Playing the long game

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 27, 2020, 6:00 PM | comments: 0

I had a great talk with my boss this week about playing the "long game" when it comes to the kind of work managers do. Despite being more manager than maker for much of the last decade, I often have a hard time getting to Friday and feeling like, "What did I deliver?" When you're in the weeds as a software developer, it's different, because you write code, it goes into production, and you can pat yourself on the back. This is also the case when you're doing consulting work, which I've been in and out of for my entire professional life. When you're leading people, you're engaged in some combination of enabling, blocking and tackling, tweaking processes and helping people level up in their abilities. Meanwhile, you're always gaming toward something that manifests itself over time, whether it be larger company goals, cultural changes, delivery of a project, etc.

So when he talked about always looking at the future, I realized that is something that all of the leaders I've respected tend to do. I remember my first boss at Microsoft was like this, years into trying to change the engineering culture into something that was more agile and responsive to customer needs (when the company was definitely not at the time). His advice was similar, as I recall him telling me that you just have to be patient to get to the place you know you need to go.

How am I doing? When I look at this year so far, and previous gigs, I've been pretty good about keeping my eye on the long game, despite having some anxiety over an apparently lack of weekly "delivery." I'm definitely not very patient the way my MSFT manager was, but I've made meaningful progress on my goals this year, hit all of them last year (and set up the org to hit the next set of goals), and the job before that is still doing pretty well on the foundation I laid. I feel like I've gone to the appropriate level in the weeds, most of the time. That feels pretty good. I've never been a Type-A personality, but it doesn't mean I don't enjoy a little validation now and then.

It turns out there are a lot of things in life that are not simply about the moment. Your physical and mental health are things you work on for the haul. I have to remind myself daily that parenting challenges are not solved in a day. Careers are built over time. Fortunes too, if that's what's important to you.


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