Looking Back on Planning Ahead: 2012-Lee Edition

I was clearing out some boxes this weekend, basically tossing papers and things from my previous career, and I came across a neat little blast from the past.

In 2012, a few months after becoming the manager of the Product Marketing team and shortly after we’d added another team member, I asked each person on the team to fill out a “Self-Development Questionnaire”.

I always saw my role as making sure the team achieved or contributed to the organization’s goals, and I knew that we’d be in a better position to do so if I could assign/distribute tasks in such a manner that they appealed to each member’s interests and desired areas of growth. So this questionnaire was a straightforward way for me to learn what interested and appealed to the members of my team.

But enough about them! The fun part is that I also filled out the questionnaire, and (in addition to the ones from my team members) I found my own completed sheet!

It’s neat to look back almost six years later to see what I entered and to assess how well I used the insights.

retrospecticus

So let’s get to it! The stuff in the tables is transcribed from the questionnaire (which you can see at the bottom of this post), and the stuff outside of the tables is my retrospective commentary.

Lee Brooks: Self-Development Questionnaire (circa 2012)

My Skills

My five best/most developed skills are:
  1. Problem-solving
  2. Designing (visuals/aesthetics/readable)
  3. Copywriting
  4. Technically Capable
  5. Public speaking

The only one that stands out to me now as being a bit odd is #2. I definitely had a better sense of aesthetics and readability than most folks who work in technical marketing roles, but knowing how much I’ve learned since 2012 reveals to me how little I knew back when I completed this questionnaire.

My Desired Skills

The fives skills that I would most like to develop are (don’t cop-out by just re-listing your strengths, although you can re-use some of them:
  1. Effective listening (asking questions, being engaged, waiting my turn)
  2. Effective speaking (includes public speaking)
  3. Effective leadership (inspiring others, using the correct motivational tactics)
  4. Delegation and collaboration
  5. Dealing with conflict/disagreement

This list is a fun one, and I have commentary for each item.

Effective Listening

I’d say I’m a pretty effective listener, but I still have too much of a tendency to either jump in prematurely, or to basically just wait for the other person to finish so I can say what I want to say – which honestly comes more from excitement about a topic than from disregard for the other person, or their opinion. It’s like I can’t wait to build upon what they’ve contributed. Probably still comes off as annoying, though.

Over the years, I’ve made conscious effort to address my shortcomings as a listener, for instance by jotting notes as the conversation progresses (so I don’t worry about forgetting something, which is often a motivating factor in jumping in) and by letting silences hang a bit (so the other people can fill them).

I’m also very much aware of cognitive biases – especially confirmation bias – and I try my best to watch out for them and really take in information, whether it supports my ideas or not.

I feel like the work is never done, though…there are always more skills to be developed.

Effective Speaking

OK, so I listed “public speaking” as a strength, but “effective speaking” as an area for development? I sure did, and there were two reasons; I’m generally a pretty engaging public speaker, but…

  1. I wanted to diversify my speaking styles
  2. I wanted to improve upon persuasive speaking

I think I’ve come a little way since 2012, but I still have a pretty singular go-to style. I tried a calmer, more restrained style for a fairly serious presentation a few years ago and, while a bunch of folks came up to me after to say how well it had gone, a very senior person took me to task a bit for coming across as a bit of a downer, rather than being inspirational.

I’m kind’ve torn here…should I stick with what works and just embrace and accept that as my style, or continue to try new things?

Effective Leadership

As readers of this blog are well aware, learning how to be a more effective leader, and then putting those lessons into practice are very near and dear to my heart.

That being said, I’d really prefer to just hire and work with superstars who need little active management. The moment I have to start considering what will motivate a particular individual, or that I should follow up with them on particular tasks, I have a counterbalancing thoughts of, “You should be intrinsically motivated to do a great job,” and “I should just have complete trust that you’ll do a great job without me following up.”

I inspire by setting an example, not by giving rousing speeches.

Am I just lazy? Naive?

Delegation and Collaboration

Personally, I think I made great strides with regard to delegating tasks and working in collaboration with others, so I feel pretty good about this one.

Dealing with Conflict/Disagreement

Due to a fairly long and ‘fun’ list of circumstances that popped up between 2012 and now, this area also got plenty of development. I’m pretty damn comfortable – or, at least, capable – at dealing with conflict and disagreement now.

My Favourite Things

The five tasks/duties/deliverables/etc. (e.g., writing infosheets, creating presentations, delivering sales training, meeting with customers, customer roadshows, evangelizing and following Pragmatic Marketing, attending tradeshows, writing whitepapers, performing detailed competitive analysis, and so on) that I enjoy doing the most, and/or out of which I get the most satisfaction and some sense of accomplishment are:
  1. Helping others to succeed
  2. Public speaking (when feeling prepared)
  3. Customer meetings
  4. Collaborating at a strategic level (with Cassio, Don, Nicole, Jen)
  5. Finding areas for synergy/efficiency

I feel pretty proud when I look at that list, since “Helping others to succeed” is numero uno. I really took that part of leadership seriously, and I hope that I delivered in the seven years that I ran the team.

I chuckled a bit when I read number two…I probably filled out this questionnaire after getting some speaking spot thrust upon me =)

Regarding customer meetings, a funny thing happened as my team grew: I had fewer and fewer meetings, myself. I did a lot of background work to help my team succeed, but was more than happy to step out of the way and let them have the customer meetings, as much as I found those meetings to be valuable. In fact, in my last two years running the team, I had something like four or five customer meetings, which really is absurd.

Number four reveals my enjoyment of participating in strategic discussion, even back then, rather than just executing on tactics. For reference, Cassio was our VP of Product Management at the time, Don was our CTO, Nicole ran our Marketing Communications team, and Jen led our Corporate Communications. When the group of us collaborated and were given true autonomy, great things happened.

My Least Favourite Things

The five tasks/duties/deliverables/activities/etc that I don’t particularly enjoy are:
  1. Meetings of little value (poorly planned, no objectives, etc)
  2. Crafting presentations for other speakers
  3. Turning around short-term media requests
  4. “Make work” projects, like blog posts just for the sake of it
  5. “Over-process”

Wow! What a great list of time-wasters and annoyances!

I’ve beaten meetings to death already on this blog, and you can see from this questionnaire that they already antagonized me back in 2012.

Number two is funny. At this moment I can think of three reasons why crafting presentations for other speakers annoys me:

  1. As I mentioned above, I have a pretty well-established presentation style, and that doesn’t work for everyone. So when I’m making a presentation for someone else – say, for an executive delivering a keynote, or something similar for a tradeshow, then I really have to cater to their styles…so it forces me to act differently, which takes a bit longer.
  2. I know what I know, so I know what content needs to be in the presentation and what doesn’t, based upon what’s in my head and what I can speak to without visual aids; I don’t necessarily know what other folks know, and in many cases they wouldn’t know a subject as deeply as me. So I’d have to put more self-explanatory content in, which fills up slides, which makes things busier, etc. Ugh.
  3. People get nitpicky about decks, yet still don’t seem to want to complete their own, which would be far more straightforward. I can’t stand going back and forth on something more than, maybe, twice. Like, here’s a draft, you give me some feedback, I incorporate, and then you’re good to go. Anything beyond that and it’s more efficient for you to just do the edits yourself.

Number three was just an annoyance, but lots of that stuff landed on my desk…it didn’t add long-term value, but was sufficiently important and urgent that I had to do it. Frustrating!

Number four was a long-time pet peeve. I like working on strategic things that have long-term value, not stupid tactics disconnected from strategy that we’re doing just to inflate some vanity metric. Again, ugh!

And, regarding “over-process”, as I’ve said elsewhere: I’m all about Just Enough Process.

In My Opinion…

We can improve team performance by…
…working together, collaboratively, and quickly iterating material

I’m very proud that, over the years, my team became very close-knit and extremely effective. Members supported each other, coached each other, and pushed each other to new heights.

We need to stop (as soon as possible)…
…wasting time on items that are unimportant

Looking back, I recognize that we made progress, but we never got as far as I would’ve liked. Too often, due to factors beyond our control we were forced to spend time on things that just weren’t as important as others. I did my best as a manager to either get wasteful stuff off my team’s agenda entirely, or to quickly whip through it myself, but at best I’d say we were “OK”, rather than “great” in this regard.

We need to start (as soon as possible)…
…effective lead generation

This one could be an entire post in itself. We were actually really good at getting attention, whether through things like the Global Internet Phenomena program or because of our industry-leading library of technical content; however, for an assortment of reasons, we weren’t very effective about turning that attention into leads.

Summing Up

All in all, I’ve definitely grown both professionally and personally in the almost six years since I completed this questionnaire. It wasn’t in the exact ways that I’d hoped or planned, but I still ended up in a better place.

I dealt with some shit, I did my absolute best to help my team grow, and I made friends and enemies (enemy?) along the way.

And isn’t that what life is about?

self-development-questionnaire

Lee Brooks is a freelance technology marketer based in the high-tech hub of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

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Posted in Careers, Everything, Leadership, Management

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