have to ensure that you come up with something that they are going to see the benefit for them as well. And that is something that too many people think that they can just come up with the rational explanation, especially as engineers, you just come with your rational explanation and you say, this is their best thing.
It’s going to save my team a bunch of time. And the other person might not be as rational as you would hope them to be. And you have to understand exactly what is motivating them. What’s making them tick what might appeal to their emotion and make them. Join you in this change that you’re after. And that I think one of the hardest things to do as an executive.
What is your approach to hiring?
Vidal: [00:14:25] I think that’s great to consider what’s in it for them. What would be your advice around hiring and recruiting?
Aviv: [00:14:31] It’s going to be hard no matter what you’re going to do nowadays, but I have a few things that I think are interesting. It’s not the kind of thing that would say it will work for every organization. But I have a few ideas that I think are worth thinking about. First of all, I always say that we always want to retain talent.
That’s a great thing to do, but consider the fact that there is a benefit to having some healthy turnover. Having some people leave the company from time to time is actually healthy. And I have seen some companies work so hard to avoid the case of someone quitting, to the point where they created all of these weird organizational structures only to have that specific person with some weird title, some weird responsibility set, just so that person would remain on board.
And that usually accrues to what I call organizational debt. Just like we have tech that this is org debt and it accrues until the team slowly as unable to function. Usually, because of that, so retaining talent is great, but not at every price. And when it comes to acquiring talent, I’m trying with clients of all sizes actually to help managers and leaders see that sometimes aiming for what we tend to want is let’s just get a bunch of senior people and forget about anything else. And with the state of the market, it’s going to be very hard to do that. And I think that more teams nowadays need to be thinking about hiring medium engineers, junior engineers, and working to provide them with the experience that the company needs.
Because getting 20 senior engineers in a quarter is going to be way harder and we pricier than getting 20 juniors or 20 medium engineers and teaching them how to become better. Yes. It means that the team will need to work harder. But in the long run, I believe that’s a very healthy thing to do. And I’ve seen several companies, especially the bigger ones, trying to do this with great success so far.
And it’s not easy, but I think that the state of the industry, the state of the market is just forcing us to try these kinds of things.
Vidal: [16:52] That’s an interesting observation you have because I have observed that people get a headcount, but they get one person, so if you only get one slot or two slots, natural tendencies you want to put the most senior person you can in it.
Aviv: [17:04] Yeah.
If you’re hiring two people a quarter, then I can get, while you’re going to try and get the best people available in the area you’re hiring at that specific moment. But when we’re talking about growing faster and teams need to. Almost always when teams need to start hiring faster, what they end up doing is that they lower standards, but in a bad way, they don’t say I’m not going to the person I’m bringing on as a medium engineer they bring someone who they think is a senior person, but has a cultural fit problem or seems to not be completely in love with whatever your company is doing or something like that. And I believe that sometimes lowering the technical mastery of the people that you’re bringing on in order to have a trade-off and bring someone that’s very passionate, that’s extremely motivated, that is in love with what the company is doing really wants the product out there really believes in it.
I’d rather have that person and invest some time and there, I call it the pressure cooker thing, where you provide them with a bunch of experience fast do that and then get a great engineer in a year, instead of wasting time bringing someone who might be a bad apple in the team and actually cost you way, way more in the long run.
What’s your advice for managers who are just starting out?
Vidal: [18:24] You have a lot of experience managing and being an executive. A lot of people listen to managers club, they’re either new manager or they want to be a manager. What would be your advice for people who are just starting out in management to get off to a good start?
Aviv: [18:36] Nice. If you’re doing this as a first-timer, I think that you have to start from the basics and the basics are, first of all, understanding what is your role in the company? And my book, the very first headline I think, is what does the company need you for? And that is something that, many first-timers don’t really grasp they just think, someone, needs to be in charge because that’s the way things are, but I’m going to be an engineer 60% of my time, or they are torn when they understand that they need to be coding less and maybe their manager expects them to be coding more or less that they don’t know what’s right.
They don’t know where they should be aiming at. So I think you should start from that definition of why are you here for? Why does the company need you? What is the benefit you’re going to provide? And I believe that in every organization, every single person is some sort of a force multiplier, which is a term that comes from the army.
I used it a lot in the Israeli Defense Force
Vidal: [00:19:38] I love that term. I love that term. Yeah, go ahead. Go ahead.
Aviv: [00:19:43] Exactly. People who get it a force multiplier is a person that makes those people around them better. It’s not that me, as Aviv, I am better. I’m the best engineer on the team. I am someone who can enable others to work faster, to work better, to reduce errors, whatever. And every single person and a company can be a force multiplier, but if you’re a manager, you have to become one you’ll work as to make your team better.
Your product as an engineering manager is your team. That is what you are delivering. You are not delivering the actual road map, but at the end of the year, what we’re going to see is have you created a team that is capable of working, delivering, and being aligned on what the business needs and all of that have to happen without you being that kind of micromanager.
That has to be there. My test is if you can take two weeks off and nothing’s going to explode, then we’re good. But if you’re really dreading your yearly vacation, because you’re going to get calls every day, then you’re not doing work as a manager.
Vidal: [00:20:55] I think that is great. Yeah.
I agree with you. I think one of the tests of good engineering leaders, even like when they leave. Like things run really well for a long time. Then people wonder what did this person even do? But they actually did a lot. Because it runs well when they’re not there, so I like that.
What’s your workday like and how do you manage your time, emails, calendar, etc.?
I want to talk a little about time management engineering managers and executives even more probably super busy with emails, calendars, things like that. How do you manage your workday or do you have advice for your clients on how to manage the workload and information overload these days?
Aviv: [00:21:29] Yeah. First of all, I think that we have to understand the fact that managing our time is something that we have to do as an example, even for our teams. I always say that managers and executives are essentially modeling for their team constantly, even if you’re not thinking about it. So a big part of that is being someone who is in charge of your time and of your commitments because otherwise, people are going to look at you
An example I had a client where no meetings started on time because every single manager would never arrive on time. They would get stuck at the previous meeting. And so people would know that just because I just had the calendar go bleep and tell me that the meeting started, I’m not gonna get up out of my chair. I’m going to sit for five more minutes and then maybe I’m going to go to the conference room because that’s probably when the managers are going, to come in and that would start this cascading effect where every single meeting all day would start later.
And I just hated that. Especially as an outsider, I would see that I just didn’t understand what’s going on. It just beeped. We were supposed to go that we’re supposed to be already seating in the conference when it beeps, but no it’s something that no one there expects, so that sort of stuff, and that’s modeling starts with being in control of your time.
And it’s hard, but I actually, in my book, I have some rules of thumb about how you should try and allocate your time. And it’s not going to surprise you. You’re going to spend more than half of your time in meetings, but the question is what sort of meetings are going to have. And I say that you should be aiming for about 25% of your time to be in one-on-ones because one-on-ones is when you are helping your team the most it’s when you are providing them with feedback, it’s when you’re helping them grow. And that’s a major part of your role as we just talked about. And that is why it should be around 25% of your time.
And another big part of managing I think is making the time to look up. Like I talked about a few minutes ago. I said that we need to as executives are people who look to the distance who look at the horizon and see what’s coming up ahead. And to do that, you have to take the time to disconnect to think a bit.
I call it leadership blocks. And I say that it’s something around 10% of your time. So you’re going to have a couple of blocks a week where you have these personal one on zero meetings where you’re sitting alone and you’re just thinking about stuff. And sometimes it would be stuff like you have your homework, like preparing for the next roadmap meetings.
Sometimes it’s you thinking about your people, your organization is doing the self retrospective and thinking what has been working well lately and what hasn’t? Do I feel like something, especially in a fast-growing organization, do I feel like something is lagging and I haven’t been noticing it, stuff like that?
How do you make the time you have these leadership blocks? I say, try and have them recurring in your calendar so that people just see it. And don’t try and invite you to other meetings on that time, because that’s usually what ends up working with my clients, but to each his own, I have some clients who just prefer to just state that, for example, every Friday they just go home.
If you’re not working from home, they go home two or three hours earlier, and then that’s their weekly thinking time, whatever works for you. But that’s another 10% of your time. And, now it gets blurry, but I would say that if you’ve allocated it with that 25% of your time is one-on-ones about 10% of your time as leadership blocks.
And you have probably 25 more percent of your time in meetings. The rest is pretty much up to you, but I always say that you have to allocate for a few things to ensure that you’re not forgetting anything. First of all, there’s an understanding that you’re going to have your own personal work time.
You maybe have documents to write, have some stuff that you need to be doing by yourself. There’s email or communication in general. You’re going to have to communicate a bunch. Even if you think that you’re just answering slack for a couple of minutes, and adds up over the week. So you’re going to have to do that quite a bit.
There’s putting out fires because you’re always going to have fires no matter how good your organization’s running, something’s going to happen. So you have to have that buffer. And lastly, what I think is the biggest sort of conundrum for people is how much time are you going to be spending on hiring?
Because that really seems to differ from one company to the other and sometimes from one quarter to the other, because some people just end up spending like 10% of the time in hiring. But if you’re in a scale-up and you’re constantly trying to double your team every year or something like that, you end up spending a lot of time in hiring, onboarding, and tending to that.
And that becomes like 50% of your time easily. So it’s when you were in the scale-up mode, hiring becomes all of your meetings, it becomes your personal work what you’re providing to the company. So it really changes, but ensure that you have at least 25% of your time to one-on-ones because I’m seeing people that’s the first thing that they cut because it’s easy to say, nothing interesting happened this week. Let’s just talk again next week, but then you’re missing out on the little improvements, the feedback, and the coaching that you owe your team.
Vidal: [00:27:19] Love how you have a time allocation strategy for people. I think that’s really good. And I like your.
Aviv: [00:27:26] Yeah. I would say that in my book I have a bunch of things that are essentially analogies, too. Programming and being a geek. I feel like this ends up working too for many of my clients. So I always say, think about it, like you would plan out your perfect sort of project. For example, it’s just the project is how you’re going to be an executive in the company.
Vidal: [00:27:52] Yeah, I think it’s great. I think a lot of good analogies you can make from computers to time management. And I love how you mentioned one-on-ones first and not cutting them because I think those are probably the most important meetings you have all week.
What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
What’s a personal habit that you feel contributes to your success?
Aviv: [00:28:10] Oh someone who tends to have a very short attention span and as someone who believes that accountability is one of the most important traits for every manager and actually everyone who has a profession I’ve learned that I have to time block and plan my days ahead of time. So I try for years now, I try at the end of every day, plan what my next is going to look like in big chunks, like every hour or two and have laid out the two or three things that I have to get done that day. And that is my measure for whether I had a good day. If I finished the day with those two or three things that I committed to then I’m happy.
And I know that I’m slowly but surely getting the important stuff done and not just running from putting out one fire to the next. And I’ve found it to be magical, especially as an independent person nowadays, I have no boss. I have no one to tell me that I’m not doing my work properly so I have to keep myself accountable. But I’ve found it actually to be helpful to many of my clients that I’ve helped them in my coaching to actually start doing the same.
And if you’re the kind of person who loses your thread of thought, whenever something happens, this seems to be a great way to remind you what is the important thing that you were supposed to be doing today.
Vidal: [00:29:35] That’s great to plan out the next day, the way you do.
Share an internet resource, app, or tool that you can’t live without.
Is there an internet resource, app, or tool that you might recommend to managers, something that you like and use?
Aviv: [00:29:51] Yeah, actually it might sound a bit weird, but one thing that I’m finding extremely helpful is reading real newspapers online. So it might be the WallStreet Journal might be your local newspaper or whatever, but I’m finding that disconnecting from the day-to-day techie news and not going to just read the newsfeed because reading the breaking news stuff, just I find for myself just makes me worry about whatever is happening somewhere in the world, but reading the newspaper in the morning or at the end of the day, you get just the summary of what’s happening. And I find that it is helpful for me to be more aware of what’s going on, have a sense of connection to the world or to the industry.
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com
For example, I have a few clients who always make sure to read the news and the Wall Street Journal about the industry they’re working in. And that means that they are more connected, especially as an executive where you’re expected to understand the world and the market and the industry you’re in and not just be a glorified manager.
And that is something that I think is helpful too. Maintain that ability to know what’s going on around you.
Vidal: [00:31:07] I think that is really interesting because reading the newspaper these days, I feel is a lost art. Like people don’t do it anymore. They just read the news online. So that’s a very interesting idea you have.
Aviv: [00:31:21] Yeah. Nothing in my world is going to change if I don’t read the latest headline in five minutes after it’s out. And so if I just read a summary the day later I get the gist of what’s important without having the agitation of going through every update every 10 minutes between emails or between meetings.
And it’s also helpful for my day-to-day. As I said, I have a short attention span, but it also means that I’m getting the important stuff. Especially if you’re reading something that’s, the online edition of a real newspaper. Paper has limited real estate, they cannot put everything in it. On the website, they can go on and on about anything. But if you’re reading what was printed, you’re getting what is likely the most important thing that you should be going over so I’m finding it very helpful.
If you could recommend one book to managers, what would it be and why?
Vidal: [32:10] Interesting. You could recommend one book to managers besides your book, which is a very good book. I enjoyed reading it. I’ll put a link to it in the show notes. What would it be and why?
Aviv: [32:19] I think that personally, what helped me the most was reading way, way back a few years ago, the Mythical Man-Month because it helped me realize so many of the concepts that are overarching for every manager, I think, and it has become something that pretty much every management book that has been written afterward is based on in some way.
And in general, I recommend reading the classics, even though I just wrote a new book. So I know that it might seem weird, but especially as someone who is trying to understand how management works globally, how things have changed over the past decades, what has been known to work since, before it was born and still as true today, because that’s likely something that’s going to be sticking around that sort of stuff. And I go back to the originals and I noticed that The Mythical Man Month has a few concepts that people are talking about on and on. If you’ve heard people talk about there’s no silver bullet, you should go there because that’s where Fred Brooks started talking about it. I don’t know how many years ago that sort of stuff.
Vidal: [33:30] Yeah, no, that’s a great book. I think it came out in the fifties or sixties. it’s quite old but it’s very true. People don’t change that much. So
Aviv: [33:40] Yeah
What is your approach to developing, mentoring & coaching members of your team?
Vidal: [33:40] What is your approach to career development, mentorship, coaching, members of your team?
Aviv: [33:48] Well, as I mentioned earlier, one-on-ones is the most important thing that you have in your calendar because that is when you are helping your team. And if you view yourself as a force multiplier. That is when you’re multiplying the people around you. That is where you are growing them, helping them become better.
So first of all, you have to invest the time. It’s not going to happen spontaneously. People don’t grow without feedback and without the right sort of friction, you have to tell them when they’re not doing things correctly. You have to provide them with guidance and with an external perspective and that is the most important thing that you can do. And I always say that’s what you owe your team. So start with allocating the time for that and have the right mindset. Let’s say 50% of the time when I’m talking to a new executive and I asked them, what are you doing in one-on-ones?
It’s just a sync meeting. They’re just talking about what have you been doing? What’s on the roadmap? And they feel like we were productive. That was a good meeting, but one-on-ones are also this platform for feedback from the manager to the employee and from the employee to the manager.
Actually, I think that it’s incredibly important for growing them and for helping them understand what’s going on. So that is I think the most important aspect. And I talk about the feedback skeleton in your organization, where you want to make sure that feedback is going from any level to the level it should be getting to.
I don’t believe in the chain of command. Even though I was in the army when it comes to feedback if there’s something that Israelis do amazing as having the right kind of chutzpah to go over to the CEO and tell them that something’s not going on correctly. And, soliciting that sort of feedback is invaluable for the company.
You’re planning something and you want to ensure that people are not just nodding their heads and saying, all right, we’ll do it. You want them to prod holes in it and say, “Hey, do you really think that’s the best use of our time?” Let’s not do it in a way that becomes too much, but having that feedback, having the ability to speak up, which you’re thinking, okay, that’s what we get paid for as engineers, as people who have this vast techie knowledge, we shouldn’t just be saying, all right, and do whatever’s on JIRA.
We should have this two-way conversation with our counterparts. And I think that coaching people to do that as a leader is invaluable for a company and actually invaluable for them as well when it comes to their personal careers. So doing that is amazing and we should all be doing better at it.
Vidal: [00:36:39] I think you’re right. It’s easy for a one-on-one to just default, to a sync meeting, unless there’s an agenda and a goal for it. So what you’re saying is be sure to include time for feedback and yeah, it’s not always easy to give feedback, but that’s the job, right? That’s the job of the managers to give feedback.
What does it take to be a great engineering leader?
So I think that’s great. What does it take in your mind to be a great engineering leader or a great engineering executive?
Aviv: [37:04] I mentioned a couple of things earlier, but I would say that first of all, the best leaders know why there are there. They have this intrinsic understanding of their roles and purpose and the company. Second, they act as lighthouses of energy beams in their organization. Because when you look at senior technical people, we tend to be cynical.
We tend to be pessimistic and what’s actually needed is that person in the room who says, we’ve got this is possible. I always give this example of, if I now hand you a chessboard with a given position and ask you, what are you going to do in this position? Unless you’re chess Grandmaster gonna look at it, think about it for I don’t know, 20 seconds and say, I don’t know.
And if I give you the same chessboard and say white to move mate in two, I just have told you that there’s something possible to do. You’re going to think about it, even if it takes you five minutes and you’re going to find the mate in two and tell me here it is. So having someone tell you that something’s possible, that’s buying the solution, it can be like magic for a team. I call it executive mindset and having that executive mindset is a necessity for executives.
And second, I think that having the product mastery I talked about earlier, even though you’re managing dozens of people, even though in the day-to-day, you are disconnected from the nuts and bolts. You have to have product mastery. You have to understand what your team is working to accomplish, how that provides impact, how your customers are going to be viewing it so that you can tie everything together and ensure that the team is focused on what actually matters, not, going as techies, we go to the new shiny, node JS package that we just read about on Hacker News and that might have no value for the business.
But if you are able to have that product mastery guide you, and then you focus your team on where impact is going to be created, that’s magical again for the team. So those two concepts, product mastery, and executive mindset, I believe are basic yet hard to find for too many people. And I think that having them is fundamental to be a good or a great executive.
Vidal: [39:33] I think that’s just fantastic because I think that’s also a key to a lot of great entrepreneurs that you see out there. Like they’re like this is possible. There’s a very inspiring mission that they’re giving and they have a great sense of the product, right? This is the product we’re going to build. Cause you’re right. It’s easy for engineers to sometimes to become cynical or pessimistic about things. This won’t work, this won’t work. And then you’re like, no, it can be solved. We can do it.
Aviv: [40:00] I would say that as an executive, as a tech executive, you have to have those two state things where, for example, if you’re talking to your executive team and you were thinking about the roadmap, you can’t say yes to every single thing that they’re thinking about because you’re this positive person because then you’re going to over-commit and your team is going to suffer it. And then you’re not going to deliver everything and you’re going to be in trouble. So I’m not saying have this anything is the possible attitude all the time, but I am saying that once you’ve committed to something, or if you were having this sort of brainstorming session, you’re thinking about what is possible.
You just saw that your competitor did something and rather than go into, “oh my God the business is gone.” Think about what does this mean? Where’s the opportunity here? Maybe we can pivot this into something even better something that we haven’t thought about earlier. You have to be proactive and think about when should I put on this executive mindset, but of course, it cannot be a hundred percent of the time.
Where can we go to learn more about you?
Vidal: [41:02] That’s awesome. That’s totally awesome. Aviv, it’s been great to have you here. You’ve been really generous with your time. I really appreciate you coming here. And a lot of the stuff you said, I think is just very valuable. Where can people go to learn more about you afterward?
Aviv: [41:17] I have a podcast and I put out articles weekly about this sort of stuff exactly. So you can check them all out on avivbenyosef.com. And of course, there’s my book that was released a couple of weeks ago called The Tech Executive Operating System. And you can find that on techexecutiveoperatingsystem.com as well.
Vidal: [41:36] Awesome. I’ll put a link to those. And again, thank you so much for being here.
Aviv: [41:41] Thank you for having me again. I had a good time.
- The Mythical Man-Month
Like this interview?
Subscribe and leave us a rating & review on your favorite podcast app, or reach out with any feedback.
Join our LinkedIn group, where you can discuss and connect with other engineering leaders.
Discover Other Posts You Might Like
Sep 26, 2023
1 min read
Unveiling the Secrets to New Manager Success
… [Read more](https://www.managersclub.com/unveiling-the-secrets-to-new-manager-success/ "Unveiling the Secrets to New Manager Success")
Sep 26, 2023
1 min read
Accelerating AI in Your Team: Strategies for Success
… [Read more](https://www.managersclub.com/accelerating-ai-in-your-team-strategies-for-success/ "Accelerating AI in Your Team: Strategies for Success")
May 31, 2023
1 min read
How to Stay Motivated and Crush Business-Critical Projects
In this video, Rajesh Janakiraman, an engineering manager at Google, shares his insights and experiences on leading business critical projects while ensuring his team remains motivated and doesn’t burn out. Business critical projects can be intense, high visibility deadlines that often shift roadmaps and include executive-level oversight. Building the right team, maintaining communication, and managing expectations around these challenging projects are crucial to preventing burnout and driving results.
May 26, 2023
1 min read
📣 Join Managers Club: A Collaborative Discord Community for Engineering Leaders 📣
Are you on the lookout for a collaborative, engaging community tailored specifically for your role? Look no further! Introducing the Managers Club Discord server dedicated to leadership in engineering. We’re a community of engineering managers, team leads, and CTOs who come together to share experiences, best practices, and insights.
May 25, 2023
1 min read
Measuring Success & Performance of Managers – A Deep Dive
Are you an Engineering Manager curious about gauging your effectiveness and success in your role? In this insightful episode, we dive deep into metrics and stakeholder management with Ivan Bilan, an experienced engineering manager. Discover the core metrics for measuring engineering manager performance in people leadership, product quality, delivery, and self-promotion, and learn the importance of stakeholder management in driving team success. In this video, we will be looking at how to measure success and performance for managers. We’ll be exploring different methods and tools that managers can use to measure their own success, as well as the success of their team. Don’t miss out on these valuable insights and strategies!
May 16, 2023
1 min read
Red Flags and Insider Tips for Working with Recruiters
In this engaging conversation, experienced technical recruiter Kate Parton shares vital advice and insider tips for candidates seeking job opportunities in the tech industry. She discusses red flags to watch for, navigating compensation discussions, common misconceptions about the recruiting process, and how to make the most of your partnership with a recruiter. Discover the role of social media and the rise of AI in the hiring process. Kate shares valuable tips and advice on making your job search and interview process smoother and more successful. Tune in for an insider’s perspective on the world of recruitment and how to avoid common pitfalls!