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Episode 9: Serendipity, looking for future talent, and how to do no harm with Theresa Neate

    Guest Biography

    Theresa Neate is an award winning senior leader with a background in service desk, software delivery, quality engineering and platform developer experience, who loves lean and agility and advocates for holistic system quality and systems thinking. She has an additional side interest in cloud, infrastructure and networking. She has also written on the subjects, including contributing 2 chapters to a published O’Reilly book.

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    Patrick Kua: Hi everyone. Welcome to the managing managers podcast. I’m really excited to have Theresa Neate with us today. Theresa Neate is an award-winning senior leader with a background in service desk, software delivery, quality engineering and platform developer experience, who loves lean and agility and advocates for holistic system quality and systems thinking. A personal passion of mine as well, so love it. She has an additional side interest in cloud infrastructure and networking and has also written on the subjects including contributing two chapters to a published O’Reilly book. Welcome Theresa to the podcast. 

    Theresa Neate: Thanks Pat! It’s lovely to be here.

    Patrick Kua: It’s lovely to have you here and you’ve got such an interesting, wide variety of experiences across different parts of tech and I’d love to hear about your leadership journey. So when did you start getting into leadership and maybe, can you remember when you started to manage a team?

    Theresa Neate: Well my my experience in leadership, as has been in life, has been serendipity more than intentional and it began 10 years into my career, I was elevated into a very very senior role at the time. Wasn’t ready. And I had a catastrophic failure in the role and there was my first attempt at leadership. So I’ll say that, it’s through failing that one learns how to to get better. There’s no easy path. At that particular time I ended up vowing I would never be a leader again. I quite literally disavowed leadership completely and the stress of responsibility, from that point onwards. And all I wanted to do was be an IC (individual contributor) and I was back on the tools and IC again for some time. Then as my comfort in taking responsibility grew, I became far more interested in improving the fate of everyone around me, as opposed to my own fate and that’s where I just naturally grew into leadership some years later. I have not held back since then. I’ve just loved every minute and every step of the way just making lives better.

    Patrick Kua: That’s a great story and also a common one, particularly that first instance of, as you said, doing this serendipitously. Being thrust into a role, perhaps where it’s like, oh maybe, this isn’t something I really want to do and it can be quite traumatic particularly when organisations and environments don’t provide a lot of support. It’s a very common experience for a lot of people. Then it’s natural then to say, well, I didn’t enjoy that experience. I want to go back to being an IC. But I also love how at some point you noticed the impact you could have by not just focusing on yourself and your work but also helping other people and that natural tendency to fall into leadership roles and more scope. At what point did you then start to perhaps lead or manage other managers?

    Theresa Neate: It was probably three years ago. In a little bit in REA (Real Estate Australia) group but more so in Slalom as a consultant. By that time I had wholeheartedly and truly embraced my place as a leader at the table. Because I felt like I really belonged now and I really had value to add, I could uplift others in their leadership journeys as well. The more I do it the more I love it. It’s really interesting that you feel so empowered to make people’s lives better and so for three years now. Full time.

    Patrick Kua: Yeah. That’s amazing. I think it’s also a unique thing for a lot of people who manage managers of wanting to uplift people into that leadership role. I think when I’ve spoken to some people or worked with other people who are managing other managers, they think, well, managers are independent, they don’t need any support. They don’t need that uplifting. I really like that focus that you have on really trying to grow and and help people on that journey as well. Probably a reflection on what was missing for you when you’re in that first-time role as well. Can you tell us a story about how you’ve perhaps grown a leader? What was your general approach and how did that, what did that journey look like?

    Theresa Neate: You make such a good point there, by the way, on that first stint where I didn’t have support as a leader in the first leadership role. It’s almost like you didn’t have modelling behaviour that was modelled to you that you could then emulate. Thank goodness you learn from your mistakes because you then learn how to lead others and how to model behaviour to them because you know for a fact, they are watching. They’re going to be doing better or worse because of that. But, in answer to your question, it’s really like an awakening where you start seeing potential in people and because you can see potential in people you invest in their ability to think beyond the scope of their current role and the scope of their current…

    Theresa Neate: Unfortunately people are so output focused, that they don’t embrace outcomes. A leader is about outcomes. It’s a shift. It’s a mental shift and I worked with someone some years ago, about three years ago, who wanted a role that they were not qualified for because they were all about outputs. I provided a coaching plan for them and personally did the coaching and we started talking about their personality style. Their leadership style. Also how to focus on outcomes and how an outcome is actually recognisable as being separate from an output. Having done that, that person to this day is one of the shining examples I give when people ask me for an example, there’s a perfect one who just drank it in like a sponge. And is a really really excellent leader themselves right now.

    Patrick Kua: What a fantastic result and that difference that you describe of helping people clarify that difference of outcome versus output. When I guess a lot of individual contributors are used to being measured by output. Of activity and keeping busy. As you say, a lot of managers have that style of velocity or points or code or whatever features and they’re not often measured or focused on the conversations around outcome and I think that’s a huge mental shift there. I love that you also put a coaching plan for somebody together as part of the investment in growing them. One thing that I heard you say was around spotting talent or future leaders. What are some things that you look for that give you an indication that somebody might be ready for a leadership or management role?

    Theresa Neate: There are a few criteria that are almost a deal breaker. Essential criteria that I’ll look for. The first is a growth mindset. So they are continuously seeing situations as learning opportunities as opposed to an end of the road. Their ability to take a bad deck of cards or bad hand of cards that’s been dealt to them, to then turn that around into an opportunity. That is so cool to see that. So, immediately I see potential in someone. I also see potential in someone when they start coaching others. When they show up in the workforce and they volunteer for coaching. Or another example is when they volunteer for recruitment interviews. Can I get involved in the recruitment interviews? They then start showing an interest in building the team around them, whether that be their colleagues, their peers, or somewhere else. All of those indicate enough responsibility and visibility beyond their current predicament or their current constraints. They can see the world outside of their current box. That is heaps of potential right there.

    Patrick Kua: Yeah, so those are really amazing signs and I recognise that as well in terms of things that I would also look for for people who are ready for that leadership/management role. One thing I’ve noticed of my career is sometimes you have people that say, well, I’m not ready to be a leader because I don’t have the title. And I think the things that you talk about are really about the behaviours before people have that title. I think there are some really good examples there that you articulate. One of the things that you talked about was also investing in people as they grow. So what are other examples of investments that you make? One thing I heard was the coaching plan. What are other things that you think about of investing in new leaders?

    Theresa Neate: Fundamentally we need to recognise that everyone has their own experiences, backgrounds, shaping moments, leadership style, personality style. Most of us in technology are introverts. And we show up differently. For me, it is about understanding that people are different and they’re not going to show up necessarily like the inspirational CEO of a company. You have to understand that you will find leadership dressed as something else and being able to see that. That by the way, is diversity for me. Is spotting the different personalities and human beings around you. Diversity is not just about gender. It includes approach to work and so forth. So, first thing I do is I get to know people. And I get to understand who they are as individuals. Then they will either tell me directly that they’re interested in leadership or they will just spontaneously start involving themselves in whatever is available to them. I then, depending on how keen they are by the way, because everyone has a different pace as well, have to remember that. Depending on how keen they are I will come up with either a really aggressive plan or just a slow build to what the end result will be and successful. We need to define as part of the plan as well. What the success looks like. I’m so tailored and so adaptive to the situation, that I’m not going to have a one-size fits all for anybody. I will customise whatever the situation is and the individual is, bearing in mind also, people have families, they have after work commitments. They’re not necessarily going to want to spend all their evenings and weekends reading up on stuff. So we’ll make the time available during work hours.

    Patrick Kua: Great. That’s such a supportive environment and I think the fact that you recognise these differences is also a sign of maturity because I think a lot of people who are successful as a engineering manager or a team lead can do so with their own style. Suddenly, when you’re in these roles you’re dealing with people who have all these different styles and being able to understand these different styles is one thing and then being able to adapt and I see some of that agile, adapting to the environment in you. And to that to the person that you’re leading, thinking about the environment and the things that they need to be successful, I think it’s a great environment that you create for people. One interesting thing that you did talk about was different leadership styles and I know that we all have our certain preferences. Have you had to deal with somebody who had a very different leadership or management style from you and what was that like?

    Theresa Neate: Yes, I personally have been on a journey too. My own style has changed and adapted. Back to the point of you model the behaviour you see around you. Early in my career, probably one of the reasons I failed, I was quite instructional in my style. I was quite unempowering in my leadership style and the different styles you’ll encounter are everything from coaching people who want to coach, to servant leadership, to democratic leadership, where people all have a say. There are a whole bunch of styles that you can see in the workplace. I tend to want to understand what that person wants to be when I start designing their plan for them. There’s a few things, a few little caveats, I will give them along the way. If someone says I’m a servant leader I will say you realise that that is not apathetic leadership. You are still involved as a leader. You are still showing up. When someone says they want to be a completely democratic leader, I will point out that they will need to be willing and able to make decisions when democracy fails. You want to be as adaptive to your recipient as possible but you also want to be very clear that leadership requires action and it requires direction and vision.

    Patrick Kua: Absolutely agree. I think one of the biggest challenges I see for new managers is being decisive. Of creating that action and not assuming the team will decide something at some point or thinking about that timebox about when would a decision need to be made. That really resonates with me as well. I also think that that instructive style of leadership is also, I recognise that in myself, in my early leadership career. I think it’s probably one of those things that everyone goes on when everyone is learning. Of being a little bit dogmatic or like, this worked for me so, of course, this is the way that you should do it as well. I think that is a great example of that personal growth journey as well of recognising actually, there are many different ways. It goes back to what you were talking about. As long as the outcome is being reached then the mechanisms of how you do that is less important from that side. Which does raise an interesting question of when you’re managing different teams with people who have different management/leadership styles where do you draw that boundary of what is maybe consistent or ways of things, because if every team is doing everything differently, that makes your life a little bit harder to understand what things to look at or what processes to step into? So do you have any framework that you think of where teams do need to do things that are similar?

    Theresa Neate: I will draw a line at do no harm. First, do no harm. I will require that whatever you do I will be probably more involved and more invested if I see that you are harming others in the process. So if I see someone who is completely uninvolved and completely too afraid to step up because they’re afraid of harming people, I would be much more willing to coach them and get them over that fear than anyone who comes in and harms people. 

    Theresa Neate: Actually, I’ll give you an example had a recent example of a team member, a leader who was reporting to me, who was given instructions to be a little bit more decisive and took it to the extreme and overrode all decisions in a meeting to the point where there were tears in the meeting. This obviously came back to me and I had to correct that. The polish of how they execute gets better if they’re willing to learn. The implementation details of how they execute is going to be of less consequence than the intention to not harm and to create a vision and a future for the team. There’s going to be some bumps and scrapes along the way and if you can get back up and, you know, dust yourself off and get on with it, that’s all I ask. Those were the boundaries that I would definitely be setting for people.

    Patrick Kua: That’s a great principle and thank you for sharing that really concrete example. I think one of the difficulties for you as a person who manages other managers is that you’re often not necessarily in the room when certain things happen. So as a manager you’re often there with your team. Maybe less so in a remote environment. But you’re often at least in the same virtual meetings. How do you get that information about what’s going on in your organisation about how managers are performing, given that you’re often probably not in the same place as them at the same time?

    Theresa Neate: That’s such a great question because you have to go on smoke signals a little bit here. Where you have to know what the smoke signals are and it shows up in a variety of ways. It shows up in people becoming ill and not coming to work. It comes up in sentiment checks. When we do sentiment checks on people’s well-being and there are things that are said and things that are not said. Or particular metrics like ENPS (Employee Net Promoter Score) dropping. Those are the things you would have to keep an eye on. But I also make a point, and this is something that maybe sets me apart from other leaders, is I create clear relationships with other people in the team. Whether similar discipline or other disciplines so that they feel they have a direct line to me. Anytime they feel there is a concern. Because goodness knows, you are not going to know everything that goes wrong as it happens. But I do want people to feel that I’m a safe person to speak to, when the pawpaw (spelling???) strikes the fan, so to speak.

    Patrick Kua: Yeah, that direct channel that you talk about and that trust also given that often there’s that power or authority difference between you, their manager and that person in a particular team. What are some ways that you like to do to build up that relationship? How do you go about trying to build those trust channels?

    Theresa Neate: One thing I do is I show up. You know, people need to see my face. That’s whether that’s physically in the room or virtually on a screen, I need to show up. My default nature is to enthusiastically contribute, so I have to watch out that I’m not doing that. That I’m overriding or contributing more than perhaps I have licence for in that particular space. But if they can see me be there, that’s number one. They know that I’m interested. When I do ask questions in a forum like that, which is a public forum, I will ask them respectfully so that people do understand I’m there to have their backs. Eventually people understand I’ve got their backs and then I start building individual relationships. For example, a product manager who is having to deal with company priorities, CPO priorities, engineering resistance, you name it. I will find them and build a relationship. But first thing to do is just show up and show that you care. And from there the doors start opening for you.

    Patrick Kua: I think it completely makes sense, which is people need to be aware that, as you say, you’re there and then also feel like they can approach you and I guess through time, through examples of you helping them, they understand, OK, I can come back and there’s no negative consequences or I shouldn’t need to fear this opportunity. This is actually something that helps me do my own job better and work better in that organisation. So a really, really great approach. I’d love to talk about maybe a couple of your roles, so maybe jumping to one of the roles that you’ve played, which is a director at Slalom Build, which I understand is a business and technology firm. You were a director there, so what did your director role look like at that point?

    Theresa Neate: In the context of Slalom or Slalom Build. Firstly, Slalom is a large consulting firm that looks after management consulting and so forth. Slalom Build was the, is the technology arm. Now you and I both have ThoughtWorks experience and it’s very similar to ThoughtWorks in its intent. My role as a director is to lead up a capability or a discipline. In this particular instance it was leading up quality engineering for Australia and then APAC. We had a Japan. Still have a Japan office. 

    Patrick Kua: Oh wow.

    Theresa Neate: So for me, the role was juggling 100 things but fundamentally I think I broke it down to four sections. One is the capability leadership and being the expert in a particular discipline. Looking after client engagements. So very much delivery focused and relationship management. I took on also the additional responsibility. This is what I volunteered for. It wasn’t enforced on me of leading ID and E or DEI (Diversity, Equality, Inclusion) for the region as well. And then a fourth role that I played which was more a default for the role itself because I was one of the founding group, was the senior leadership for the whole group in Australia and in Japan. So particularly in my case, I was very Slalom build focused and we looked after the commercial well being and the people and the scaling up of what was really a fast scaling up company at the time. So you had to hold on for dear life and keep up. But it was a heck of a lot of fun.

    Patrick Kua: What an amazing growth opportunity. I can imagine of, being in that time and also being able to influence, that environment. There’s, as you said, lots of things that you could juggle. I like how you split them into 4 different groups there. What were your strategies for maybe managing your time given that there were so many things that could pull at that?

    Theresa Neate: Well look my executive coach will tell you that prioritisation is everyone’s number one concern or difficulty. That was mine too. I still don’t think I’ve got this completely nailed. But saying no to the right things and saying yes to the right things. Whether they’re right or wrong, who knows? It can be interpreted by anybody. For me I juggled with some success but I did drop balls because I took on too much. And I found myself working on weekends because I said yes to things and I want to keep my end of the bargain. I worked late at nights because I have a client on a different time zone than what I am. I would say that, eyes wide open, you need to know that that’s what you sign up for. Having done it this time, I’m far better equipped to do it the next time.

    Patrick Kua: Yeah, saying no was really hard. I certainly have not mastered it as well. I learned tips from other people. But yeah, it’s never easy. It’s always that judgement call, so it’s never going to be perfect. I find it also fascinating with some of the initiatives that you were responsible for because you had to probably lead across teams, across different clients and there’s some competing interests probably where, if somebody’s on a team, they’re just focused on their client and team and you’re trying to get them involved in an initiative. What were some of your strategies of trying to get buy-in?

    Theresa Neate: I think this is my personal bias. I don’t know if this was the right approach but I tended to prioritise people over everything else. I put people first. I would always appeal to the human side of whoever I was speaking to. There’s a book that I recently read called, Getting to Yes. 

    Patrick Kua: I love the book.

    Theresa Neate: I needed that. I needed that so much back then. I’ve only now recently just discovered it and how to get to a win-win in a negotiation. You would use that book I think now in retrospect. Use that book, Getting to Yes, while retaining the human aspect and getting to a win-win of having the outcome as opposed to your personal position.

    Patrick Kua: Yeah, it’s a great approach. We’ll make sure that book appears in the show notes as well. It’s one of my favourite ones as well. For negotiation, conflict resolution and also, as you say, that mindset shift of moving away from win-lose or your goal, your position to really thinking about how can we make this mutually interesting. Let’s maybe move to a different role which was your head of engineering at Xero. So Xero is that large business known for cloud-based accounting. You were head of engineering there, so what did the scope of your role look like?

    Theresa Neate: The head of engineering in Xero is also known as a director of engineering in North America Xero. So they’re synonymous. The role is partnered with design and product to lead a portfolio within the company. You’ve heard the 3 amigos. I’ve heard the 3 Amigos. Xero has interpreted the 3 amigos as design, product and engineering. The 3 amigos I heard way back in the day was a developer, an analyst and I think a QA. That’s the 3 amigos I knew of back in the day. Nonetheless, so we, as a 3 amigos, co-led the portfolio. We would work on a segment of a portfolio or a full portfolio itself and my responsibilities were mainly to lead not only the engineers, but also the engineering excellence and engineering accountability within that group. It turns out delivery wasn’t very well defined within each one of these disciplines. So I decided to take on delivery as one of our expectations as well. In other companies you find delivery is a separate discipline but we took it on in engineering.

    Patrick Kua: Great. To be honest I’ve found delivery as a capability in most organisations weak. It’s not really in product. It’s often not really in engineering and it’s one of those things that seems to have disappeared as we moved from project to product. So that’s an interesting aspect then I love that you brought it back into engineering to make sure that didn’t really get dropped. What did your structure look like for engineers or engineering managers? How big were these groups and how did you structure them in your area?

    Theresa Neate: My area was one of the smaller ones. It had been created just before I joined. It was still in its fledgling, forming stages. I think it started storming not long after I joined but there were two engineering managers reporting into me. They had team leads, or development leads, or whatever you want to call that, reporting into them. Initially when we started off there were 3 squads, 3 pods, 3 teams within each of those areas. And either through attrition or merging or company restructure, there were fundamentally 4 pods left and about 25 people. Almost 30 people reporting into my group. Quite an addition to design and product.

    Patrick Kua: Yeah, that’s quite a lot of people and I can understand if it’s a new organisation, you’re trying to probably work out the scope and the best structures to support that scope of what you need to do. Given also changes in the economic environment that makes it also difficult. So if I understand it right, at the end you had 4 ish pods or teams, probably each with their own team lead or engineering manager. What was your way of running those teams? How did they coordinate? How did they work with each other? What were some concrete ways that you helped them collaborate?

    Theresa Neate: Yeah, excellent question. There were 2 sub portfolios loosely that comprised these pods. So there were two pods in one. Two pods in another. Three at first, down to two. I found when I walked in that the 2 sub portfolios were not speaking to each other. There was a social connection perhaps over coffee but there wasn’t a collaboration on work topics. I made it my number one priority to bring the leaders of these two sub portfolios together in the same room. It was just to get the conversation started. It was just to get to know each other in work context and then I started identifying common areas of improvements in both areas. Because they could then collaborate with each other, they learned heaps from each other. So much learning by, oh my goodness, are you also having this problem? And oh my goodness, that’s a great way of solving this particular problem. I should have spoken to you earlier. So the first thing I did really was just to get people speaking to each other. Once we did that I then kicked off a bunch of working groups where I identified particular areas of improvements that I felt that both of these groups were suffering from the most. No surprises, delivery was number one on the list. Security was the second one. And operational health and maturity was the third one where I wanted people to continue the conversation without me leading it. So I appointed an engineering manager to lead each one of these conversations. We built a team eventually. wWe got through storming and we definitely got through norming and some extent some performing already happened. I feel very very happy with where they landed towards the end.

    Patrick Kua: What a great result and that, just building those relationships. I can see the focus on people and also it needs to be in that, without any intervention without those bridge building between people, you could just see these teams probably going off in their own silos forever. They had so much opportunity to learn from each other even just by simply swapping experiences. I’d like to maybe delve into that working group thing that you were talking about. So for the example with a delivery working group, for example, you had an engineering manager who was leading that. How long would that working group last for? Or how would they run? Was that really dependent on that engineering manager?

    Theresa Neate: We ran it like a product actually. So we defined particular outcomes and we prioritised our areas of focus. We defined what we felt were the areas that firstly were low hanging fruit. And secondly that were hurting us the most. And juggled those two areas to then focus on, guess what, priorities are not everything. Because that’s definitely a lesson we’ve learned along the way. I managed to set up the initial expectation for a weekly hour-long conversation around our priorities. We had it all Miro-boarded out. I appointed myself the product owner/product manager of the group and that they needed my input into their priorities but I wanted them to be self-sufficient and self-organising around the rest. You’ll hear people talk about autonomy, drive, mastery very often, but we don’t talk about aligned autonomy enough. So I brought the alignment into the conversation and then I let the autonomy run.

    Patrick Kua: Great.

    Theresa Neate: We definitely discovered that the first thing you need to do if you want delivery to do better is you need to visualise it. You have to track it. So visualising work. What’s the first thing we did? You know what? The company’s had a restructure recently. The working group is not as initially created it but they’re still continuing the conversation at the very least.

    Patrick Kua: Fantastic! And you’re right, which is I think, if you don’t visualise it, it’s hard to see, is it smooth? Is it spiky? What’s going on? Where are big gaps? I definitely am getting that picture of that conversation where people say yes, but they actually have different pictures in their heads. I can imagine the value of just bringing everyone into that room and I love the point you talk about with aligned autonomy as well. You’re right is that everyone talks about Dan Pink’s Drive and then everyone forgets about, well, it’s great when everyone’s autonomous. But if they’re working against each other, that’s not really helping a team or an organisation. So I really love that point as well. One interesting thing I heard you say was the prioritisation, and you took on that product role for the working group. For the example of that working group with delivery, I’m assuming there maybe needed to be improvements that required time. Often that means a tradeoff with product and product management. Did you ever have to have any of those conversations of saying, hey you know we need like extra time this week or things for this team to work on this? How did that work?

    Theresa Neate: Are you asking about within the delivery, within the team itself or within the outcomes and outputs for the working group?

    Patrick Kua: Well I’m assuming for the working group if you bring people together for discussion, there’s probably going to be some improvement actions and people can do that on the side but I’m imagining there would have been some items that required a good day, afternoon or some extra time which is then a tradeoff against product delivery in order to improve some aspects. So I don’t know if you had any examples of that or if you ever had to have conversations with product but that’s often one of those things and I was wondering if you did?

    Theresa Neate: In this particular instance we were fortunate enough to treat it like a Kanban experience. Where we didn’t necessarily set deadlines on the working group outputs or outcomes.

    Patrick Kua: Great.

    Theresa Neate: All I needed to do was to see progress. If I could see progress, I knew we were on the right track. If I saw people showing up to the meeting, that was good enough. The rest went at its own pace.

    Patrick Kua: Great.

    Theresa Neate: Just the enthusiasm that it generated. It was self-generating. The progress was then self-generating.

    Patrick Kua: Excellent and what I’m imagining or hearing here is that system that you started and there’s movement in that system and enough momentum, you don’t need any extra things to say, well, we need to carve out more capacity or time. Things were moving. Really love the approach there. Maybe stepping back into the managing managers theme then, from your experience, what would you describe as some significant shifts for people who are moving from managing ICs to now managing managers.

    Theresa Neate: I have a recent observation on that, where someone had moved into, from a team lead role, they’d moved into an engineering manager role. I discovered that they were still on pager duty. They were still keeping an eye on after hours metrics. They felt like they were still showing passion and investment but they were unable to step away from some of the detail. It’s an interesting thing where people feel they have so much accountability they need to be close to every detail. So I had to bring this person on the journey of, how about you step away from it and see what happens? How about you don’t put yourself on after hours on call duty and see what happens? I think I got there in the end but it was difficult for someone who had a very very very technical background and whose strength were in technical, fantastic excellence. How do they then grow into being a leader, who can still keep up with the technical conversations but doesn’t need to be close to the detail? In this case, we forbade him to go on after hours on call duties.

    Patrick Kua: A good solution. Break the habit for them.

    Theresa Neate: We had to. We had to break this habit. You cannot carry the pager after hours. All good if you do it during working hours. Your first level of support. I got it. Fine. But you can’t after hours. You’ve got to start trusting people. It turns out that when he did step away, the house didn’t burn down.

    Patrick Kua: Great. I’m hearing it’s that habit of a safety blanket. Something they like. Something that they’ve probably felt that they’ve done a lot of value. And yeah, I love the idea of let’s experiment to see what happens if you don’t have this thing. How will you work? It’s not going to be end of the world, hopefully. And it sounded like a really good result from that perspective. One thing that I hear a lot about people who are managing managers is it gets lonelier. So as a manager of teams, you’re often the one manager and then when you’re managing other managers, there’s a smaller circle of people you can often talk to. What does your support structure look like or what has helped you in the past in those roles?

    Theresa Neate: Yes. That’s a great question because you can’t choose your manager either. It’s like the lottery whether you’re going to have a great manager or not who will support you. I tend to find people in the company who are like-minded and when I discover them, I make a point of connecting with them regularly. They can be in a similar role. They can be in a different role. You will find connections. Now full disclosure. I’m an acute introvert. I will probably not be attending all the socials and all the parties. I’m not the one in the middle of the dance floor. Let’s just say that. But I will find the humans who I have a similarity to in terms of thinking a little bit more cerebral. Little bit of deep thinking. A little bit of systems thinking. Think about the big picture. Can we geek out about something? I will find them. I will hunt them down and I will make friends with them in my own introverted way and they uplift me as much as I hope to be uplifting them.

    Patrick Kua: Great! Great approach and I think a lot of leaders who are listening to this, if they’re leaders in tech, will often also be introverted as well. So I think that will resonate with a lot of people who are going to listen to this. If you were to provide a recommended book or resource for people who are managing managers, what do you think would be a really good book or resource?

    Theresa Neate: There’s a few that I referenced recently in a talk that I gave. Getting to Yes, definitely. Leadership is Language by David Marquette or Marquet depending on how you want to pronounce it.

    Patrick Kua: I don’t know either.

    Theresa Neate: I just say marquette and I’ll just get away with it I hope. The Coaching Habit which is a book that I had to read in order to learn how to ask meaningful questions. As opposed to just dumb questions for the sake of asking questions. It’s about how do I ask meaningful questions that will help people think and see beyond what their current scope is. Those are the first ones that come to mind. Turn the Ship Around is one of them. I can go on and on but those are the ones that came to mind straight away.

    Patrick Kua: I think that’s already many resources and some really good books that you’ve mentioned there as well. If you were to provide any tips for a person who’s making that transition from managing individual contributors to managing managers, what would be that tip?

    Theresa Neate: I will give them two tips actually. I will say get a sponsor. Now this is different to a coach. But you need someone who’s a sponsor who will champion you and for you. So that’s very very important is to get a sponsor. Secondly, is to have patience with your journey and treat it like a journey not a destination.

    Patrick Kua: Great tips. Excellent. I completely also agree with a sponsor and that difference of what that is versus a mentor or a coach as well. I think that’s really key. My final question for you is, if people want to find out more about you or reach out to you, What would be the best ways?

    Theresa Neate: You’ll find me at so I have an unusual surname. Theresa with an h and you spell my surname n e a t e dot net. I will connect with people I know on Linkedin but I tend to not connect with people I haven’t met yet, so you can follow me if you’d like on Linkedin.

    Patrick Kua: Wonderful. Excellent. We’ll make sure that those links are in the show notes as well. Thank you very much Theresa. I’ve really loved our conversation today. You’ve got such an amazing set of insights and maturity around this role and I think our listeners will have learned a lot throughout this. So thank you very much for being a guest on the podcast.

    Theresa Neate: My pleasure. Loved it.

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