The Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

This was first published on my mailing list The Looking Glass. Every week, I answer a reader’s question.

Photo by Les Haines

How can I continue to thrive when I don’t feel I have the room to be a leader?

I am the most senior person on my team. Even though I wasn’t officially the lead or manager, I took on a lot of the duties of a lead, for example representing my team at key meetings and advising the VP of our division. Recently, my manager hired in a new manager to lead our team. This new person seems good, but has started to take over a lot of the things I used to do. I don’t get to attend key meetings anymore, for example. How can I continue to thrive when I don’t feel I have the room to be a leader?

When I started at Facebook, we were about 100 people. Because there were so few of us, we had to do whatever was needed to get things done. The night before our first f8 conference, a few colleagues and I were holed up in a hotel room until 4:00am writing database scripts. At a hackathon, I wrote Facebook’s first version of typeahead search and shipped it a few weeks later. As a hobbyist illustrator, the giraffes and cute animals I drew in my spare time found their way into various Facebook projects. I even left my mark in graffiti in decorating the campus walls. Those days, I knew about every pixel going out the door, and if I didn’t work on it directly, I had ample chances to critique it.

Over the years as our company grew, things changed. After I became a manager, a more experienced manager was hired in to be my boss. As our design team grew, it was no longer practical for me to track or share my opinion on everything that was being worked on. At some point, I stopped checking in code and writing scripts for the databases. Today, the work of professional artists’ adorn our walls.

You could say that as time passed, my influence over the company has shrunk, and that has sometimes felt like a loss. Sure, I wasn’t great at drawing icons or writing scripts for our databases, but I had participated. I had a front row invitation to the center of the action. I got to dance in the eye of the storm. Every time we hired a person who was better at it to do that work, it meant I gave up a part of what I was doing.

And yet, all that pales in comparison to the greater story of my career: a rising tide lifts all boats. As an organization succeeds, everybody within it succeeds. Facebook has grown 100x since I started, and through that I’ve had opportunities for personal growth that I could never have imagined. I gave up some pieces of my work, but there was ever more to pick up. And as a result, what I do now feels more impactful than it ever did before. The responsibility I feel and the challenges on the road ahead are ever growing.

This is why new colleagues who join and kick ass should be celebrated, not seen as competitors who threaten your position. Or other teams that succeed be applauded, even if you had nothing to do with their success. At the end of the day, team conflicts, politics, and “us and them” mentalities within an organization don’t make logical sense. As a shareholder and employee, you reap the rewards of the entire company. The better the company does, the more options there are for leaders like you.

The manager who was hired over me made me a much better manager over the years, and I am forever grateful for her coaching and real talk. The people who took over pieces of the responsibilities I used to have — illustrators, engineers, database experts — taught me a much greater appreciation for the craft. Many became good friends and colleagues. It is an honor to work with people who are exceptional at what they do and who inspire and challenge you daily.

Give your new manager a chance. Tell him or her how you’d like to be supported in your personal goals to grow as a leader. Ask them about their vision for your team, and if that vision sounds exciting, tell them how you’d like nothing better than to work with them to bring in the tide.

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