Software engineering with a purpose ft. Brad Henrickson
Jun 25th, 2021 | 39 minutes
Seasoned executive technology leader, founder of Henrickson Leadership and SF CTO club co-organizer, Brad has focused on the intersection of technology, innovation, and executive leadership in a variety of businesses ranging from dating, data and analytics, fintech, transportation, and others.
Rob Zuber is a 20-year veteran of software startups, a four-time founder, and three-time CTO. Since joining CircleCI, Rob has seen the company through its Series F funding and delivered on product innovation at scale while leading a team of 250+ engineers who are distributed around the globe.
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Rob Zuber: Hello, and welcome to The Confident Commit, the podcast for anyone who wants to join the conversation on how to deliver software better and faster. (singing). This is episode five. Today, we’re going to dive into the interaction between human motivations and delivering great software with my great friend, Brad Hendrickson. I’m your host, Rob Zuber CTO of CircleCI, the industry leader for all things CI/CD. Hey, Brad. Thanks for joining me today.
Brad Hendrickson: Hey, Rob. Great to be here.
Rob Zuber: It’s awesome to have you. It’s funny. This happens every time. We spent so much time trying to figure out how to introduce someone. It’s always a story, right? It’s too complicated. There’s not a one-liner that summarizes Brad. So for me, I think the story is we’ve met many, many times in the… I mean, we’re both in the Bay Area. We’re both practicing engineering executives, although you were also an executive coach, which no one would ever allow me to do, so that’s cool. But I think most importantly, every time we talk, I learn something about leadership, about particularly the human element, people, what motivates them. So, I’m super excited to chat today about all of that and anywhere you want to take us in terms of how you think about helping teams be great so that they can ultimately do great things.
So, let’s start with that a little bit. I mean, I would say out of many of the leaders that I know, you’re someone who’s very clearly tuned into the human element, the differences between people, understanding their motivations. Was there something in particular in your background or at some point in your own work where you had an aha moment about how critical that was to ultimately getting the job done, delivering effectively, having people work together effectively?
Brad Hendrickson: Yeah. There’s definitely a number of times in my career where that’s been the case. Very personally, for me, when I was helping to found and build Zoosk back in the mid-2000s, late 2000s. My mindset was very much around just onboard as much as I could do and just carry the full load with me. So it was very much not delegating, putting myself in tip of the spear, is kind of the 24/7 availability, and just trying to keep carrying, carrying, carrying. In all of that, it just went across the line, where it was like, “This is not sustainable anymore.” The stories that I’m bringing, which were motivating me really weren’t helping me to do what I needed to do or lift my team in a way that was really beneficial to them.
And so, I really had a hard wake-up call to how critical it was to really think about my own wellbeing, but also the human element about what is my team dynamic really like, how are we really going to set things up to be successful for that group. So, that was one of those places, where all that compression happens. You learn the lesson the hard way of this really isn’t the way for us to move forward, and then starting to build new awarenesses about how do you want to be on the way forward. So for me, it was a lot about how do I want to work with my team? How do I want to relate? How do I want to show up as a leader?
Rob Zuber: I like it. There’s something you said in there that’s, I think, really important to me, which is recognizing that your behavior, which I think a lot of us get into that mode of, “I’m leading by example and taking on all this load and protecting my team,” or however you might frame it, that behavior ultimately was problematic for your team, right? And that you weren’t creating the opportunities for them to be successful in some way. I don’t know if that really captures it, but that interaction and that switch from, “I’m doing great things for my team,” to actually, “I’m harming my team or doing them a disservice,” in the way that I’m thinking about it. Is that a reasonable capture?
Brad Hendrickson: Yeah. I think it was for certainly for my team, there’s a piece of where I had a perspective of like, “What does it mean to do well by my team?” I had to project a lot of my own narrative onto my team to do that. So it’s like, “Okay. Well, this person can’t get distracted so we have to quarantine them off.” And so, I need to be the umbrella to protect them. But also, for myself, I was using a lot of my narratives to frame it. I think that’s relatively on point in terms of how that was playing out.
Rob Zuber: And so, you mentioned there a couple times the narrative or the stories in your own mind, and I know that’s something that you’ve been thinking about a lot lately, how people, I guess, frame or structure the way that they think about things. Tell me a little bit more about that and what you’ve been thinking about.
Brad Hendrickson: Yeah. So as an engineer, I’ve always wanted to figure out how things work, right? I think this is one of the defining characteristics of a lot of great engineers and people that I love to have around in my community, which is trying to figure out how things work and wanting to be systematic about it. And so, I was really brought up with this mindset of just explore it, play with it, get numbers about it, figure out what’s working and what’s not working. Over time, you start seeing, “Wow. Even though certain things are going well, I still might not be happy or my team might not be getting what they want. What’s really happening here? I thought I was doing well. I thought my team is doing well.” I started to poke at that.
So, I started doing tai chi a long time ago. I was introduced to some meditation practices as part of that. And so, I really started exploring what was going on internally more about what was I bringing to the table when I was trying to accomplish and achieve certain things. In that, what I started to see where these edges where I had a bunch of beliefs, which I thought were beliefs that everyone held, and it turns out that that’s not true at all. These are beliefs that just I held about certain things. And so, there was really a study to understand where some of that drive and some of that motivation was really from. And so, that was really a lot of my introduction to how that operated.
So for example, when I was building Zoosk, there was this really strong, personal attachment to my success and my self-worth. My education and my skills are going to be worthwhile if I make this a success. So I had this belief that somehow I, as a person, I’m going to be fine if I win here and I succeed here. If I don’t, I’ve failed as a person, right? I didn’t fully see that at the time. Only in retrospect of building a little bit of space did I start unpack what was happening and start gaining some perspective about that.
Rob Zuber: So, that’s a big transition, I think, personally as a leader, and understanding what you’re bringing into the conversation, into the interactions with the team. Has that led you then on a path to think about everybody else around you what they’re bringing? I think it’s a big point to spend that time and do that self-reflection. How do you show up and get that from other folks to start to understand the interactions?
Brad Hendrickson: Yeah. So, that’s a very important piece of this. So partially, I would say that I show up as an Enneagram 9. So for anyone who knows Enneagram, Enneagram 9 is a peacekeeper and you’re very much around your community around you, right? And so, what this shows up for me is I want to help caretake for others. I want to create a great environment for other people to really thrive in and achieve their potential in some way and flourish as a person. To do that, part of that is taking some of these things that I’ve learned about in this case, narratives and stories, and help to get people to get more insights about that for themselves, and as a team, making it okay for us to get curious about what’s driving ourselves.
And so, the environments that I like to foster end up being these very curious environments about like, “What am I bringing to the table? What’s my narrative? What’s showing up here for me?” You get better connections between people and better communication when you start doing that. You see happier people. You see people are less stressed out. They’re more satisfied with the work that they’re doing. It ends up with just better outcomes, I think, all around. This isn’t a zero-sum thing. It ends up being that positive for everyone that’s there.
Rob Zuber: And so, I think that’s a lot of discussion about stories, narratives, the mindset that we put ourselves into. I think as an engineer and an engineering leader, I’m sure you’ve had some of this experience. You mentioned understanding how things work, but that tends to be associated with very mechanical things or software versus people. We tend to think in those terms. We’re very good at systems and that sort of understanding, but as humans, I think we’re ultimately storytellers. I certainly subscribe to that theory and that’s how we convey a lot of information. So, how do you end up connecting those things for people, I guess, taking the narrative on the one side, but tying it to, “Yes, we want to have an environment where we’re fulfilled, but as a result, we’re achieving these great things together,” right? What’s the interplay between those things?
Brad Hendrickson: Yeah. So I can give an example of how this can show up in an organization in a way that I think could be really beneficial for people. So, I was working with a client the other day where we were talking about on-call. This is one of these things that most organizations have an on-call rotation of some variant one way or another. Places I’ve been is always a topic of conversation, because some people are like, “I hate on-call. I never want to be on it.” Other people are like, “Everyone should be on on-call.” There’s a lot happening there, right? There can be a lot of strife, a lot of anxiety there. But generally, if you ask people, it’s like, “Yeah, someone should be responsive if we have an issue that comes up,” right? That generally organizations would agree to that. If you have an organization that says, “This stuff breaks. No one should deal with it,” let’s have a conversation because this is a very interesting organization that you’re running.
But the really interesting thing starts happening when you start examining why people think they should or shouldn’t be on-call or what an on-call rotation should be like. So for example, with the client I was working with, the narrative was on-call is a terrible chore and it is something that we just need to suck it up and we just need to soldier through. I get that because I’ve done that before myself, where it’s like, “I’m just going to shoulder the burden.” But there’s another very interesting perspective to this. You can start saying, “What would it look like?” Let’s get curious about what it would look like. If we changed our narrative here, what would it look like if we said, “What would it be like for us to have an on-call rotation that people wanted to be on, that it was actually a great experience for people,” right?
Let’s stop worrying about our narrative that on-call has to be this horrible thing. And then you can start really playing with that a little bit. You can start saying, “Well, oh, maybe we can do retros on our on-call rotations and talk about things that we can implement to improve that. Oh, maybe if somebody goes on-call for a full week, that we give them a day-off or something like that to recharge. Or maybe when they’re on call, they can work on other strategic projects.” There’s all kinds of really wonderful things that you can do, but first thing you have to do is look at that story and that narrative. If that thing doesn’t become teased apart, you end up really glued to that story. It’s going to drive your behaviors and you’re going to be really committed to saying, “Yeah, we’re going to make on-call something to be feared and a burden,” and that’s not going to shift if you don’t start to loosen that up a little bit.
Rob Zuber: Yeah, I think that makes a ton of sense. What’s coming up as you talk about that is this notion I have that sometimes some of those things are assumed by certain parties in the conversation, right? “Let’s talk about on-call. My first thing coming into that, how do we make it awesome?” But if someone else is coming in with this just backdrop that it’s always going to be a terrible thing, let’s assume that and build on top of it, then you don’t create that space to actually achieve something that could be great, right? To your point, if it was actually fun or just, “You know what, this particular system is the thing that makes on-call terrible. Maybe we should just go solve that and then we’ll stop having this problem,” that approach to it, I think, it’s important maybe to push people out of that space a little bit and into a place where they have that freedom to have the conversation.
Brad Hendrickson: Yeah. I think in order to be there too, you need to have an environment where people feel comfortable saying, “Hey, here’s my story about this.” So I found this really helpful to actually show up and name your story, right? If you come to a conversation, and on the other side of it, I show up and I just assume on-call can be fun and can be a sought-after thing, and then I just start talking about it as like, “Hey, we’re going to all these things to get everybody on call.” If I’m over there to say that on-call is this terrible burden, I’ll be like, “What is he doing? He’s taking this terrible burden on everyone and forcing it upon everyone in the company. What in the world is going on?” But there’s a responsibility for me to say, “My story is this,” right?
Once you start being able to do that, you start being able to have really interesting conversations. You can start seeing how people relate to things. You can build better alignment. People can understand all of these decisions or thoughts or conversations we’ve been having a very different light. So I find it to be a very powerful way for people to be seen better and bring the team together because now you know people who you’re working with better.
Rob Zuber: And so, I think that’s a really interesting point, I mean, creating the culture of the space that allows people to share in that way. Is there something in particular you’re talking about clients and working with folks on having these conversations, giving people the opportunity to really just express themselves? Or for me, I think part of it is just realizing that that’s important, helping others see, “Oh, you have a different perspective. Let’s get all that out on the table, and then we can start to pick it apart and talk about how we can all move forward together and what we want the story to be,” I guess would be one way of thinking about it, right? So, is there preliminary work that you end up doing with some of the folks that you’re working with around creating that space, I guess?
Brad Hendrickson: Yeah. Usually, what I recommend is that if you’re going to have a conversation with someone about this, about what your stories are or what we’re trying to do, I think it’s important to break the conversation into two parts. So the first part is the exploration phase. It’s typically if you’re talking about brainstorming, this is like the brainstorming area where people are giving ideas, but also that you can talk about narratives and stories. You’re just trying to reveal. I used to think of it as two-part, where the first part of it is you’re branching out, you’re opening, right? You’re not trying to shut down ideas, but you’re also trying to get what people’s narratives and stories are there. So it’s just very much being revealed, and I’m seeing a lot of that.
And so, we’re used to doing that with solutions. We’re used to doing that with like, “Here’s possibilities of what we could do,” but you can add to that, “Here’s the thoughts and narratives that are coming up for me here.” Right? And so, if you add all that there, it creates this space that you’re already doing the motion of coming together with the community in some sense or share it with the community. And then you can get to the second part, which is the how are we really going to move forward? Because when you mix those two together, that’s when all that story stuff gets really broken up. If you’re trying to come to a solution, but you haven’t agreed on what you’re trying to do in the first place, you’re doomed from the start. So preserve that space for trying to understand your team, for thinking of ideas. All of that stuff, I think, is a really important place to do it. I think in particular, it’s also really helpful if you’re doing this one-on-one or with smaller groups.
Rob Zuber: Oh, that is a great subject, I think, in and of itself, right? The comfort that we have in varying scopes, I guess, or scope is maybe not the right word, but the number of people around us, the types of people around us in those conversations, again, to create that feeling that, “Yes, I can totally comfortably share this and it’s going to help us get somewhere.” You mentioned one-on-ones, I think, are straightforward. I can do the math on that, but as you think about a useful group, there’s probably a size below, which not enough people are hearing it to derive value from it in a size above which it doesn’t feel safe or it’s uncomfortable or you don’t have that level of trust. What to you is a good size to be having these conversations?
Brad Hendrickson: I think frankly, it can work in all various levels because each of these pieces builds that sense of community. So if I’m talking to you directly, it’ll be about a story that I have about you. It could be a story about a decision. Me doing these small reveals is really helpful, but even more so, I think at larger or let’s say you’re doing an all-hands or something like that, you can say like, “My story is that for the first half of this year, it’s crucial that we move the needle, that we changed our product in these ways because of X, Y, Z.” That’s my story. That’s my perspective, right? It’s important for that to be revealed in a way that people can understand what that is. So therefore, everything that comes after it, they’ll be like, “Oh, okay. I understand that story in that narrative.” It helps inform them about the lens that’s being used to present something.
So, that can be really helpful. It can be a very powerful thing versus you just go through a bunch of slides with a bunch of metrics on it. It’s like, “What’s the narrative? What’s the story? What’s informing it?” Right? I think you see this a lot with finance teams, where they’ll show a bunch of numbers, but they’ll talk first about what happened and then they’ll talk about numbers. So there, you’re still talking about narrative again. So, I disagree that there’s a certain size in which it’s not helpful to call out the story because it has different uses and different utility depending on the audience.
Rob Zuber: Right. So story, I think the personal story and the, I think in the on-call model, “I have this terrible experience,” or, “I have this historical perspective” is a useful like “As a team, we’re getting together and thinking about how this could be great.” As you get into larger and larger groups, there might be some of that, but part of it is helping put the context around a direction, a set of numbers, things we’re trying to achieve. I’ve certainly been quoted as saying that metrics on their own are not motivating, right? There’s something there, right? Again, as humans, as storytellers building the narrative so that the metrics are the things we’re trying to move, tell us if we’re succeeding in the story, not just succeeding at moving numbers.
Brad Hendrickson: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Because if you think about what are the… We talked about like North Stars and we talk about visions in organizations, all those are stories that we’re telling. We’re just getting up and telling the story about where we might be going, right? We’re not telling a bunch of facts of where we’re going to be in three years. We’re saying, “This is the compelling vision and narrative about what our future looks like that we can author together.”
Rob Zuber: Yeah. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I mean, coming back to leadership a little bit, I think an important part of leading, telling that story around the business, the strategy, the product, whatever it might be, but then let’s go back to the personal part a little bit. I mean, do you think there’s value, or how do you think about leaders sharing some of those more personal stories in those audiences, right? I think it’s something that I see as a transition in leadership is bringing a little bit more of a personal element to that story, not just, “Here’s the direction we’re trying to go, but this is how I think about it. This is how it impacts me, or just this is some personal thing that’s coming up in my life at the moment that’s affecting how I think about,” any of those things. I mean, what do you see as the role of that?
Brad Hendrickson: Yeah, I think it’s incredibly crucial. It’s definitely a mistake I made earlier on in my career, where there was this very… The way I would present and the way I’d show up, it’d be this very polished, very robotic kind of a way, because there wasn’t all these human elements. What’s my story? What are the interesting things that are happening? What are the parts that are the brag that’s under all of that. I think especially as organizations have been evolving to be so based on trust and so based on collaboration, it’s crucial for us to be more revealed as leaders. The unrevealed leader is not trusted, right? If you’re not talking about what your fears are, what you’re excited about, if you’re unable to empathize, all of those things are going to have a significant negative impact on the community around you on achieving the mission, your ability to lead.
So I think there’s this piece of this big shift that’s happened in the last 10 to 15 years, where people have really started to become a lot more aware of that. And so, I think it’s crucial for people to be sharing more and more of that. I think it’s powerful for myself when I’m in a meeting to share what my anxieties might be. Or if I’m talking to someone, if I’m talking to a CEO, I’ll ask what are their fears like, “Tell me your fears. Tell me what you’re concerned about,” because it actually starts to tell me what some of the motivations are or it helps me to understand that person more, and that allows us to become closer together and build more trust with each other. So I think as a leader today, if you’re not able to identify what your stories are, what your fears are, what you’re excited about and communicate that to people in an authentic way, you’re going to lose trust. You’re not going to be as effective.
Rob Zuber: I would go so far as to say that a lot of the context is actually baked into that, right? We started talking about our internal stories and how that drives our own motivations. All of us are driven by those things and trying to mask them ends up, I think, in just really confusing communications, right? I don’t have this conversation with a lot of people, just individuals, right? This person is behaving in this way and it doesn’t make any sense. So the question is always, what’s driving them? What pressures are they experiencing right now that might define or shape their behavior in that way, and how can you help with that, right? And that creates a very, very different interaction, I think.
Brad Hendrickson: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, that’s an interesting one when you say, “What’s this person’s motivation? Why are they doing this?” And then someone pipes up and says, “Well, they just want X, Y, and Z.” Has anyone talked to them? Have we actually sat down to understand what they’re excited about? What they’re scared of? What’s driving the behavior? Plugging into that is really powerful. I remember a crucial conversation that I have, where I hired a phenomenal employee into the organization. They were doing incredible work. Two months and they pulled me aside and said, “I’m done. I’m stepping out.”
What it took was me sitting down to understand what were their stories, what were their narratives, what was it that was making it so that way they wanted to leave. It turned out that they had really attached themselves to a bunch of stories that were there, and it ended up starting driving themselves to a place where they wanted to leave the organization. No one ever listened to them. No one ever sat down and had the conversation with them to hear where they were. And so, I think if you don’t understand why something’s coming out, really start to become curious about what’s driving that person.
Rob Zuber: I love about that story is it’s about someone who was excelling by our standard definitions, right? I just use the example of this, “Oh, this person’s behaving in this really bizarre way. Okay. Well, let’s go talk about their motivations and understand that better.” But the idea that by all, I’ll say it, metrics, right? “Hey, this is a great person. They’re doing great work. They’re achieving their goals. Awesome. I’m going to go focus somewhere else where there’s a problem.” Right? Because that’s what we often do. It turns out this person is actually… I mean, maybe you’ll share more. I’m not sure, but they’re struggling or their view of what’s happening is that everything is terrible and everyone else’s view is they’re excelling. It’s the opposite of what we would normally talk about, but really understanding how are they experiencing, I guess, that environment that they were in.
Brad Hendrickson: Yeah. It’s a bit about how they were experiencing the environment. It’s a bit about his expectations of what he thought other people should be doing in the organization. So, you’ll find a lot of stories that people start talking about should. It’s like, “They should be doing this. They should be doing that. They’re not doing this. I expect them to.” That’s all a lot of narrative there, but there was a lot of that going on. He expected other people to be doing certain things. It wasn’t happening. He expected the organization to be more mature. It wasn’t there. He thought certain people should have been addressing it.
But by sitting down and having a really good conversation about those stories and what he wanted, it was like, “Okay. Let’s figure out what we can do here. Let’s talk about how things are today. Let’s talk about how we can actually change this for the better of you and everyone else involved. Let’s get engaged in this conversation. It’s super exciting.” But yes, it’s interesting what you pointed to there, where so often in organizations, you’re like, “Oh, these things are on autopilot. Let me go pay attention to the problems.” It’s like, “No, no, no, hold on. Let’s pay attention to what’s going well, feed those things and deal with the problems that are there as well.”
Rob Zuber: So, I was about to ask if there were early signs and that situation, but I feel like the real point as I try to learn as quickly as possible as always when I’m talking to you is you just need to be paying attention to that for everyone, right? There’s no consistent outward sign this person is frustrated or they’re showing up in this particular way in meetings. Therefore, that’s a thing I need to go deal with. We’re talking about someone who’s by all measures seems happy, is delivering, and one day is just like, “Yeah, this isn’t working for me.” So, the only model that makes sense is one where you’re constantly having the conversations and sitting down and listening and getting a real sense for how people are feeling what they’re experiencing even when outwardly it might look great.
Brad Hendrickson: Yeah, it’s the moment of… The way I like to put it as these moments of challenge. It’s really like a gift that they’re bringing you, right? They’re showing up and you have this ball that comes your way. You have, I like to say like, one of two choices. One choice is to say like, “I already know what to happen. I’m going to just work through this thing. I’m going to manage through the situation and solve the problem.” The other one is like, “I’m going to get curious and figure out what this is.” If you choose that latter one, you’re going to learn something and things will… What you brought to the table might not actually be right and this person is bringing something to you to learn from it.
So whenever these moments come up, it’s an opportunity for you to get curious as to what there is to learn there and start asking questions and listening. It isn’t a moment for you to be like, “Oh, I’m scared. I need this person to stay. Let me go get a big retention package, or let me go and do the big save to keep this person in the org.” No, sit down and talk to the person, hear what they have to say and understand their narrative and stories and what’s going on for them. That’s the first place to start, and I think that’s the most crucial part. It’s not even just always being aware. It’s just always being open to what’s being presented to you.
Rob Zuber: Right. And listening, I’m going to hone in and repeat that a few times. I think that’s such a key part of that. I was talking to someone recently who was talking about communication and how important communication is. I said, “I totally agree with you, but what do you mean when you say that?” Because everyone talks about communication. We just need better communication, right? But it’s a burned word. We’ve used it for a million different things. I was so excited when they said, “Oh, listening, you need to listen more.” I was like, “Okay. Now, we’re on to something.” Right? We need to communicate more always comes out as or often comes out as talk more, say it different ways, give more presentations, write big documents, whatever, versus just listen, sit down and understand where people are coming from.
Brad Hendrickson: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. Except for when I was at a school, I’ve yet to see the thing that says, “You need to put more words to it. You need to make it longer and you need to say more.” Almost always it’s say it more clearly, say fewer words, and say the fewer words more times, and listen.
Rob Zuber: Right. Strip it down. And then I think part of that listening is also the feedback, right? Like, “Here’s the thing. Just play that back to me in some way. If you understand that, how will you approach the next step with that additional information?” I think that’s to the point of the story, is a little bit of an opportunity just to make sure there’s understanding, but you also hear all the biases and perspectives come back. It’s like, “I’ll take that context and then wrap it up in how I view the world and feed it back to you.” I’m not smart enough to come up with an example using the on-call. Right? Like, “Okay. I hear what you’re saying. We need to cover our systems 24/7. So what you’re telling me is I need to suffer for the next three years.”
Brad Hendrickson: Right. Yeah. Totally.
Rob Zuber: That’s the most blatant possible way that that could be played back, but that’s what you would hear. If you’re listening and you don’t have to listen to astutely for that, you’d be like, “Oh, okay. There’s something here that we need to dig in and talk more about.” So, you mentioned metrics a couple of times in here. We talked about the classically good, high performing person. I do think we tend to think about setting goals and driving against metrics. How do you get people to really give you, I guess, their perspective on that? How do you take that and wrap it up in the context that makes sense and make sense to all these people and has their… I guess, how do you predict what’s going to happen is what I’m trying to ask around, “Okay. We’re all rallying around this thing, but you’re all bringing your different views”?
Brad Hendrickson: Yeah. So, that’s a very interesting question, right? I think this is one of the challenges I always see as being a leader. You don’t know what exactly is going to happen. For me, that’s the starting point, right? What you’re doing, I always find it’s like one of these bizarre jobs, where it’s like, okay, so I’m running an organization, right? I’m helping to get this diverse group of people together to bring their ideas and share their ideas. They’re probably going to have the best ideas somewhere in the organization or collaboratively in the organization. So showing up to the conversation, I don’t know the outcome. I just don’t. I think that’s a good starting point because the way I see it is that you bring people into the organizations because they make you a stronger organization because they have something crucial to add, something for people to learn from them.
And so, what I tend to do is say, “How do we set up this environment so people can be revealed, share their stories, share their motivations, and we can end up with something bigger and better than we would by ourselves, right? How many times have you sat down to set OKR or set objectives of some sort with a team and you end up with a bunch of objectives like, “These are amazing objectives, way better than what I would have made myself”? You might be setting objectives, but you don’t know what they’re going to be, right? And so, I think you can talk a little bit about what the container is going to be like, but your job as a leader is to be able to set that container and get that conversation and honest discussion going to be able to figure out what comes next from there.
Rob Zuber: Yeah, I think that makes a ton of sense. I’m thinking about even these conversations that we have about building teams, right? It’s great to have different experiences and different skill sets and all these things in different perspectives, but what we often don’t talk about, I think, or maybe everyone’s been talking about it, I haven’t been hearing it, which is there totally is-
Brad Hendrickson: They keep you out the room.
Rob Zuber: Yeah, exactly. Well, that wouldn’t be new. … is the stories that we bring to that, right? We ended up sharing around the experiences and the skillsets and whatever, right? Like, “Oh, let me tell you how we’re going to do this because I am the expert in front-end development or observability or whatever in an engineering context,” versus even just in terms of how valuable storytelling is and communicating ideas, like leaving the room to say, “Oh yeah, I had this experience and this is what happened. Therefore, that’s why I’m bringing this viewpoint to the table, but maybe my story will inspire some other thought in you, and between us, we’ll actually come up with an even better solution.” Right? Versus, “well, I know how to do it this way. I know how to do it this way.” I don’t know. Rock, paper, scissors, we pick one and we go sort of thing, right? Actually bringing that context inspires ideas in other people to then come up with an even better solution.
Brad Hendrickson: Absolutely. Absolutely. I absolutely agree with that. This idea of [inaudible 00:34:53] war of ideas. Who wins? I win if I get my idea, if my idea is the one that we go with, right? It’s like, “No, no, no, we’re not here to go to have some gladiator battle, the one standing on top of the body. No, no, no, no, we’re here to do something different.” This is something I think is incredibly crucial, particularly if you’re thinking about how technology is going to be used. You want to orient on the story and you want to orient on where you’re trying to go to, and then come together on that. Otherwise, you just have a bunch of individuals fighting for their solution, which is not a good way to make technology decisions.
Rob Zuber: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I think we’ve known that for a little while, although it’s not universally applied, but I think we’re good at looking at very objective models, which I think is a positive problem statements, right? How do we define the parameters that are most… What are the facets that matter most to us? What are the facets that are less valuable? Therefore, we can build a spreadsheet and pick, apply some weighted values, teach these things. Those things are all good, but understanding the bias that created that perspective, right? What is the viewpoint that I’m bringing actually gives A, some more value or some more scope, I guess, to understand how people are thinking about it, but B, again, maybe something that you tell me about why you’re thinking about this thing or the thing that happened where this was really successful or wasn’t successful will teach me something. Now, we’re actually putting together our ideas versus this, “You think of this. I think this.” How can we take all that understanding and come up with something novel and unique to solve our problem?
Brad Hendrickson: Yeah, absolutely agree. Absolutely agree.
Rob Zuber: Yeah. Also, I just like stories, so there’s that.
Brad Hendrickson: Well, some of the biggest productions that we have in our country and in the world are stories, right? This is what Hollywood is, right? All these things are just story machines and we’ll just… When Game of Thrones is going on, people would talk about that endlessly, right? Stories are incredibly powerful. I mean, if you look at kids, if you have kids, they gather around and they just want to read books, right? They want to sit down and hear stories constantly and it’s just one of these incredible things that we see.
Rob Zuber: Yeah, absolutely. It’s absolutely how we hear. It might not be how we speak, but it’s how we hear, right? And so, I think understanding that, and then using that as a tool, A, to share more openly, but honestly like, “That context helps me understand you better, not just the ideas that you’re bringing to the table. Where are they coming from? What can I learn from them?” Those sorts of things. It’s entertaining to build some connection. It makes things a little bit lighter. Sometimes those conversations where we’re battling about the solution, I forget the exact expression, your gladiator battle over, which one we’re going to choose, they’re not that fun, right? But learning a little bit, sharing a little bit. Often, when we relax like that, we’re more open to choosing the right solution versus the thing that we brought, right?
Brad Hendrickson: That’s certainly true. A lot of cognitive research shows this, right? When you’re in this defensive posture, you’re just less creative. There’s this actual contraction that happens that really slows that down versus being in this other state, where you’re a lot more creative and open and exploring, and it’s a lot more fun and it’s a lot more rewarding.
Rob Zuber: Yeah. Well, speaking of fun and rewarding, Brad, as always, your stories, your background, your perspective on everything, leadership, people and otherwise is tons of fun to hear. I’m always learning something, just trying to keep up. So thank you so much for jumping in and joining me today and talking about everything that you’ve been thinking about.
Brad Hendrickson: Thanks, Rob. It’s been really great coming here today.
Rob Zuber: For everyone who’s joining us, I guess I’ll say at home, maybe you’re in your car, maybe you’re elsewhere, if you’re interested in hearing talk about something else, hit us up on Twitter at CircleCI. Feel free to subscribe on your favorite platform, and hope you’re enjoying everything you’re hearing. Have a great day. Bye.