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S1E03 - What does growth-focused management look like? (Kevin Ball)


Inside this episode

Today we are in conversation with Kevin Ball asking what does growth-focused management look like.

Host: Aaron Rackley

Guest: Kevin Ball (KBall)

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Show Transcript

These transcripts where auto generated by Descript. If you see any issues, please do reach out and we can rectify the issues.

Aaron Rackley: [00:00:00] Hi everyone, and welcome to this episode of Tech Leadership Podcast. The podcast where through conversations we unraveled intricate season leadership in a tech industry and provide insights on how to become a top performing leader. In today episode, we are in conversation with Kevin Ball asking What does growth focus management look like now?

I went into this conversation with a set of questions all planned out. And that immediately got thrown out the window as my understanding of what it meant to be growth focus management shifted. And because of this, you’ll see that for me, the conversation soon became a coaching session of Kevin teaching me the ways of growth, focus management.

I hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did recording it. And if you like this conversation, please do remember to subscribe to this podcast on your favorite player and stay tuned for upcoming episodes. And if you’d like to come and have a conversation with me about a subject you’re passionate about, please email me at contact at.

Tech leadership decoded.com. And with that, let’s get straight into this conversation, Kevin, and thank you for [00:01:00] joining me today. And I’d like to just start off this podcast by just getting you to basically introduce yourself and your career and, um, and then we’ll get into the exciting topic that I have no clue about.

So I’m really excited, which is growth focus Management. So over to you. Yeah,

Kevin Ball (KBall): sure. Awesome. Well, hello, I’m Kevin or K Ball. I go equally by either of these days. Um, and I have been around the tech industry for closing in on 20 years at this point. Meandering around a wide variety of startups, and I can go into various levels of fidelity as useful, but I think I’ll do the, the brief overview right now.

So I, um, I’ve, I think like conversation at this point. I co-founded two startups. I’ve worked at four other people’s startups. I also ran a consulting firm for a while and now I’m running a small business that is, uh, focused on coaching mostly and some consulting. That and kind of meandered [00:02:00] around different parts of the industry.

I started in super computing, then I got into web. I’ve been in various parts of web, uh, most of the rest of my. Career. Um, and yeah, the last 10 years or so, I’ve been doing a lot of what I’ve seen described as the manager, staff engineer pendulum, where I kind of meander back and forth between kind of technical tech lead roles and people management roles and going up and down through that as the need.

Arises. I, I like to say that I migrate towards pain in an organization. So wherever there is a gap or something that it feels like we need more of that, that’s where I end up going. And sometimes that’s, we need more technical expertise and sometimes that’s, oh my gosh, we need somebody to deal with all these people.

Aaron Rackley: Yeah. No, yeah, there’s definitely, uh, similarities in my career. Uh, definitely in that aspect as well. I always find myself creating a role rather than having a role, um, a lot of the time. So,

Kevin Ball (KBall): Well, and that’s, that’s actually an area that, it’s a slight tangent already, but an area I’ve been thinking a [00:03:00] lot about, a lot, because it comes up with a lot of my coaching clients, is the fact that the roles that we end up in mm-hmm.

It’s a co-creative process. Right. It’s not, We’re in knowledge work, there’s very rarely a pure bucket that you say, okay, I need you to do just this. Um, and but sometimes we expect that, cuz that’s kind of what the societal expectation is. You’re gonna get a job, they’re gonna have things for you to do when you’re supposed to go do those.

Um, and really in our world, in the tech world, like you have a lot more agency than that and it becomes a co-creative process between you and your manager and your coworkers around what exactly is the niche. Where you are going to derive the greatest combination of joy for yourself learning and growth and value for the company?

Aaron Rackley: Hmm. Yeah. No, a hundred percent. So what is the term growth first ma focus management, and what should I know about

Kevin Ball (KBall): it? Yeah, so that’s a good question. Um, I don’t know if there’s a, if that’s a common term or just a me term. Mm-hmm. But, [00:04:00] um, high level, when I think about. Particularly like engineering management, there’s a few different pieces of it, right?

Mm-hmm. So there’s, there’s sort of production management, like what does our core engineering production loop look like? What is it that we should be building? You know, how are we breaking things down into tasks and getting the right people to do it? Kind of that sort of thing. And in some companies, that’s done by a tech lead.

In some companies that’s done by a. Product manager. Mm-hmm. Some companies that’s even done by a project manager. Like there’s a lot of this, like just making sure stuff is getting done. And in some companies that’s done by an engineering manager. So that’s like one piece of engineering management. Um, another sort of focus that one might have in management is around systems and processes, right?

Mm-hmm. How do we set up our organization? How do we set up the right processes so that things happen at the right time? And I kind of. As I think about these, like that’s probably my second favorite. Like I really like thinking about those systems problems. And I think this is a lot of, of what goes into management.

Mm-hmm. But [00:05:00] the third big area in management and where growth focus management starts to come in is around a person focus, a human focus. Who are these people that I am responsible for and how am I helping them? And within a person focus. My mindset is always about growth. Mm-hmm. How does this person want to be growing?

What are they working towards? What excites them? Uh, and often they don’t even know themselves like that. I, I’ve had conversations where I, I open up and I say, okay, so what do you want to accomplish in your role here? Mm-hmm. And they look at me and they’re like, I don’t know. I’ve never thought about that.

Right. Like, what do you wanna accomplish in your career? What are you working towards? Yeah, I don’t know. I’m just kind of stumbling from place to place.

Aaron Rackley: Yeah, that’s, I’ve, I can wholeheartedly agree with that. Cause I, for, for the longest time, I’ve jumped from job to job and I’ve never, it’s always been in some kind [00:06:00] of creative aspect.

So it’s either been, you know, a team lead or a scrum master or a developer or, you know, I jumped over the place for the same reason. And it wasn’t until someone said the same thing to me that. This, uh, I think the beginning of this year or the end of last year, where they said to me, take a moment. What do you actually want to do?

Like, take a moment. Yeah. Like, where, where do you wanna head? What, what is it you wanna do? And for me, um, a big part of what I do on this podcast is, and why I started the podcast is because I want to help develop people and teams and process like, and the process around that. So, As with this, I’m reaching out to as many people as I can get on to absorb as much information as I can, and hopefully by doing the podcast, people will listen and gain that knowledge at the same time.

So if as a technical, I’m a technical lead at the moment, so as a technical lead, what, what were the first things I would be looking at if I was to start [00:07:00] looking into growth focus management for potentially team members?

Kevin Ball (KBall): So I would start with a conversation. Mm-hmm. I mean, I, I kind of drift everything towards conversations.

I’m very human and interaction focused. Start with a conversation about, you know, what are your goals? Um, you know, what do you want out of this job, out of this career? Um, and depending on the relationship, sometimes you can just say like, what are you trying to accomplish in life? What’s going on for you?

Mm-hmm. Um, and I’m gonna, I’m gonna, Pin that, and put a side side tangent here, which is, I had an experience early on in my time as a manager that led me to open the door to people bringing non-work things. Mm-hmm. And you have to be careful with that. Yeah. Because you don’t wanna push for that. You don’t want to infringe someone’s boundaries.

Some people very definitely want to keep very clear boundaries between work and home. Mm-hmm. But I worked with a young man who was, Early in his career [00:08:00] and when he was on, he was brilliant, but he was inconsistent and he often was showing up late or or other things. And I started working with him and discovered that this young man had.

Like the most difficult home situation I’ve ever heard of. Right. So he, he was a refugee. Mm-hmm. He was the only English speaker in his family. Um, he was taking care of his mother, his sister. He had a brother who had turned to criminal stuff and would steal things from the household. Um, and like he was the only income.

He was doing all of these different things. And the most effective thing I could do to help him get better at work was to help him think through how to manage his home life in that situation. Okay. And, you know, we talked through things and we tried strategies and experiments and did different things and, and we’re able to make substantial progress.

And, you know, he’s gone on, he’s got a great engineering career at this point. Um, but that opened my eyes to the fact that, [00:09:00] you know, we are not segmented human beings. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. I don’t have a home K ball and a work K ball, and those things don’t connect to each other. Like if I’m having a rough time at home, that’s gonna show up at work and vice versa.

And sometimes the best thing I can do is to se try to segment those and just to do a clean jump and only talk about work when I’m at work. And sometimes I need some support on one side that will bleed into the other. And so as a manager, Once again, I’m not pushing it, but I, when I have a conversation about goals and, and I actually, I have a structured process I can go into that I took, would take my reports through.

Mm-hmm. We had worksheets to get you thinking about it and all that stuff. Um, but I would say like, you can keep this focused on just your job if you want. Mm-hmm. You can expand this to look at your entire career or if you want, we can talk about life and other things. And honestly, like some of the most.

Gratifying places that I’ve been able to help people is when it’s with something that reaches [00:10:00] through their home and their work and is something that is just, you know, they’re struggling with throughout their life. And if we’re able to make progress on that, I have not just helped them do better work in this job where I’m trying to, you know, deliver on something.

I have helped them become a healthier and happier human being. And that is like the best thing in management for me.

Aaron Rackley: Um, So, yeah, you’ve just, uh, as you were just saying, just then you mentioned, uh, like the process that you’ve walked through with, um, The team members or, or your coaching clients, um mm-hmm.

Could you give us a little taster into that? Um,

Kevin Ball (KBall): well, and I’ll take it from the perspective of working through it as a manager. Yeah. So it is an option that I offer to my coaching clients as well. Um, so as a manager, I had kind of what I called a structured growth process. And we would go through, I had four different sessions that we would go through.

Um, we would start working on goals. So identifying what are your goals, what are you trying to accomplish? Um, you know, what are you already doing? Working towards those, what are some. Low hanging fruit opportunities to work towards this. Mm-hmm. [00:11:00] Uh, next we’d move into strengths. Strengths is an interesting one.

I think a lot of us obsess about our weaknesses, but we don’t always think about our strengths and how we can take better advantage of them. Mm-hmm. So I’ve had folks where I’ve done this and they’re like, wow, this was totally eye-opening. I’ve never thought about the things that I’m good at before because I spend all my time thinking about the things I’m not good at.

So we talk about strengths and we look at ways to take those strengths and amplify them, take those strengths and use them in more, more places. Um, then we do talk about weaknesses. And another fascinating thing that starts to come up is you start to discover for many people, your strengths in your weaknesses are connected.

They are two sides of some underlying trait that you have. And so what this means, And what is often revelationary is you can’t get rid of your weaknesses because by doing so, you’d have to address this trait that is also the source of your strengths. Mm-hmm. Instead, we learn or have to focus on learning how to, you know, work around our weaknesses, find [00:12:00] tools or people or other things that help us, uh, not have to focus on those weaknesses and, and be able to deliver on the things that they’ve been blocking us for.

Uh, Occasionally you’ll find a weakness that is what’s called a blocking weakness, that is actually keeping you from your goal. But more often, you know, by spending so much time on our weaknesses, rather than trying to figure out how do we work around them and focus on our strengths, we’re holding ourselves back.

Um, so that’s the next session. Um, sometimes at this point I would insert a 360 review feedback thing. Depends on your team. Depends on, on how folks, um, are. If that’s a culture that’s, that’s kind of accepted, that can be really. Interesting and eye opening cuz it can show where the places that you have, where you think your strengths are, are those aligned with how others are perceiving you, where you think your weaknesses are, are those where others are perceiving you?

Mm-hmm. Um, so we’ll insert that somewhere. Um, and then I do a session focused on roles. And this is where it all starts to really come [00:13:00] together and we look at, okay, for your current role, how is that aligned with your goals? How are you taking advantage of your strengths? Where are your weaknesses holding you back?

How can you look around them? But even more so, what role do you want to grow into? You know, if you are right now working as a senior engineer, do you want to become more of a tech lead? Mm-hmm. Do you want to move towards management? Do you want to become a specialist on a particular system? What is that?

You know, we going, calling back to our, our kind of co-creation process of, we create our own roles. Like what is that role that you want to be moving towards? And what this does is it sets up a phenomenal opportunity then for learning and feedback loops, right? So now not only do they have a clearer picture of what they’re trying to do and how they’re trying to get there, I as a manager know what they want.

I know where they’re moving. And through this process, we’ve built essentially permission for me to give them very clear directive feedback on things related to [00:14:00] that. Goal, those goals enroll, right? We we know, okay, you’re moving towards that. So we’re gonna give you an opportunity to tech lead this project.

And since we know it’s tied to your growth, we’re gonna do some very quick review cycles. Every one-on-one, we’re gonna do a quick retro, and I’m gonna give you feedback on, this wasn’t working well, this was working well. And then when we finish that, we’re gonna get feedback from your peers. And all of this feels aligned because we’ve been talking about growth this whole way.

It doesn’t feel like, oh my gosh, why is my manager telling me this stuff again? Like it’s connected to this story of growth.

Aaron Rackley: Yeah. Okay. No. Yeah, like super interesting. All of this, I’m, I’m literally, as I’m sitting here, I feel like every time you say a sentence, my brain is spinning on a will cuz I’m like, okay, I feel like I am being coached right this second in terms of like all this

Kevin Ball (KBall): stuff.

You sick, I’m happy, all this stuff, you’re happy. A little session here.

Aaron Rackley: All this stuff you’re saying to me is just like very, very much on the nail of where my mind has been for the last like, Basically year, um, in terms of my career, um, [00:15:00] as I said, like floating around. So having now finally decided that like the career of like engineering manager, that that kind of, uh, is where I’m heading.

All of this stuff is just internal reflection to be able to help others in the same aspect. Right? Like I don’t think personally I would be able to do this as a manager until I’ve gone through it personally as well. Mm-hmm. And I think. I think for me that’s when, when you first said growth focus management, to me in Discord, I wasn’t imagining as if, as something of like how you grow as a manager to be able to feed back into your management style.

And so it’s interesting that it’s like the other way round where it’s like you’re helping them. So I’m 100% behind this idea. I, I think it’s a great idea and. I’ve worked at many companies where you never feel like you are a per, you never feel like you’re a person. You just feel like you’re [00:16:00] part of the, the process of getting stuff out the door,

Kevin Ball (KBall): right?

Yeah. There’s a, there’s a great, I’m gonna plant a seed on that, right? Yeah. So many companies. We’ll refer to people as resources Yes. Say, oh, we need some more engineering resources on this project. And I heard a line that now I’m trying to sp spread everywhere, which is, if you call me resources, I’m gonna call you overhead.

Aaron Rackley: Ah, okay. That’s, that’s a very good line.

Kevin Ball (KBall): Yeah. People are not fungible. Everyone has different skills, strengths and goals in their life. And actually, I think one of the, Interesting things as we shift our mind to this growth focused management approach is, What our job then as a manager is, right? So part of our job is helping foster this growth directly in individuals.

But part of it is, you know, when I’m working as a manager, I’m constantly looking for opportunities to align work with growth. Oh, that project, I wanna pull that project [00:17:00] in because that is aligned with what this person is working on, and that’s gonna be their opportunity. Oh, this project, this isn’t actually working well with any of our folks.

Do you have somebody on your team where this is a good growth opportunity for them? And looking for those. And there’s, there’s pros and cons to this, right? So sometimes you’re under pressure. You need something that is super high quality on super tight deadlines or something like that. And, uh, you need to have somebody who’s already mastered all the skills required.

Mm-hmm. Just knock it out. That’s, that’s okay, right? That’s, that’s coming back to a production focus. And sometimes that’s what you need. But I find that over time, If you want to amplify the abilities of your team, if you want your team to just accomplish incredible things, aligning with their growth is a far better way to do it.

Because when people are learning and growing and excited, not only are they expanding their capabilities for the future, but they’re putting so much more of themselves [00:18:00] into that project than when they’re just executing on something they already understand.

Aaron Rackley: Just, yeah, it, it makes you think every, everything makes you think, and that’s, my brain is like that every time a sentence, my brain is shooting around and I’m immediately applying it to the day job and what I’m doing or past companies I work for.

And just trying to think if I, trying to think if I’ve had managers. Un unfortunately, I’ve not had many managers in the past that have had that kind of approach with employees, so I have, but yeah, I, I normally push back against that because I, I’m, I’m very much in that ballpark of like, people are people.

We’ve all got good days, we’ve all got bad days. We all looking for our, I guess, For me, I, I’m always looking for something that’s gonna strive me towards the next thing. I’m always looking for the next challenge, the next problem to solve. And I don’t think that was ever identified [00:19:00] by my peers for, for a long time.

And it’s only recently with work with a few people that have definitely highlighted to me what my skillsets are and in what areas they sit well. So I think in one way, I’ve definitely had. Some managers recently or some peers that have definitely used this kind of growth focus management without realizing it, I guess is, is the right ways.

So, and some of them are friends and they’re also doing the same thing. And I guess the principals are the same regardless to whether you are a manager or a friend or a loved one. Oh,

Kevin Ball (KBall): absolutely. Anything. Absolutely. Well, and I think. This is, it’s a, it’s a shift in focus, right? Mm-hmm. And I, I sometimes describe, you know, a manager’s job is to find the people who are good at and excited about different types of work, and then systematically route more and more of that type of work to them.

Yeah. And I found that true outside of the people I was directly managing as well. Uh, at my last job, there [00:20:00] was a content manager who, her, her core job was dealing with content, but fundamentally she was, Incredible at setting up operational systems. Okay? Mm-hmm. We’ve got a bunch of stuff happening. We need to set up a system to make it happen and get things going.

And once I had identified that every time a problem that looked like that came up, I would reach out and be like, Hey, does this look interesting to you? And cuz a lot of times, and this is another interesting thing, right, we. And, and it comes to this, this focus on strengths as well. Mm-hmm. The things that we enjoy are often also the things that we are good at and still the things we are learning more and more about learning is fractal.

You can go deeper and deeper and deeper on whatever subject you want. Mm-hmm. And so I think all of our jobs, in many ways can be viewed as finding the people who love and are good at particular types of work. And figuring out how to align the work in the [00:21:00] organization so that they get

Aaron Rackley: that piece. That’s super interesting because one of the questions I was gonna have next, which I’ll ask now instead is, um, do you find any kind of like specific challenges or obstacles that you could find while doing this?

And immediately the one thing that was coming to my head, and this is probably just a lack of experience, is working in places where you’d not necessarily have the control at a time. To be able to, one, support people to this level or totally two, have the ability to give them the work that would suit them.

So how would, as an obstacle, what, what would you try and do there, do you think? Yeah,

Kevin Ball (KBall): absolutely. Well, and everything has trade-offs. Mm-hmm. Right? And I, I mentioned before, like sometimes you really just need to focus entirely on production and you gotta set growth to the side for a minute. There, there are elements of this that are about choice, right?

There are organizations that are not set up for this at all. Mm-hmm. Very hierarchical, top down, I’m gonna tell you what to do, you’re gonna do it. Types of things. A determined manager could still [00:22:00] potentially set up a growth focused team. Mm-hmm. Where, you know, they essentially provide that sort of shield level or, you know, filter or what have you, and are still able to provide that within their team.

Mm-hmm. But honestly, I think it’s likely to be. Painful on an uphill battle. And so at this point in my career, I proactively seek out organizations where the type of working that I want to do mm-hmm. Is something that is at least accepted, if not broadly welcomed. Makes sense. Um, I think that, you know, there are challenges and, and I think as an engineer or as a, as a manager, I.

Work better with people who are engaged. Mm-hmm. Driven, you know, high performing. And I struggle more with people who are underperforming, and that’s not [00:23:00] unusual. Many of us fall into that bucket, but that also shows up in this growth focus, right? Sometimes the best thing you can do for somebody’s growth is to find them a position outside of your organization.

Aaron Rackley: Okay. Interesting, interesting chain of thought because obviously, um, you mentioned there that sometimes just underperforming, but I guess if you are approaching your management, looking at growth focused in your words, um, it could just be that they’re having a bad time outside of the work, the office.

Right. And that could be an indication of what’s going on, so you It absolutely

Kevin Ball (KBall): could.

Aaron Rackley: So building up that trust is probably a great way to. Uh, get them to open up about the issue rather than it becoming a problem. Right. That,

Kevin Ball (KBall): yeah. Yeah. The other thing I do wanna highlight here is that, and I think one reason people sometimes struggle when they are very human-centric mm-hmm.

In their managers, is that it, it does, like you have always conflicting incentives. The [00:24:00] optimal delivery for production of this product may not be the optimal thing for my people to be growing. Mm-hmm. And, Constantly when you’re working with someone, you’re having to do trade-offs of, okay, I know you’re working on this and we’re gonna reserve some time for you to work on this, but most of the time right now I need you focused on delivering this thing right here, even though I know it’s not the most exciting thing.

Like that type of stuff comes up all the time. And honestly, that’s one of the reasons right now, I’m so happy to be outside of. The organization working as a coach. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Because my incentives are completely aligned. All I care about is am I helping you get, understand what you want and get where you need to go.

Mm-hmm. And similarly, you as a, you know, in a coaching client have, don’t have the concerns that you do as a report for talking to a manager. Right. A coach doesn’t control your performance, review, salaries, whatever. You can be much more open. So I do wonder if. And, and this is, this is diverting a [00:25:00] little bit, but like we don’t see much use of coaches in engineering.

Mm-hmm. Right now. Mm-hmm. It becomes, it’s very common for executives, executive leaderships. It’s very common for business owners, business founders. It’s not very common in engineering. But I wonder if that’s another thing that we might explore in our industry is, you know, does it make sense to separate the role of a manager who’s responsible for your delivery and what you’re doing?

Mm-hmm. And a coach who’s responsible for helping you learn and grow.

Aaron Rackley: Definitely an interesting, um, question because I, I personally think that organiz all organizations, especially engineering, could definitely do with someone in there that is, you know, dedicated to helping you. Grow and achieve. And I know that some companies have some sort of HR arm as you would, that’s like, yeah, we’ll help you with training and budgets and books and we’ll get you these course and that course, but that’s not really helping you understand what you want to do.

Right? That’s just helping you once [00:26:00] you’ve tried to figure that out. But that initial point of what do I want? What do I want to achieve? And. Having that personal department that’s there to help you have that, I think is a great idea. Like I worked for a gang company. One of my first ever jobs was a gang company, and they had like therapists come in, they had maus, you know, they had all these type of things that I just took when I was very young.

It was like all these exciting things that you, perks and stuff. But I, as I got older, you start to realize that there’s probably a good benefit to having these things there because happy people. Stay longer. Right. And a lot of They do better work. Yeah. And they do better work. And as we’re learning more and more over the years is that mental health is a big part of that.

And I think coaching and therapy and all of this stuff is all aspects, I think that companies, especially large companies, need to definitely have in their repertoire, whether that’s they have people or they hide them in so, That would lead me to the, the same thing of like having this [00:27:00] mindset. Do you think that having this management approach will help with employee engagement and retainment and stuff like that?

Cause we’re seeing a lot, like I’ve, oh definitely. I and a few others have definitely seen a high turnover of people in various companies. Um, it

Kevin Ball (KBall): definitely does because I think, well, I mean, you’ve heard the phrase people don’t leave companies. They leave managers. Yeah. And I think there’s a lot of truth to that.

And one of the. The biggest things that people want from a manager is feedback and help with their growth. They want to know this person is helping them advance in their career and has their best interests in mind. And I think there are many practices you can do to improve that. But the first thing in line there is a perspective shift of I as a manager, at least part of my job is.

Understanding how this person wants to grow. Mm-hmm. And helping them achieve that. Mm-hmm.

Aaron Rackley: Let me throw Saint a bit, side words in that [00:28:00] sense. Then. So obviously if you go back, I know, 20, 30 years, right? We’d just go, you’d have people that have a career, lifers, right? They’d go 30 years in the same company until they get the gold what, or whatever they, they get in different countries.

But these days people tend to jump around a lot more. And I’ve seen many articles online trying to understand why this is right. And I don’t think anyone really has the answer. Um, there’s people saying it’s because, you know, people are not happy, but what is happiness? Right? That’s the important part. But I think a lot of companies are afraid to help people grow cuz they’ll leave.

I’m wondering if there’s an aspect of this that’s like, we shouldn’t be afraid of that. If people grow and get better and leave, hopefully we’ll attract someone else that’s on a different place. Or we need to adapt our company to be able to. Have what they need or you know, I dunno, I dunno what a question is,

Kevin Ball (KBall): but I think there are a couple of aspects of this.

Yeah. So one is I think we do need to think about how we can continually create [00:29:00] opportunities for growth mo uh, within our company, right? Mm-hmm. Somebody wants to learn and improve. How do we create opportunities? And sometimes that. Doesn’t necessarily have to mean a brand new official title or role.

Mm-hmm. Someone who wants to work on their leadership skills. You can have them leave lead, for example, a cross team initiative. Mm-hmm. I had someone who wanted to eventually become a manager, and the thing we were working with is he was working with someone on a counterpart team to help I figure out how to improve relationships across our teams.

Mm-hmm. It’s leadership activity, it’s understanding a lot of relationships and people and all these things that go into becoming a manager. Without, we didn’t have a management role available for him, but this was still helping him grow on that path. Now, I do think there is something, uh, broader here, which is to think about, and, and this isn’t growth focused, but like relationship focused work.

Mm-hmm. Our relationships, our careers last a lot longer than any individual job does [00:30:00] today. Mm-hmm. And. If we have someone’s best intentions in mind, that helps maintain that relationship over time. And at some point in the future, you may need what they have now to offer. So I think we as individuals, and to some extent as companies as well, need to think about these longer term relationships.

The last place that I worked, we had people who left and came back, who were laid off and then came back at a later time. Mm-hmm. People flowed in and out at different times, and I think that that is, Probably a healthier perspective. Certainly from a personal perspective, I think if you can focus on human connection and building relationships, those are relationships that’ll happen.

That’ll last a career. You know, I have people that I worked with over a decade ago, 2000, I guess 15 years ago now, 2007, 2008. Mm-hmm. That, I mean, there’s one of them. He lives in Austin. Every time I go to Austin, I send him an email and I’m like, Hey, are you free? Let’s grab dinner or coffee. Right. We still get together every time I’m in town near him, [00:31:00] 15 years later, 12 years since we last worked together.

Something. Wow. I. Those numbers aren’t exactly right, but on that order. Yeah. Um, yeah, because brains and time, like that’s a long time. Right. Um, and I think there’s a real possibility. There’s, there’s other people that I worked with at that same time that, you know, I’m still in communication with. There’s a real possibility that the next time there’s an opening that they have that is a good fit for me, I’ll go and work with them.

Mm-hmm. Right. Like, so I think if we think about it, A lot of this is moving from a transactional mindset, right. What are you doing for me now? Mm-hmm. To a relational mindset where you’re, we are building a long-term relationship mm-hmm. That happens to be focused around work. Yeah. And how we work well together and how we help each other to grow.

Aaron Rackley: Yeah. No, I think that’s, that’s totally interesting because I definitely have the same. Thing with people that I still talk to on a regular basis from past jobs. And it is, if I [00:32:00] look back and think about it, it will be the people that have had the most like impact with, rather than just a ha you know, we went out for drinks after work or anything like, it would’ve been, we’d have done some kind of growth together in, in, in the role.

So that was like through a project and in the weeds together or you know, something, there’s definitely. Definitely some aspect to that and a lot of those people, yeah, I’d, I’d, I’d get them to come and work for me in a heartbeat. Um, when you

Kevin Ball (KBall): see this show up sometimes where there will be a manager that will go from company to company on that, I don’t know, three year or four year timeframe, and you’ll see that soon after they show up at that company, a whole bunch of people that they used to work with.

Come along and start working at that company. And so these working relationships can outlast any particular job. I think the, the other thing to think about as you’re doing this, and you’ve sort of alluded to this a little bit, is your own growth and the fact that all of this is messy. Yeah. We’re dealing with humans.

Humans are not [00:33:00] predictable. Sometimes things mess up. So the, the, the last thing to remember here, and this. I think is more about human focus than growth focus particular, but it’s to like give yourself and others some grace and if something doesn’t work well, like, apologize and move on. All these very simple things.

But they, they’re simple, but they’re not easy. Mm-hmm. And, um, you know, I think we’re, we’re gonna have good days, we’re gonna have bad days. Uh, there’re gonna be people who don’t want. This approach. Right? Like, and that’s, that’s actually another, that is a good thing to go on. Like some people do not want to worry about or think about growth at work.

They’ve got too much going on in their life. Mm-hmm. That’s part of, that’s theirs. They don’t want to share it with you. They want to come in, get their job done and clock out. Yeah. And that is a very reasonable way to approach work. I don’t think it would mesh well with me and my management style. Fair enough.

Right. And I will be open with people about that and be like, you know what? [00:34:00] I don’t mind that. And in fact, there will be time periods where that’s like if you, if you’re in a time period where that’s true for a short period, great. I’ve, I’ve gone through those a ton, right? Like I had a period I was caregiving for aging parents and kids.

I mean, early in the pandemic, right? Like everything was going crazy. I just wanted to clock in, get the minimum possible done to move everything forward and the clock out so that I could deal with the chaos that was in my life. That’s okay, but if somebody’s in that space for the long term mm-hmm. They may not be the best fit for a growth photos kiss manager.

Aaron Rackley: Yeah, no, that’s interesting because I, I’ve had therapy over the years, um, and one of the aspects of therapy that I learned about myself is that I am. Without ever realizing it. I would always try to help. That was, that was my downfall and my strength. They’re the same thing. Right. Um, my fault is that I will do it to the detriment of [00:35:00] myself, but, and the good thing is that it means I’m gonna help everyone as much as I possibly can.

And like you say, I guess one of the hardest parts of, for my personality type in that sense is that I would find it hard, as you say, to have someone to work with someone that. It has, it looks like they have a problem model, feels like they’ve got something going on that you are not able to help them with.

So I, yep. Yeah, I, yeah. That’s something I’m trying to learn as a manager, like how I personally deal with that situation.

Kevin Ball (KBall): Well, and this is something that, you know, I would tell my reports. Usually as part of like a, a starting conversation. Yeah. You know, I, I have a starting conversation, a bunch of things we talk about, you know, how do you, how do you like to receive feedback?

Um, you know, what is your default expectation for how private things you say in a one-on-one are, like, for example, if you raise an issue, should I, you know mm-hmm. That I, my instinct would be, okay, I want to go and follow up on this, but should I check with you first? Or like, how are you, you know, what are [00:36:00] your kind of defaults?

Those sorts of things. But one of the things I’ll say to folks is, Hey, look. Right. Like we are human beings. I try my best to be a good manager, but I acknowledge that my management style will not work for everyone. Mm-hmm. If you find it is not working for you, I will not be insulted if you tell me that and say, I would like a different manager.

Yeah. Right. And I think that’s a hard thing for us as managers to, to be like, oh, I am not the right manager for this person. Like, am I failing? But I think, you know, Like many things, right? It’s more like dating than stack ranking, right? Yes, there are skills that you can go all the way up and be better at, but there’s also just a match, right?

Your personality will not be a match for everyone. And if the two of you can recognize that and talk about that openly and say, you know what? Like this is nothing against you. This is nothing against me. We are not a good fit for each other. Let us find you another manager. [00:37:00] That is a far healthier way to approach that mismatch than a sense of like failure on one side or the other.

Aaron Rackley: Um, as I said before, I could literally probably spend hours and hours, so I’m definitely gonna have to put you back on the books at some point to come back on and we’ll delve into more of this or other aspects I’m sure. Just by talking to you, I can tell you’re a fountain of knowledge of stuff that I just wanna pick out your brain.

Um, but I’m being conscious of the time and so I think what we’ll do is we’ll wrap it up with the one final thing that I ask all my guests is if you could give, recommend just one book to anyone. And it doesn’t have to be technical, it doesn’t have to be management. It’s just one book, like Desert Island, one book.

What book would you recommend? Because I will be adding it to the Amazon list to read, so,

Kevin Ball (KBall): oh my goodness. No pressure. Well, so here’s the thing. I’m a bit [00:38:00] of a book nerd. I read a lot of books, so I’m gonna ask you, okay. What types of things are you interested in? Because I have, if I were to recommend one book to you as a manager Yeah.

Um, that would be different than I were to recommend you to one book as somebody who’s looking for something fun to read and likes fiction. Yeah. Or science fiction. Mm-hmm. Would be different than, you know, one book to read based on like if you’re someone who’s commonly stressed out or something like that.

Yeah. Okay. Like, I’ve had books change My Life so many times.

Aaron Rackley: I’m a book too, hence the question. Um, so Okay. We’ll do two books then. Okay. The first book is, I’ve just listened to his podcast and I. Kind of wanna know more about growth, focus management. I, I’m not sick. I know that you said it’s a, a term that you’ve probably came up with yourself.

So where would I go reading it? What would I read next? Okay.

Kevin Ball (KBall): The most human-centric book on management that I have ever read mm-hmm. Is a recent book. Um, and it’s engineering Management for the Rest of Us by Sarah Dresner. It’s [00:39:00] phenomenal. Ah, good old Sarah. Yeah, she’s, I mean, she’s great. Um, but, uh, and I, I have an interview with her coming up on my YouTube channel soon.

Small plug. Um, she’s phenomenal. But, um, the, this book, it was the first book that I’ve read mm-hmm. That is explicitly about management and managing engineers, but the human aspect kind of was a through line through the entire book. Yeah. Um, so that is, that is definitely my top. Recommendation right now from a management perspective and from this perspective of how do I, how do I focus on humans and helping them learn and grow and become better humans?


Aaron Rackley: Okay. No, I’m putting it down. I’ve. Heard that w that book way too many times recently for it not to be on the list. Um, because I, I, I think Sarah’s been on a few podcasts talking about it, uh, recently, so I’ve definitely heard that. [00:40:00] Heard of the book. Okay. Second book. Um, I’m gonna pick one genre. Um, Let’s go for, cause we still talk about human growth.

How about a, a self-reflection book?

Kevin Ball (KBall): So, one of the most, I think, revelationary books for me, that, that changed my approach to a number of things, um, is a book called Full Catastrophe, living by John Kabat Zen. Part of why it was revolutionary. So this is a book, uh, that looks at. Uh, something called mindfulness-based stress reduction.

Mm-hmm. Um, and it was the first book that to me took a, as a, you know, technically minded, studied science, very skeptical type of person. Mm-hmm. Took a very rigorous science-based look at what mindfulness meditation, which feels very like fuzzy and eastern [00:41:00] actually. Can do for your health and wellness.

Interesting. Um, mindfulness is an incredibly valuable technique. Um, it shows up in all sorts of different things now. There’s people, like, I was just looking at this thing called positive intelligence, where this guy tried to wrap up a bunch of stuff and he’s basically pulling from a few traditions. But one of the big ones is mindfulness.

Mm-hmm. Um, it’s a very powerful way to essentially practice directing your mind. And kind of doing deliberate practice on how do I control this thing inside of my head. Um, but this book looked at. You know, both lays out what you can do, like what a practice looks like, but also lays out the science and studies that they did, you know, in hospitals showing dramatic health impacts.

Mm-hmm. Um, and so that was, that was revolutionary for

Aaron Rackley: me. Yeah. Well that, there you go. Two, two books that have to be on the list. And I will be reading them and I’ll definitely probably message you on Discord and be like, yep. That, that one [00:42:00] was great. Yep. Let’s, let’s talk more. Um, okay, so now the fun stuff.

Where can everyone find you and what do you do online? Because I, some people have blogs, some people have YouTube, some people podcast. So Yeah, so nuts

Kevin Ball (KBall): share everything, all all the different things. Yeah. So what am I publishing these days? So, I guess the hub to go to is K Ball dot llc. Um, I self branded my, my new company.

Nice. And I published some blog stuff there. Um, I. Am a podcaster myself, so I regularly podcast on the technical podcast js party. Um, so you can go to change log.com/js party. Um, and I talk about all things JavaScript and the web. Uh, it’s a fun time. Yep. Great podcast. I am also working towards a new podcast focused on human skills, uh, okay.

Sort of all the non-technical things that go into success in the tech industry. Um, that podcast itself is not being published yet. However, I’m taking the interviews [00:43:00] that are intend to make that up and publishing them on YouTube and a summary version on, uh, ck. So there you can go to human skills.co to find the, the ck um, the YouTube is youtube.com/human Skills or at Human Skills.

Um, and I should look at which one That is youtube.com/. At Human Skills Co. Um, is what it is. Okay. Um, and I think those are the big ones. I, I. Do a little bit on Twitter these days, but not too much. I feel like Twitter has become a dumpster fire. Um, I do publish regularly on LinkedIn, so LinkedIn is another one.

Yeah. Uh, but you should be able to find all that from K Ball dot llc. Brilliant.

Aaron Rackley: Well, as I said, I kept saying throughout this whole thing, I definitely will need to have you back. I’ve enjoyed this conversation immensely and I am, without even knowing it, a big fan of growth focus management. So I’ll definitely [00:44:00] be.

And I feel like I need to blog about it. That’s, that’s how, that’s how it’s, yeah. Yeah. So yeah, I will definitely have that. And thank you for coming

Kevin Ball (KBall): on. Yeah, yeah. No, thank you for having me. And, and take it and run. Right. The best thing to me about all of this stuff, about software development, about, uh, podcasting, about all of these things is when we inspire new possibilities and new realizations of like, what, what can we actually do?

In this world, and so like if that has sparked something for you, take it and run,

Aaron Rackley: Billy. Well, thanks again.