Empowerment Strategies: An Interview with Tricia Broderick

[interview]
Summary:

Tricia Broderick recently sat down with us ahead of her 2012 Better Software Conference East session titled "The Journey from Manager to Leader: Empowering Your Team." With more than sixteen years of experience, Tricia truly has a passion for and a strong grasp of agile principles.

Tricia Broderick is a director of development at TechSmith. Her passion for mentoring and coaching has been essential in successfully transitioning from manager to agile leader. Tricia spoke at the 2012 Better Software Conference East in Orlando, Florida. 

Q: What are some of the kinds of things that can prevent a potential leader from not realizing that they're disempowering their team?

A: Very few managers would say “I have a closed door policy,” or “I prefer to be a micro-manager.”  Yet, these are sometimes the very assumptions teams derive about their managers.  It’s not uncommon for managers to focus only on their intentions without regard to what their behaviors indicate.  Teams do not inherently know what a manager’s intentions are, and in the cases where they want to believe intentions are good, behaviors and actions speak louder.  So I always ask the manager that insists they have an open door policy, “Does anyone use it?” 

Q: What are some of the challenges you faced with your own team?

A: I was known professionally for never making the same mistake twice.  I was proud of this reputation given the importance I’ve always placed on being reflective, accountable and continuously growing.  As such I applied this philosophy directly onto my team, which meant that my role was to make sure they didn’t repeat any mistakes that I had already learned. Unfortunately, this resulted in me accidently taking ownership of everything.  

As the team attempted to avoid problems that only I knew about, they increasingly vetted decisions, risks and issues with me. When they drew the conclusion that I most valued perfection, they began withdrawing from taking risk.  The more I was consulted, the more frustrated I became with the lack of initiative by my team.  Recognizing the root cause of this dysfunction and then working with the team to pull out of this spiral has been one of the best lessons I’ve learned as a leader. 

Q: Do you find that many people find it difficult to change their way of thinking? What's the best way to begin that transformation?

A: Several years ago, I attended an Agile conference session conducted by Christopher Avery and Ashley Johnson titled, "How Do I Get People to Take Responsibility and Demonstrate Ownership?” There were two key takeaways that helped reduce how difficult it had been to change my own thinking so that I could transform.  First, I needed to become aware of the problem and the intent both from my perspective, as well as from my team.   Second, I had to take true responsibility for problems to enable growth and learning.  All too often, I was getting stuck in mental areas that were not helpful, such as justification for my behavior and/or my reaction.   When I focused on these two aspects, the journey became easier.

Q: What are the biggest rewards of being an effective leader?

A: There are many sentiments regarding what a person’s life is measured by.  One of my favorites is that we are measured by the number of lives we positively impact.  Don’t get me wrong, I can definitely remember jumping up and down at my desk when I finally figured out how to fix a difficult bug.  However, none of those personal professional moments come close to the rewards I have when it’s tied to the results of being an effective leader.  Obviously, gaining the trust and respect of your teams and peers is enormously valuable.  But for me, the biggest reward is the one that’s not seen by many.  

For example, I helped someone take their idea of a brown bag lightening talk event to fruition.  He was nervous about presenting, getting others to volunteer, wondering if people would attend and if they would find it it a waste of time, etc. We worked through those fears, he did the work and I supported him.  On the day of the event, I sat in the back of the room and smiled proudly as the room filled, how well he spoke, how he engaged the presenters, and how the audience applauded his efforts. Knowing I supported him so he could feel this sense of ownership and pride, well, that is the reward that I want to be measured by. 

Q: Your upcoming session at the Better Software Conference East can obviously help managers. What can those not currently in a management or leadership position also take home with them?

A:  The original purpose of my presentation was to increase self-awareness for a manager of what might be contributing to the lack of self-managing teams.  Yet, there is value for those who aren’t managers or intend to be managers. Sharing this information will help those employees struggling with feelings of disempowerment, and losing hope in the effectiveness of their manager. 

My presentation will help people better understand problems and perhaps see issues from another perspective. This benefit was reinforced this summer during our internal company conference. I presented to a group where more than half were non-managers and one individual followed up with me, expressing great appreciation. They passionately highlighted several ideas for ways they can improve their situation given a better understanding of what might be contributing to the challenge.

 

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