Did your first management gig come with a small pay bump and zero training? Ours too! But being good at doing a job doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be good at managing people doing it. That’s where our guest, Lara Hogan, comes in!
Lara is an author, public speaker, and coach for managers and leaders across the tech industry. Her latest book, Resilient Management, is brand-new this week. We’re huge fans of the way Lara throws out the playbook of a domineering boss who aims to intimidate. Instead, she’s all about nurturing, coaching, and sponsoring people— so they can grow and reach their goals. And she does it all with empathy, warmth, and humility. Love.
Find [people] an opportunity. Put your name on the line for them, put your reputation on the line for them, and help them get opportunities that they are looking for.
—Lara Hogan, author of Resilient Management
We chat about:
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Katel Ledú Hey, everyone, I’m Katel.
SWB And I’m Sara!
KL And this is Strong Feelings! A podcast about work, friendship, and feminism—and what happens when you bring them all together.
SWB And today on Strong Feelings, we’re going to talk about management. Being a manager, dealing with your manager, and what it means to be in a leadership role as a feminist. We’re joined on the show by our friend and an absolute gem, Lara Hogan. She just wrote a new book; it’s out this week from Katel’s press and it’s called Resilient Management.
KL Yeah… about that…
SWB Uh oh.
KL So, it’s always really exciting getting a book to launch and there are a hundred things that go into getting those beautiful books into people’s hands—
SBW Oh gosh, where is this going? [laughs]
KL —and the author’s hands. [laughs] And last week, exactly one week before launch, Lara messages me and is like, “so, the foreword is missing from my copies of the book. Is it only my copies?” And my stomach sinks.
SWB Oh no…
KL [sighs] Yeah. So, I scramble to see whether it’s all the books, just some random copies or what’s going on. And it’s all the books—or at least the printed versions. And then I frantically try to track down what happened and loop back through five different points of failure, all of which clearly failed. [laughs] And my stomach just continues to sink because I have to tell Lara, “yes, in fact, all the printed books are missing the foreword.” And even though I’m thinking of all the moments we had to catch something like this, the truth is that it’s never perfect and it’s ultimately my responsibility and my fault that this happened because…I’m the boss! And I don’t have a manager to go to and say, “oh my god, what do we do now?”
SWB Oh my gosh. Well, I guess at least you can’t get fired for it! [both laugh]
KL Yeah. I mean…ugh. Also, I feel like it’s almost even worse because instead of having a boss who might be upset with me or disappointed with me, which is something I think I could get over more easily, I’m disappointed in and angry with myself and for me that takes way longer to move on from.
SWB Ugh, you are not alone on that. I think I am way harder on myself than people are on me. Most of us are probably like that.
SWB Like you know how you still think about—I don’t know—something weird you said at a party once in 2004? [KL laughs] And you think about it at three o’clock in the morning sometimes? Maybe that’s just me! [laughs]
KL That’s definitely me too. [both laugh]
SWB I feel like this is kind of like that! You’ll run it over in your head over and over and over again. And Lara might be bummed and has a right to be bummed by it, but she’s probably going to be able to process it and move on with her life.
KL Yeah, totally. And I mean, look, the forward, which is really wonderful and written by Camille Fournier, is in the digital versions, and it will be in the next print run, and we are gonna share it with everyone regardless, but… [sighs loudly.]
SWB Yeah, I’m sorry. [KL laughs] I also know that’s just stressful. Obviously you want the book to be perfect and Lara deserves for it to be perfect—
SWB —but also life just isn’t perfect sometimes. And the book still looks great, it’s still going to sell, and it’s going to be okay. But I get it; it just feels bad. And you mentioned not having a manager or boss to go to to be like, “what do we do?” And I think this is something I haven’t thought enough about, which is like the downsides of not having a manager [laughs] because I haven’t had one in eight years and I think a lot about the upsides like, “yay, no boss, my rules, fuckos!” [laughs]
KL [laughing] Yeah.
SWB Do what I want! But on the other hand, Lara talks in our interview today about some of the really great things about having a manager, particularly when they’re a good manager. You get support, you get opportunities for growth and validation. And that means you have somebody who has your back and who helps you become better. And I think there’s a whole upside to having a manager that maybe I should think a little bit more about.
KL Wow, I know. Just thinking about what happened with Lara’s book, I also feel like in the last five years or so, I haven’t always thought about or really prioritized my growth opportunities. And actually, back in 2017, we were at a point at A Book Apart where we really had to expand our marketing strategy and I just did not feel equipped to lead that. So, I decided we should invest in working with a marketing coach because I needed to learn how to develop a strategy, but also then be able to teach people on my team how to execute the strategy. So, it was a totally different experience than hiring someone to fill a marketing role because I had to develop a skill so I could bring it into the company and into my role, not just outsource it.
SWB Right. So, part of that was recognizing as a leader that this was a capacity the company needed to grow into and it wasn’t just a single role, which I think is really cool. And I love the idea of it being a marketing coach. I’ve been thinking about coaching recently because Lara is a coach, and she talks about learning to be a coach in her interview, and what that looks like. And people have told me in the past like, “hey, have you ever thought about having a leadership coach or an executive coach?” And I have thought about it, but I’ve never got it together to do it, which is maybe a typical experience some of us have. [both laugh] I feel like the past few years I have found a bunch of ways to grow—things like taking on new challenges like authoring or podcasting, or taking on new types of projects or bigger projects, or trying to work with some people I could learn from. But I don’t really have anyone I’m accountable to on that, it’s all kind of Iike could choose to do that or not do that and I don’t always choose to do it. [both laugh] And I don’t necessarily have someone to help me through when I’m trying to muddle my way through what’s next for me. Where does my career go from here? What would a good next step look like? How do I make sense of the various and conflicting feelings [laughs] I have about it? [KL laughs] And I certainly get some of that from you, and I get some of that from my partner, and I get some of that from different places, but I think that having somebody who is a little bit more neutral, third party—which you’re not, right?
SWB We work on this podcast together, it’s a huge deal that we have so many intertwined interests.
SWB My partner is not a neutral party either—
SWB —he’s my partner. I feel Iike having that perspective and somebody who is sort of trained…like a therapist is trained!
SWB I think that would be really powerful. So, I’m super interested in getting serious about that.
KL Honestly, the accountability piece of it working with the marketing coach was so much bigger for me than I’d expected it to be and it was so great.
SWB The other thing I was thinking about as we were talking with Lara was how little most of us have been trained or taught how to manage or even how little we’ve been told that managing is even a skill set. It’s so common that you are just good at a job or good enough at a job and people decide, “oh yeah, okay then you should be responsible for other people doing that job.” And not necessarily think that there’s a whole new set of skills that go along with that. And maybe it’s just for me, but when I first started [laughs] actually being in charge of people, it was primarily that I needed the extra $1.27 an hour.
KL Got to get it.
SWB I was like, “absolutely I will manage whatever you want for an extra $1.27 an hour.” [KL laughs] Thankfully, that’s not where I am now, but that was a very real decision making point for me and I think that that’s true for tons of people. It’s sort of like they end up there because it seems like something they need to do and then…then what? What was it like for you?
KL So, I was in college finishing up my photo program when I first became a manager. And I’d leveled up my job situation from working at a one-hour photo lab, which was… an interesting experience, to working in a professional custom photo lab. So, basically what that meant was I worked in a professional lab doing darkroom work and working with customers who shot everything from commercial fashion photography to covering the political scene in DC. And I’d been on staff for maybe a year and my boss wanted to promote me to manager, but he wanted me to run his second store, where there were three male employees staffed, all older than me and who had all been at the lab…longer than me.
SWB Oof, how did they like that?
KL Not so much. I mean, I turned it down at first actually because I was so nervous about it. And then my boss finally convinced me to do it and I sort of just had to jump into the job. So, the guys on staff there were not thrilled and if a customer had a problem with something and wanted to talk to a manager, they were always surprised it was me and not one of them.
SWB Oof. Yeah, that figures.
KL Yeah. [laughs] So, I felt like I had no idea what I was doing managing three people after never having done it before. And while I think my boss meant well throwing me into the deep end, I felt like I was really just trying to get by for the two years I was manager there. And one of the guys on my staff was just not dealing well with me as the manager and he would completely slack off one week or he would just be really passive aggressive toward me. And I remember getting in my car and just crying as I drove home a lot. [laughs]
SWB Awww! Baby Katel! [KL laughs] You know, we talk on the show a lot about how crying is okay. And it is! Crying is okay—
SWB —crying can be great! And I think crying at work is also fine. But I do think that there’s something about crying in your car all the time because some dude is a dick to you [KL laughs] that—I don’t know—I just think maybe indicates things aren’t great!
KL [laughing] No.
SWB That’s not like a super healthy environment!
KL This is very true. And then I even tried to talk to him about it and I just felt so inept, and insecure, and kind of unprepared. And I’m sure that that came through. I just really struggled through that time.
SWB Yes! I remember when I had a guy reporting to me who was much older than me. And unlike your story, he was really sweet and he definitely meant well. But I just don’t think it was a good fit; it wasn’t working right. And I was trying to talk to him and get commitment from him for how he wanted to handle his role because he was supposed to be taking more of a leadership role and helping to set direction for one of the teams that was in my group. And I really struggled trying to give him feedback though because like you said, I felt insecure and unsure of myself, and like I was not prepared for this conversation. And I remember just struggling to look him in the eye, which isn’t normally something I have trouble with at all! And I feel Iike that just didn’t help the situation and really wasn’t fair to him—that wasn’t me being a great manager to him.
KL Oh god, yeah. Was that the first time you were a manager?
SWB No! Well, like I said, I was kind of a manager in customer service. I was a supervisor which is…a little different.
KL Yes! [both laugh]
SWB So, that was my first big management job, but when I was 20 or 21 I was a supervisor at the credit union call center I worked at. And I couldn’t hire or fire people; I didn’t really have very much power. I had an extra $1.27 an hour. [laughs]
KL I mean! [laughs]
SWB But I did have to do things like monitor calls and evaluate people. And giving people feedback on the calls they were taking and whether they were doing a good job and whether they had met all of the basic criteria, that was kind of tough. And I was definitely involved in deciding were people meeting expectations at work. And I did not like that part. I did not like monitoring people, I think that was the worst part. It’s like the pettiest power you can have to monitor people when they don’t know you’re listening.
KL Ugh, yeah.
SWB But I think the other thing that was a big part of that job was, of course, customer escalation calls.
KL Oh god. The words customer escalation makes my palms sweaty. Were there any of those that just made you stop in your tracks?
SWB Gosh. I feel like I’ve blocked a lot of them from memory! [both laugh] I don’t need to remember them all. But I remember this one call where this guy was just being a huge dick to my friend, Katie. Hey, Katie, I know you listen to the show. [KL laughs] So, she had already told me that she had somebody on the phone who was being a real jerk to her and so I was listening in on the call just to make sure things were okay. And you kind of want to watch out if people are starting to be abusive, while also not hanging up on people without case. So, I was listening in and I can confirm he was being a real asshole to her.
SWB So, at some point he’s like, “I want to talk to your manager.” And she’s like, “no big deal, here you go!” And she passes him to me and he gets on with me and immediately he calls her “that little bitch.”
KL Oh my god.
SWB It was so insulting.
SWB And I think I just chose to laugh at that! [KL laughs] I just couldn’t take him seriously. I was like, “sir, I am not going to help you if you talk about the people who work here that way.
SWB “You can’t talk to us that way.” And this was fifteen years ago—me and Katie still laugh about that little bitch comment. [laughs]
KL [laughing] How can you not?
SWB I mean, I feel Iike you kind of have to, right? You can’t let that shit eat you.
SWB But it’s easy to. And so I feel Iike when I was a supervisor there, I never minded taking those calls. They were draining, but I didn’t mind taking them because I felt like frontline staff had to deal with a lot of shit.
SWB You get a lot of people who are grumbly when they have to call their bank for reasons that are often valid. Oftentimes things were screwed up and sometimes things were screwed up for reasons that were not their fault, but people already have to deal with a lot when you’re on those calls. It’s already stressful enough to know that you have to help them in a certain length of time, and make sure you don’t take too long between calls, and all these other things to keep your metrics up or whatever. So, I felt like there was something nice as a supervisor about being able to say, “look, I’ll handle this trash. This trash? [KL laughs] Not your problem anymore. Give me that trash—move on!”
KL Oh my god, yes. If only more managers thought that way—truly!
SWB I know! Taking out the trash—sometimes it’s your job. [both laugh] [short transition music plays]
KL Hey, y’all, it’s time for another book chat segment thanks to Harvest and their favorite publisher of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and genre defying literature. That’s Graywolf Press and if you haven’t noticed, we are real big fans. Our favorite assistant editor from Graywork, Yana Makuwa, is on the line again to tell us about a new book. Hey, Yana!
Yana Makuwa Hey, Katel, how’s it going?
SWB Hey, Yana! So, I am very excited to have you here today because it is summertime. We are looking forward to vacation season, or at least I am. And I want to know, what should I read on vacation this year?
YM The Wind That Lays Waste is this amazing novel about two tiny families. A reverend and his daughter are driving around the Argentinian countryside and when their car breaks down, they have to take it to this isolated mechanic and his helper, who might also be his son. It’s a very quiet story that takes place in the calm before a big storm, and it’s a really exquisite and beautiful translation.
KL Ugh, this one sounds amazing. When is it coming out?
YM This will be out on July 9th, so keep an eye out!
KL Alright, great. I am looking forward to getting lost in that book in the best possible way. So, Yana, while we all wait for Wind That Lays Waste to come out, what’s the best way for folks to stay up to date on what’s on deck for Graywolf?
YM Well, you should absolutely follow our Instagram. We have an amazing, beautiful Instagram presence here and we are @graywolfpress. And you can also follow us on Twitter, you can find us on Facebook. We post really regularly about author events—we have them all over the country. And sometimes we’ll tweet about donuts in the office! So, definitely follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
SWB Awesome! Well, now we all know where to find our next favorite book and I am going to definitely pick up Wind That Lays Waste before me and Katel go—
SWB —on our little beach trip coming up. So, yeah, pretty excited about that! Yana, thank you so much for being here again. We love having you on! And thank you so much to Harvest for supporting Graywolf Press and for supporting authors and readers everywhere.
YM Thank you so much for having me! [short transition music plays]
Interview: Lara Hogan
SWB Lara Hogan is an author, a public speaker, and a coach for managers and leaders across the tech industry. She’s written two books for Katel’s press, A Book Apart, and her latest is called Resilient Management. It just launched and we’re so excited to have her. Lara, thank you for being here; welcome to Strong Feelings.
Lara Hogan Thank you! I am so excited to be here. And even though everybody says that on every podcast, I genuinely am so excited to hang out with you two!
SWB We are so excited to hang out with you too. First up, I’m wondering if you can just tell us a little bit about what resilient management is. What does that mean and why did you decide to write about it?
LH We marinated on this title for a while to try to find the right sentiment. And, to me, resilient management is all about weathering the storms that happen when you’re a manager or you’re a leader of any kind. Because it’s not an easy job; it’s something that often there’s lots of challenges and surprises. So, to me, when I think about strong leaders or strong managers, they are definitely the ones that are also resilient.
SWB And so when you talk about resilient management and when you talk about what you cover in the book, how do you feel like it’s different from other management books or management training people tend to get. What’s been missing that you feel like managers really need?
LH One of the things I tried to make sure that we addressed in the book is that it’s totally okay to not want to do this job. It’s definitely not a job for everybody, [SWB laughs] nor has it been for me always. It definitely is one of those roles that we often feel obligated to do or we feel pushed into. Or we just feel like there’s no one else who is doing it, so we’ve got to try it. Or the worst one is it feels like there’s no other way to get power or to move up the ladder, so management is kind of tried out. And I tried to acknowledge that even though you may not be a manager, these are still some fundamental skills that will be helpful to you. And if you are a manager, I’m so sorry if this is hard because, again, it’s a challenging role, but also here are some things I’m hopeful will be there to support you because really no one gets training on this, especially not in the tech industry.
SWB Yeah! I’d love to go into that a little bit more and I’m wondering if you can tell us a little bit more about your background and kind of how you got to this place where you wanted to write this book because we’ve known you for a while, but not everybody here has that background. So, can you tell us about what is your background of becoming a manager and then moving into this place where you were doing coaching and training for other managers and leaders?
LH Absolutely. So, I am a self-taught front-end developer. I got a philosophy undergraduate degree, it was also a visual media degree at the same time, and right away I got a job in tech doing designs and coding for email newsletters. And pretty early on, I realized I really wanted to do more leadershippy things. I decided to try out being a capital M manager at a DNS company. It was an unusual story only because when I talked to other managers, probably one out of every twenty I talked to were excited about becoming a manager—and I was. I definitely was really—it felt like something I could really flourish in, but also be helpful in. And I loved it right away. Definitely still some bumps in the road, but I loved it right away. Eventually, I moved to Etsy, where I was one of the first engineering managers who was hired there. And I kind of grew up, developed most of my management shops there, and after that, I went to Kickstarter and I led the whole engineering team there as the VP of engineering. And then, about a year and a half ago, I decided to create my own consulting, coaching, training business called Wherewithall. At the time I started it with my buddy, Deepa. I met her at Kickstarter, she was an incredible partner to work it. And very recently she has gone back to working full time at the ACLU, which is incredible! So, now I work on Wherewithall full time and it’s just the best job I’ve ever had.
KL So, you mention being a coach now. How did you start doing that? What goes into coach training?
LH Coach training is funny—there’s so many different programs. If anyone listening who is thinking about becoming a coach, I would definitely recommend talking to people who have been through different kinds of programs because they’re all super different. I knew I wanted to be a coach or at least try it out because it was really similar to my management style. I started to realize early on that my management style tended more to look like not offering advice right away, but instead asking lots of questions and helping this other person introspect and explore the shape of whatever it was they were working on before going into problem-solving mode. And that was exactly how I wanted to help them. I didn’t want to just give them the answer. Sometimes it’s helpful to unblock someone that way, but more often than not, I trusted that people already had the answers inside themselves and it was just my job to kind of help them find it. So, because that was my management philosophy and I learned about coaching and it sounded like coaching was really similar to that, I decided to try it out. So, I went through a program called CTI—the Coach Training Institute. People ask me a lot if I would recommend it. I genuinely wouldn’t if you’re a member of a marginalized group. I’ve given them lots of feedback on my experience, but it was not the most inclusive environment I’ve ever been a part of.
SWB Ughh, that’s so frustrating—
SWB —because it seems like in coaching, particularly, that’s so important.
LH Oh yeah. You’re in a vulnerable space! And as you’re going through the training environment, you’re obviously practicing with other people, which means that they’re coaching you. So, you want to stay in that vulnerable—you want to feel safe sharing whatever challenges you’re going through. That way, these other people in the room can get practice too.
KL Was there anything that surprised you about going through that process? Anything that you were kind of like, “oh my gosh, I didn’t expect to learn this or realize this.”
LH Oh, absolutely. One of the gifts that that program gave me was the opportunity to fail repeatedly. I feel Iike it had been so long since I had learned something new like that—honed a new skill—and it’s something I didn’t realize I had been craving for a long time. At work, you don’t get an opportunity to trial and error things, you know? Try and make mistakes and get immediate feedback on things and have it be okay to mess things up. Especially as a manager, you should not be failing your teammates. So, to be able to have that space, it was really—I don’t know if empowering is the right word, but definitely illuminating. It made me realize, “oh, I should definitely learn some new skills and find places to do that where I can fail a lot as I’m learning them; I’ve really missed that.”
SWB Yeah, you should start a podcast. [LH laughs] You can learn to fail in all kinds of new ways, trust me. [all laugh] So, I also want to ask about something that is something I actually learned about from you and I think speaks to what you mentioned earlier around your management style being more like you asking lots of questions and not necessarily always giving advice. So, once concept I learned about from you is this thing called the BICEPS model—
SWB And we both have some serious biceps—I know that’s also true.
LH [laughing] Yes. [KL laughs]
SWB But this model is about meeting people’s core needs and I was hoping that you could share it with our listeners and talk through a little bit how the BICEPS model works and how you bring that into your practice.
LH So, the BICEPS model is one of those frameworks that anyone, anywhere, any age, any gender, any discipline—anybody is going to benefit from knowing about this stuff, which is why I’m on a tear right now sharing it. So, BICEPS is an acronym and the letters stand for the core needs that humans have at work. And the acronym was crafted by this incredible coach and trainer—Paloma Medina—who taught me most everything I know these days. And, basically, social scientists and anthropologists and neurologists have been studying humans at work and have found that in the modern workplace, humans have these six core needs. And if any of them are undernourished or threatened, our amygdala—the part of our brain responsible for the fight or flight response—will go into overdrive. Because the whole job of the amygdala is to be on the lookout for things in our environment that might be threats. So, I’m going to tell you what these six core needs are, but you’ll start to notice immediately that they are not a bear is about to attack us. It’s not like these are physical threats to us and, therefore, our amygdala deserves to go into overdrive. It’s like, “oh no, these are otherwise rational and logical things, but our amygdala is perceiving them as threats.” Okay, here we go. The B stands for belonging. This is our sense of community; we want to feel like we belong to a group, we want to feel like we’re not being othered or marginalized, we want to understand how we relate to this group. So, that’s B for belonging. The I stands for improvement or progress. So, this is like we want to feel like we’re making continuous improvement forward—progress in our career, progress in the projects we’re working on. If anything feels like it’s inefficient or is getting delayed or distracted, that can really threaten our core need of improvement or progress. The C stands for choice—we all want to have some level of autonomy in our work lives. And this is a funny one because we actually need a balance of it; too much choice and that’s really hard for our brains and too little choice is also really hard for our brains. E stands for equality or fairness. So, this is like we want to believe that everybody has equal access to what they need to succeed and to do good work. We all know that if there is a perception of a lack of fairness, humans will legit just start riots; we will take to the streets about it. So, obviously, this shows up in our workspace too. The P stands for predictability—if every moment was 100% full of surprises, that would probably feel not that great, but just like choice we need a balance. If things are too predictable, we’re just as de-energized and totally bored and if it’s too unpredictable, we also get freaked out. And then the S stands for significance. So, this is essentially status—where are we in the hierarchy? How do we relate to other people in the hierarchy? If we’re demoted, that’s going to affect our sense of significance—stuff like that. So, that’s BICEPS. They’re different for everybody; the same stimulus could threaten any of the six core needs. So, we can’t guess which core need might be threatened by somebody else, but we definitely can smell it on someone. If they’re showing some surprising human emotions, probably their amygdala is awake and treating something as a threat. So, it’s time for us to get curious and help this person either articulate what core need is being threatened so you can help them or give them some space to help their amygdala relax a little bit.
SWB Yeah, I’m curious—are there any really typical examples of places or times when these kinds of core needs don’t get met at work and people kind of freak out and that you might think they shouldn’t.
LH Yeah. [laughs] The classic example I talk about—whenever I bring it up, usually most of the crowd is like, “oh, totally.” The one I talk about a lot is desk moves where you have to move your desk in an office to a different location. And what a rational thing! It’s a pragmatic—you just have to…You have your desk in one place, you just need to go sit somewhere else. Shouldn’t be that emotional, right? [laughs] Have either of you ever experienced the desk move emotional rush?
KL Oh yeah. [all laugh]
SWB So, I actually remember this one time at an agency where they would make us move desks every six months or a year or something to do like a shake up sort of thing.
LH Oh no.
KL Oh wow.
SWB It was purposeful.
SWB But then somebody who had been there a long time was complaining that I was getting one of the desks—
SWB —that was near the windows—
SWB —because those were for senior people and he had decided that I wasn’t senior enough [LH laughs] to warrant one of those desks, when in fact I was—
LH Oh no.
SWB —one of the more senior people in the company at that point.
KL Oh my god…
SWB And that threatened me on a number of levels, right?
SWB Talk about your whole significance thing—
SWB —where it’s like, “oh, you’ve decided that I don’t deserve to have this thing that’s supposed to be a signifier of status.” Also, what a bullshit signifier of status, [all laugh] but there was so much wrapped up in it though!
LH So, you just hit the nail on the head—there were multiple core needs that were threatened for you in that moment. And also for him too. He definitely had a few core needs that were [laughing] being threatened. Totally. So, it could be any of the six. How you relate to the group, this feels like a distraction from the work we’re supposed to be doing, I didn’t get a choice in where I get to sit, it’s told there’s some status signifiers. Absolutely! Desk moves are my favorite—this should be a pragmatic thing and, in fact, there are a lot of emotions [laughs] around it.
SWB Yeah. So, what do you hope that more managers and maybe more company cultures start to do differently to better be able to think about core needs and meet core needs on a day to day basis?
LH The tool I talk about the most in coaching, in training, in talks, on podcasts is the power of open questions, which you all are clearly doing incredibly well because you’re hosting a podcast. But most people are ill equipped to ask genuinely curious, open questions. And open questions are this powerful tool! So, let’s say someone is displaying some surprising emotions at me and I’m their manager or their peer or whatever, I can start to ask them some genuinely curious, open questions to help them unpack what’s going or to introspect—or even if it’s just problem solving, that’s okay too. Just to help them move forward and move out of whatever it is they’re feeling. And I really, really wish that companies provided more tools and resources to train people on not just like how to ask open questions, but how often to ask open questions.
KL Yeah. So, in the book you talk about how managers tend to spend a lot of their time in mentoring mode—giving advice, helping people problem solve—which is great, but you also identify three other areas they also should be spending time in, which is coaching sponsoring, and delivering feedback. Can you tell us a little bit about what each of those is and how it’s different from mentoring?
LH Yes! I love talking about this. So, when I ask people to go around the room in my workshops during introduction, I ask them to share their name, what they work on, and what’s one thing a manager has done for you that has skyrocketed your growth. So, actually, I’ll ask you both right now. So, Sara, what’s one thing that a manager has done for you that skyrocketed your growth?
SWB I had a manager early in my career who kind of sat me down and was like, “I think there‘s something happening with digital content and I don’t really know exactly what it is, but you should be doing that.”
LH Oh nice.
SWB And it was very open! It was a little bit like, “you should be doing that,” but that was not really how he phrased it. What he told me was that he saw things starting to emerge and he’s like, “I think that there’s a lot of opportunity there that you could really lead and own this if this something that you want to do.” And what was important about it to me at the time I think is that I don’t think he knew exactly what it was—which was fine, he didn’t need to—but what he was able to communicate to me was he thought that this was something I could just figure out and own as mine and that there was space for it to be mine.
SWB And that was important to me because it gave me that sense of autonomy, which I know is really valuable to me.
LH Amazing. That’s incredible. And, Katel, how about you?
KL Yeah. I think one sort of very clear way that happened was I had a manager who sent me to his meetings in his place. So, he would sort of say, “you’ve got this, you can take this to the team and deliver this feedback—or deliver this demo or this update or whatever—and just keep me in the loop.” So, it was really great because I got face time with people that he was usually getting face time with and I became more visible in that scenario.
LH Ugh, yes! So, these are answers that are obviously unique to you, but also they kind of touch upon this really core thing, which is when managers give us these opportunities, and clear the path for us, and trust us. And then that unlocks a whole new level of growth in us—and this is what I’m going to refer to as sponsorship. But neither of you said, [laughs] “they told me what to do.” Neither of you said, “they taught me” or “they mentored me.” Clearly, they must have done that too, but that wasn’t what skyrocketed your growth. And most managers spend most of their time in mentoring mode, which is advice giving, it’s sharing what you’ve seen work and not work, it’s sharing pitfalls to avoid. But that’s actually not what helps people grow. So, in the book, as Katel said, I talk about four skills and mentoring is just one of them. So, again, mentoring—advice giving—is really helpful when someone is new to their role or new to the company, but it has nothing to do with helping people grow. Coaching is the one that we’ve kind of already talked about. It’s the open questions, helping someone introspect, helping them dig deep and explore the shape of their problem, rather than giving them the answers themselves. This makes someone feel seen and heard and empowered. And it also helps them develop new brain wrinkles themselves, which is actual growth, right? They get to actually learn by doing and by introspecting. So, coaching is really powerful for that. But what you both mentioned is sponsorship and sponsorship is feeling on the hook to help get someone to the next level by providing opportunities and clearing the way for them to take those opportunities and run for them. Usually, like a stretching opportunity, which it sounds like both of yours was, and that’s actually what helps people grow. And then the fourth skill is, obviously, feedback and feedback is integral no matter what other skill we’re pairing it with; feedback is always going to be really important to help people course-correct and know what they should keep doing that’s awesome and what else they can keep doing even better too. So, these four skills are really helpful to identify when you should use each of them and how they’re different—that way, managers don’t just default to mentoring. And I honestly think that people default to mentoring—-and I’m guilty of this—because it feels like you can help them right away. It’s like, “oh, I can bequeath my knowledge to this person” and doesn’t it feel good to talk about myself. [laughs] And just help them see what not to do and what to do in the future. But, unfortunately, even though mentoring feels really good for the mentor, it actually doesn’t at all help someone grow.
SWB Right. I think that’s really valuable to think about. I know I’ve defaulted to that mode too because it’s the easiest place to be in a lot of ways, which I guess also, as a manager, doesn’t help you grow to always stay in that easy spot either.
LH Right, exactly! So, in the workshops, I open my full day manager training workshop with this mentoring and coaching and sponsoring section because I want people right away to understand the difference between, specifically, coaching and mentoring. That way, they can spend the rest of the day practicing these usually pretty tough coaching skills. Open questions, which we talked about, and reflections, which is almost like holding up a mirror to someone and telling them what you see in it. So, like, “here’s what I’m hearing you say,” or “here’s what I know to be true about you.” Or helping them look in it like, “hey, let’s reflect on how this project maps to your goals,” or anything else to kind of help them sit for a second and just do some reflection.
SWB So, as I think about this, I think about this conversation I had with a friend the other day, who is a woman of color, and she said that so much of the management and leadership advice that she reads just feels like by white guys and only applicable to other white guys. And something I really love about what you talk about is that you try to address this very real issue also of mentors providing advice as if the mentee was the same as them. And how that doesn’t really get at the difference in power dynamic, it doesn’t really get at what happens when you are trying to work with people from more marginalized or underrepresented groups than you’re from. And I’m really curious if we can talk about those considerations. What should you be thinking about when it comes to including people and considering needs and perspectives that maybe you don’t have personal experience with?
LH Yeah! So, it’s really sad the way that this happens because people are trying to be helpful. They’re trying to give advice that’s going to be helpful. They’re trying to go out on a limb and give someone, especially from a marginalized community, some more support. And they’ll do this by mentoring. There’s a great quote from a study about how members from underrepresented groups are over-mentored and under-sponsored. [laughs] So, people from marginalized communities will get lots of advice—even unsolicited advice—but as you said, not necessarily advice that’s going to be helpful to them. There’s so much potential advice out there that could work for one group—the in group—and will be detrimental to people who are from a marginalized group. Like, “make sure to demand more money” or “negotiate really hard” or “speak louder in meetings.” There are all these different ways that we—as your friend said, there are a bunch of different books on management and leadership advice out there that are really written by white men for other white men and that advice probably works for them. It’s not going to work for everybody though, which is again why the mentoring skill set is handy in a couple of small situations, but by and large, we should be looking at coaching and sponsoring opportunities instead.
SWB Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So, trying to do too much mentorship for somebody who is not going to be treated the same as you if they act like you acted [laughs] is something that you’re saying avoid.
SWB Okay, that’s really helpful to think about and to think about what would I do to actually physically clear a path for this person instead.
LH Yes. In fact, that’s going to be way more powerful for them to grow in their career anyway. Mentoring doesn’t help people grow. So, throw mentoring out the window. Trust that they can find the resources that they need or, once in a while, give them some advice that will unblock them. But every other time, find them an opportunity. Put your name on the line for them, put your reputation on the line for them, and help them get opportunities that they are looking for. Again, don’t just recommend that they speak at a conference if you don’t know that they want to speak at conferences, but get to know them well enough that you know what kinds of opportunities they might enjoy, and then help them get those opportunities. Again, help them write the CFP and submit it for them, or lend your name and your weight to that with them, or do the introduction for them. Because that stuff makes such a difference.
SWB When you think about being a leader, you often think about holding power, right?
SWB And then I also think a lot about what it means to be a feminist, which tends to be questioning power dynamics and really thinking a lot about equity. I’m very curious to hear more about how you square those things and what does it mean to try to do leadership work within a feminist practice or bring a feminist lens to leadership?
LH Yeah, ugh. I have thought a lot about this especially recently. Because especially when women in tech initiatives were starting up, they were really, really, really—I mean, they still are—centered on white women. And it wasn’t something that I was clued into at first. I was like, “look! Marginalized groups, woohoo!” Not realzing centering myself in that and centering the needs of white women in that was going to be damaging and racist. So, for me, it’s taken a long time, for example, to make sure that the people who I sponsored were not just other white, cis women like me. Which, by the way, is a super natural thing that happens with sponsorship. I don’t mean natural in a good way, I mean natural as just a thing that happens— we need to work really hard to combat it. It’s taken me a lot of intention and hard work to make sure I’m aware of it and change it. Which is why I try to talk about it because I don’t want to be like, “I’m doing this perfectly.” It’s like, “no, just like everybody else, we all need to work really hard at making sure the people we sponsor are people who either have different intersections of privilege, different intersections of identities to make sure that we are actually helping people with different kinds of power and privilege than we do. Hopefully, we’re lifting people up who have less power and privilege than we do. And the first time this really occurred to me, I was getting a lot of inquiries about like, “come and speak at our conference.” This was back in the day when conferences started to realize that they needed to not just have white men up on stage. And I started getting a lot of inquiries that were like, “hey, we realize we don’t have any women; could you please come and speak at our conference?” And initially—
SWB I love those emails! [all laugh]
LH Totally, totally!
SWB I feel so special! I was once told, “you’re the ninth woman who said no.” [all laugh]
LH Oh no! Right, so I used to say no! I was so offended that I was like, “how dare they. I want to be invited because of whatever.” And I was sitting down with one of my mentors, who is a CFO, and I was complaining to her. And she is this really incredible, impressive woman. And I was telling her and I was like, “okay, we can’t even commiserate on this.” And then she was like, “what are you doing?” [laughs] And I was like, “I’m saying no.” And she said, “your whole job is to be pulling up everybody else with you and how could you be doing that if you’re saying no to these opportunities? Your whole job is either to be taking those opportunities so you can get more power and more privilege to be able to give it to others or pass along those opportunities to other people who need it.” And I was like, “oh shit.” [laughs] Of course, duh! That’s actually my job. My job is actually to be thinking a lot about amassing power and privilege so I can give it out or, by default, handing out that power and privilege to other people.
KL Yeah. I mean, how do you think about and talk about race and ethnicity in your practice? How do you weave that into everything you do? It seems like you’re really aware of it.
LH It has been a really interesting thing to do at ticketed workshops versus in house at a company workshops. So, if I come in and I’m doing a training internal to a company, it’s going to be a different demographic group than the group that chooses to associate with a conference or a workshop that I’m giving. One’s mandated [laughs] and one’s not. And the place where it’s most obvious to talk about these topics is when I’m talking about sponsorship. So, I actually weave in a bunch of data points about how often members of underrepresented groups get mentorship versus sponsorship. And then the career benefits when a member of an underrepresented group gets sponsorship versus when they don’t. So, this is usually when I start to bring it up and weave it in. And this is also where I acknowledge how I’ve done this historically and messed that up. So, I’m really trying to do better—and I talk about in group bias and what that looks like. Actually, I lead the whole group through a thought exercise. I ask them to think about, “okay, who was the last person you asked for advice? Who is the last person you gave a book recommendation to? Who is the last person you referred to a job where you work? If you’re a manager, who is the last person you promoted?” Stuff like that. And once they have that list in their head, I ask them, “how many of those people are the same ethnicity as you, the same gender as you, went to the same college as you did,”—and then I’ll throw in a joke—“has super similar opinions on x as you do” just to keep it light and keep people engaged a little bit. But at the end, I’m like, “this is group bias. The people that we network with are naturally the people that we’re closest to and those people are similar to us in a bunch of different ways.” And around that time, I include a bunch of stats from the Centre for Talent Innovation about how members of underrepresented groups have these huge career benefits. And then, depending upon the group, I also include a slide that talks about how people of color are often penalized when they sponsor people who look like them. There’s a bunch of studies out there that show that when white men sponsor people who look like them or people who don’t, there’s no negative effects or perception of them. But as a white woman, if I sponsor another white woman or if a black woman sponsors another black woman, we will get actually dinged for it because it looks like we are just trying to help people who are like us. So, I’ll bring that up as a way of being like, “that’s why it’s really important that everybody thinks about other intersections and also other ways of bringing in people who have less power and privilege than you do.” It’s still something I’m working out and trying to think through—how do I do that internal to a company versus how much more freedom do I have as a workshop? Or how much can I push that boundary in the in house workshop? Not because they’re going to be mad at me, I don’t actually care about that, but more that I want them to stay tuned in. I need them to stay curious. So, how much can I entertain this and bring it up and push that boundary before they start tuning out? Because frankly, their amygdala gets hijacked. Paloma Medina, who is that amazing coach and trainer I brought up, just gave this really incredible TedX talk about how we are wired to be anti-diversity—just in our limbic system. When we saw people that were different from we are, historically, that probably means danger. So, we talk a lot about wanting diversity, but often the needle doesn’t move because it’s not actually something that we’re wired for. Now, we are wired to want equity. Remember that fairness core need? That fairness BICEPS core need? We are wired to want that, so how can we change the things that we’re talking about and the ways that we’re talking about to talk about fairness instead of diversity? Because that might help keep people’s amygdalas offline. So, I can actually keep on talking to them about it [laughs] and get them to change their behavior.
SWB Yeah. I think this is really powerful because I think a lot about you have to be able to be a little bit uncomfortable in order to learn and grow, but then there’s the level of too uncomfortable where you do lose people.
LH Yeah! And I want them to change, so what’s the most effective way to get them to listen and change?
SWB I’m also curious, you mentioned the idea of thinking about race and ethnicity specifically as you work as a white woman in an industry that is also super sexist. So, you mentioned that you feel like you have definitely messed it up in the past and this isn’t something that you always were thinking enough about. And I’m curious if there was any moment where you really realized that you were screwing up on this front and how you addressed that?
LH It was the first time I learned about in group bias. So, basically, the first time I realized, “oh, we surround ourselves with people who look like us.” And I was doing all of this research to give one of my first ever talks about sponsorship and I was like, “okay, let me think about the people who I sponsor…cis white woman, cis white woman, cis white woman, cis white woman…oh no…” And that was so illuminating. And I was like, “cool!” I was working at Etsy and I was like, “now let me look at my network internal to Etsy and see who else can I sponsor,” and I was like, “woah, there are plenty of black women, for example, at Etsy, but I don’t know any of them well enough to actually sponsor them for what they want to be sponsored for. There’s more legwork I need to do to not just sponsor them, but to get to know them well enough to sponsor them effectively.” It was just one of those moments of realization where [laughs] you’re like, “oh, right. Right, right, right. I am super privileged and also, all this stuff is built into everything that we’re—thank goodness, these days the tech industry is talking about a lot more.
SWB I like this concept too that you can’t just rock up and sponsor somebody, you have to actually know what they want and need first and have a relationship with them!
SWB You can’t shortcut that. And I appreciate that because I think that’s a really important piece of this.
LH And also, I get a lot of questions from people in workshops where it’s like, “okay, do they know that you’re sponsoring them?” [laughs & KL laughs] And I’m like, “sometimes! But that’s not a crucial part of sponsorship.” This isn’t for cookies. [laughs] I’m not sponsoring them to get a cookie. I’m happy to get to know folks that could use some sponsorship to help them get sponsorship. I don’t need to get to know them just so they know that I’m going to sponsor them. That’s a confusing way of saying it, I’m sorry. But this is a hard thing to talk about. [laughs]
KL Yeah. You don’t want to sponsor at them!
LH Yeah, exactly! I don’t want to do this just so I can get a gold star for being a sponsor.
KL Yeah. So, okay, we’re almost out of time, which I can’t even believe, [laughs] but before we go we want to get a little bit more advice. So, we have a couple of questions. First, what advice would you give for people who are moving into management and who don’t want to fuck it up as much as possible? [laughs]
LH Okay. My number one piece of advice is to build for yourself what I refer to as manager crew or manager voltron. [laugh] So, a voltron is this television show from a few decades ago in which a group of lions form a larger superhero robot, which is very akin to Power Rangers or _Captain Planet_—picture different pieces that all come together to form one big superhero. One person supporting you—ie. your manager supporting you as you transition into this role is not enough, nor will it ever be enough. Because they are one person with one set of skills and one set of ways that they can help you. So, building out for yourself a crew—a network of support—that can help you as you grow, as you learn, as you encounter different kinds of challenges. They’re all going to have different skills, different things they can sponsor you for, different pieces of advice that they can give you. And actually building out that crew is going to be the most helpful thing you can possibly do as you’re transitioning into that role.
KL Love that. Okay, so one more question. What advice would you give to someone who is dealing with a bad manager? How can they find and get support if they need it?
LH Totally. [sighs] So, I would say the same answer is the manager voltron—building out your crew of support as you navigate that. And then genuinely making sure you are finding other places to get the support that you need. Because if that manager is not good at what their job is—they’re failing you in some way—it’s probably going to be a while before they figure it out and can change. No matter how good your feedback is, no matter the mechanisms to get the coaching and support that they need, it’s probably going to take too long. So, make sure that as you’re doing everything you can to give them that insight or give them that feedback if that’s safe for you to do so, also go find that support somewhere else too because, genuinely, it’s not worth waiting around until your manager can get better.
SWB So, I love that answer about going out and finding people who are not your toxic manager to help fill some of those gaps. As we’ve talked about some of those different pieces of management—coaching and sponsorship and things like that—that might help people have some direction. But is there any other advice you’d give somebody who is looking for that support system? What would you look for in a person who might support you who isn’t your manager?
LH I think a lot about people who are really good at giving feedback as being the superheros you need to have in your corner. So, finding someone who has proximity to your work—has seen you do the work or has seen the output of your work—and making sure that you know them well enough and can trust them well enough to give you some good feedback. Hopefully, they’re good feedback givers. They can help you figure out what you’re doing well that you should keep on doing, what you can be doing even better, what’s going sideways, what’s not—that is a huge superpower of a person to have in your corner.
SWB I love that so much. Can everyone just get you as their non manager manager? [all laugh]
LH Always! I love it! Feedback is so hard and icky and that’s why my new job, which is just like giving feedback all the time to all my coaching clients, has become really helpful just practicing it. [SWB laughs] Good feedback is a gift and I hope that I can give it!
SWB Yes! Well, Lara, thank you so much for being here. We know that Resilient Management is on sale now from abookapart.com, but where else can folks find out about your workshops, your coaching practice, and everything else you’re doing?
LH Oh yes! Please come and hang out on wherewithall.com. That’s Wherewithall with two l’s dot com. Or you can find me on Twitter @lara_hogan.
SWB Thanks again, Lara.
LH Bye! [short transition music plays]
Promo: Inflection Point
KL Hey everyone, if you like Strong Feelings, you are gonna love the podcast we are sharing with you today. It’s called Inflection Point with Lauren Schiller, and it’s all about radical women telling honest, powerful stories.This season, Lauren is talking with amazing people who are transforming the systems as we know them. Like activists you’ve heard of—like Gloria Steinem and Eve Ensler—and also policy makers you might not have—like people fighting for family leave and guaranteed income, and entrepreneurs using technology to end sexual harassment. In each episode, you’ll hear a story of how change gets made and come away with new ways of responding to whatever the world throws at you.To hear how women rise up, and hear how the radicals do it, go to Apple Podcasts, RadioPublic, NPROne, Stitcher or wherever you listen to shows, and subscribe to Inflection Point with Lauren Schiller. [short transition music plays]
SWB Okay, okay, okay, I have a fuck yeah this week!
KL Oh my god, tell me, tell me.
SWB Okay! So, it comes from our very first Collective Strength event, which was last Wednesday.
SWB I have a lot of fuck yeahs I could give for that, but specifically—so, we were still getting set up, we were unwrapping cheese trays. [KL laughs] It was like 5:45, the doors were supposed to open at 6, and people were already lined up waiting to check in, which was awesome, but a little stressful.
SWB So, I was getting a little overwhelmed. I was trying to open up some stickers and get the sign up sheets out, so that people when they could check in, it was all smooth. And all these people were all of a sudden crowded around me. So, then I see my friend, Karin, Wolok, show up. And she just jumps in and she’s like, “hey, I just found out about this event like an hour ago [KL laughs] this sounds awesome, I have to be here for it, and you seem like you have some other things you could do to host, so why don’t you let me check people in? And I was like, “what?” And she was like, “I’m just going to check people in, don’t worry about, I’ve got this!”
KL Oh my god. I witnessed that and it was so great—I was like, “okay, welp this is under control, I’m gonna go get this other thing ready.” And I’d only met Karin like an hour before this. [laughs]
SWB I mean, fuck yeah to that kind of mentality that’s just like, “I’m just going to jump in and help here because this event seems awesome and I think you need it.”
SWB “Okay, yes! Clearly we do!” [both laugh] It was so good! So, fuck yeah to Karin and also just fuck yeah to the whole freaking vibe at the event. Because we had like 80 people show up and everyone there was so supportive and kind. I feel like Karin was just one example of that entire mentality and that was so exciting for me!
KL Oh my god, it was so cool. There were a lot of good vibes in that room. This one woman, Eugenie, who we had just met, had gotten up to say something and she started by saying, “I just want to say, this event has a lot of great juju.” And I just remember feeling like, “oh my god, yes, I agree!”
SWB Yeah! She was really great. I kept hearing people say that. Like “this room has such great energy” or “everyone is seeming so positive and friendly and welcoming,” which is awesome. I was looking at the feedback on Meetup and some of the stuff people loved most was sharing a purpose, [KL sighs] feeling welcome—
KL I love that.
SWB —and doing things together. And I was like, “ugh, fuck yeah to that!” That is exactly what we had in mind, so I’m really happy that that came out to be true. And it also just makes me feel so good about this whole idea of Collective Strength where it’s like, “hey, we’re going to work on stuff together and we’re going to share with each other.” And I think that people just responded to that in just such a wholehearted way.
KL I know. I think so too. And actually, several folks ended up helping us out getting us set up, so we could kick things off. Candi, who works with me at A Book Apart helped, and my friend Susan, and people just pitched in. It was so rad.
SWB So, fuck yeah to everybody who helped us because god knows we needed help! [both laugh] And fuck yeah to women working together. It was so good. Also, we had this really awesome conversation about women and money and negotiating—listen in next week if you’re interested in any of those topics because we’re going to bring just a little bit of that conversation to all of you.
KL Ugh, I can’t wait for that! Well, that’s it for us this week! Strong Feelings is recorded in Philadelphia and produced by Steph Colbourn at Edit Audio. Our theme music is “Deprogrammed” by Blowdryer. They are an awesome Philly-based band and you should check them out at blowdryer.bandcamp.com. Thanks to Lara Hogan for being our guest today, and thank you so much for listening. If you liked our show today, don’t forget to subscribe and rate us wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. And hey—get some strong feelings delivered to your inbox! Sign up for our newsletter at strongfeelings.co. See you again next week! [theme music plays for 15 seconds and plays out]