Competitiveness, trust and helping others

I have recently changed into a lead role at Automattic. I am now in charge of 7 fellow WooCommerce Happiness Engineers based across Europe, India and Asia. The leadership part of this role regarding the team is relatively straight forward. It is my responsibility to help each member to be successful in an environment of fast pacing product development, and the transition from ticket support to live chat.

But there is a second part of this role, which is just as complex – and which I have little previous experience with: we are seven team leads who are expected to be the voice of our division – one unified voice, leading together as one unit.

And that’s a true challenge: we are seven people, with different backgrounds, different experiences, different leadership style, all working remotely distributed among various time zones, sometimes even with different interpretations of what the future should look like.

My goal is to be an active part in creating a unified team, so that we may act as a bridge between product development, marketing, and our own support teams, making sure we are all working towards the same outcome.

What I learned about myself: moving from competitiveness to positive intent

I am much more competitive than I thought. Talking with my coach Steph about the different team lead personalities, I realized I was operating from an undercurrent of distrustfulness. I am constantly insecure about whether I have it in me to excel in this new position. I am afraid I am not good enough, and that my team lead colleagues will be the first ones to find out – since they obviously all know what they are doing.

Trying to get up to speed as quickly as possible, I had already scheduled some personal interviews with my colleagues. With input from Steph, I was able to use these sessions to move from distrustfulness to appreciation and collaboration. Going forward I am working on being more mindful of what triggers competitive thinking when it is not necessary. I’d like to get from competition to ambition 🙂

Ongoing action items

In communication: beware the why

I always thought that asking “why” would help me get to the source of a problem or a situation, understanding what exactly is going on in the mind of the other person. However, in many situations, asking “why” will trigger a defense mechanism which is not helpful when looking for results (or change). In these circumstances, I now want to use a more action-oriented line of questions:

  • “How do you best like to organize your day?” – instead of “WHY did you not do this on time?”
  • “What do you do to keep in touch with customers’ needs?” – instead of “WHY don’t you do more tickets as a lead?”

Avoiding “why” will actually speed up the process of both learning from others as well as sharing my own experiences.

In life: how can I help you succeed

I consider myself pretty good at working with sensitive customers. I rarely take something personal and I am very good at diffusing charged situations. I always remember that they simply need help to figure out a stressful situation. It might look trivial to me, but if it generates stress for them, they need help.

Interestingly I tend to forget this mindset when working with peers. Just like my “why” might put others in defense, I click into defense mode myself way too easily. Steph made a good point, people are not out there to get you, but to learn from you. I have a lot to offer, and by focussing on how I can help the person I am talking to, I can add value both to their day as well as to my plans.

Turns out, career coaching isn’t that far off from life coaching.

[This post is part of my journey with my career coach Stephanie Vora, a perk offered by Automattic. You can find all posts here.]



  1. colourfullifenotes
    11th July 2017

    Great post!

  2. Hannah Swain
    21st July 2017

    > However, in many situations, asking “why” will trigger a defense mechanism which is not helpful when looking for results (or change).

    I also thought asking “why” was a good approach, but I love how you’ve explained this. Thank you for sharing!

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