Sacrificial artifice

We get to where we are because of how hard we work and the skills we cultivate, and not necessarily because of the things we sacrifice.

I’m taking part in a leadership development course at work, and the core exercise is to participate in an inquiry council. Every person brings one problem or challenge to discuss with the group (all leads at Automattic), and through a process of open and honest questioning, the person who brought the topic gains greater understanding of how to move forward productively. I have not yet brought my topic (next week!) but I have already gained a lot of insight, just from seeing how my colleagues approach asking questions, seeing the things that they prioritize, seeing the things they struggle with and how they resolve those struggles.

One thing that has slowly taken shape for me over the last couple of months is the idea of unnecessary sacrifice. I think many of us may be unconsciously superstitious. We have earned a seat at the table through hard work and the impact we’ve had on the organization. In order to effect that impact, we may have put extraordinary stress on ourselves, which we assume is necessary in order to get the effect we want. Like a baseball player never washing their socks, we begin to believe in the stress as a necessary element in success.

Now, that’s not to say that responding appropriately to urgency is a bad thing, or something we should not do. And it’s also not to say that some roles are not inherently higher stakes than others. However, I think it’s worth re-examining where stress is actually coming from, and seeing where you can control the stress. My experience is showing that one effective way to reduce the stress I put on myself is through candid communication. “I don’t know how to do that, can you show me?” “I’m feeling anxious about kid school stuff today.” “Is this something we need to do now, or next week?” “I can help you with that in an hour, but not right now.” When others on my team, or my peers, are aware of my viewpoint, we can more effectively prioritize and support one another. I also think it’s particularly important for leads to model this sort of behavior (managing stress, communicating clearly), and to support the people on our teams who follow suit as they learn how to do the same.

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