Here is a post on my learnings from my manager Vik.
First a few disclaimers:
- I have never had the same manager for more than a year. Possibly because I have not stayed at the same place for >2 years.
- I thought I would write this much later. I never write about active managers because I worry about the optics.
- I maintain notes on everyone I can possibly learn from. People get freaked out when I remind them things they told in passing years earlier. I don’t have a great memory. I just think a lot about things. And also write a lot of private notes.
- I did not show Vik this.
- Not everything is perfect. We do argue. But I have had the same manager for 3.5 years now. And not left my team inspite of dozens of opportunities, both internal and external. Same for the other GPM in Transport. We both have been working with Vik for multiple years.He even longer than me. I think more than 4 years.
Now let’s come to learnings.
- I always felt that I had taken a lot of sub optimal career decisions. My resume is full of products with potential that never took off. Did not hit scale. But Vik was happy to take a chance on me. TBH before I joined my current company, I told a lot of stories to myself which always put me as the person who failed - Product failed, my fault; company did not become a unicorn my fault.He taught me how to tell better stories about myself. I will be always grateful to Vik for that. You can read this to read more on this.
- We talk about positioning all the time as a PM. We never ask about our own positioning as employees.This is something I did not think of till Vik asked me the question about what kind of PM I want to be known as. Now I teach the same thing to other PMs I mentor.
- “The feedback is not about your ability. I trust you. But we could have done better. I am just trying to understand what went wrong.” Vik said this to me when a rollout did not go as smooth as we expected. I used to think “Can’t you see I am trying my best!!” “I work so hard”. As someone who takes a lot of pride in his work, any comment on any release, any feature shipped used to feel like a personal attack to me. The separation of task from the person’s capability is something I never understood before. Any feedback felt like a personal attack. Then after multiple discussions with Vik, I learned to be less defensive. I should just take the feedback and learn.I still suck at taking feedback. Ego is not an easy thing to curb. But at least I am more open to taking it from the people I trust and respect.
- The importance of giving visibility to a wider audience. Before coming here I did not even know that a manager could supercharge your growth by just sharing a simple message to senior leaders.We read everywhere that a manager should put the focus on you. Give you spotlight.How many times has your manager put in a good word about you to their skip manager? Vik creates temporary groups like these and share feedback about me to other leaders in the company.To grow in your career you need people who will vouch for you. Stick their neck out for you.Go out of the way to promote you. I mean literally and also on Slack. And now I do the same. What people don’t realise is working hard and getting shit done is just one thing.Getting recognition for it is another.
This a 3 years old message. And one of the first that went on my Gojek’s brag doc.
- As I mentioned earlier, before joining Gojek, I did not know what was going wrong with my career. I worked hard. I think I am pretty smart. All my past managers have written recommendations for me. So why was my career not taking off? I realised that I just did not have champions at the senior level who knew what I could bring to the level. My visibility and impact used to hit local maxima and I used to leave. Hence it was always the “Manas is good at execution”, never “Manas will build the future for us”. Vik helped fix that.
- I did not care about building relationships. The only thing I cared about is getting shit done. I am happy being the bad person if it meant meeting a release date, but Vik pointed out to me in one of my 1-1s how small the Indian ecosystem is. Vik and me is an example. We both worked at Directi, though we were part of different groups and never worked together. I got to know him only after moving to my current company. You will work with the same people again and again.Thinking long term is key here.
- Create room for people to grow. I started as the first PM for Safety in Transport. Then I did Payments too. Then I looked after On Trip. Then Booking Experience. Then Booking Experience and Flexibility. And now I am doing growth. First as an IC and now as a GPM. I never thought about creating scope. Or about long term growth when it comes to career. Only here I have started thinking strategically not just about my own growth but also how I can give enough scope to my PMs that they are sufficiently challenged, not bored, and can grow.
- Letting fires burn. If you prioritise everything, you prioritise nothing. Sometimes things just solve themselves. Don’t stretch yourself by trying to fix everything.
- Focus on a few things when it comes to improvement. When I was new at Gojek I could not deal with all the communication stuff that is required at a big company. Writing the same doc differently for 3 different stakeholders takes its toll. In all our 1-1s for the first few months, we just kept talking about communication. How to get better at it. Also remaining calm. Just 2-3 things that I should improve on. These 2-3 things kept changing every semester. But it did not bloat into 5 items. That would have overwhelmed me. Now I follow the same thing with my PMs.
- As I grew senior he changed how he mentored me. When I was new I was scared that I would send something to some senior leader and it would escalate. So as an IC, I would take decisions but also tag him on a lot of important messages. TBH this is my style too. I like being FYI’ed in stuff. I don’t need to be involved. But I like to have context. But one day he pulled me and told me not to do that. Why? Because if I kept tagging him on all messages it seemed like I was scared of taking a decision without my manager. While it was a way for me to fyi him, others might interpret it differently. As you grow senior, perceptions matter a lot. So I stopped. I DM him now if needed.
- Pushing out of my comfort zone. I don’t make public appearances. I hate going to big meet ups. I turn off camera during zoom calls. Vik encouraged me to host an internal conference. I had to do all the things I hate generally. But it did push me out of my comfort zone and made me open to doing things that I know I am not natural at.
- It is okay to care about status or money. Everyone has different aspirations in life. I tell people not to share too much info with their managers. It is standard advice. But I have always told all my managers everything. I am still friends with all my managers. And in return surprisingly they have also been super honest with me. Thanks to my manager I know compensation of people at my level at other places. I even know comp of people at far more senior levels. Of course he anonymises the data. But I don’t have to fish for this kind of info. He even tells me what kind of roles I would get if I leave.
- I have been lucky to attend meetings way over of my pay grade. Learn how a company of this size operates. He adds me to so many meetings I have no business attending.
- Exec alignment is one of the hardest skills to learn. And Vik is a master at it. Thanks to him I know a lot of things that went wrong in previous roles. The mistakes I made.
- From frameworks mentioned in my blog to all the play books around running a product team, a lot of the content came from Vik. I literally copied most things we do here and turned them into play books that I teach other startups now. Not just Vik, I have been lucky to have worked with a lot of great managers. Read my What separates good managers from the rest post where I have added some of the learnings from my past managers.
I am lucky that my path crossed with Vik’s. And I look forward to learning from him, not just here but till I remain in Product Management.