I learned how to change the oil in my car before I could drive. Twenty years later, I still change it myself. Sure, I could have someone else do it in the same amount of time for the same amount of money, but I think its important to get under the hood yourself.
I feel the same way in my career. As I grew into various leadership positions, I stopped designing things in order to focus on my new job of growing and leading a team. This transition was really hard at first because my progress could no longer be measured by the amount of stuff I designed. Instead, I began delegating projects and tasks to the right people so I can focus on more strategic work.
Delegating is a major part of leadership, but I’ve found that doing a small amount of contributor work has huge benefits, even if it only adds up to a week out of the year. For these five reasons:
- Empathy. For the team, especially new folks joining.
- Humility. No one is too important to pick up trash, change a light bulb, or lend a hand.
- Context. Puts your high level decisions in context of implementation.
- Support. Volunteering to help out shows support, to the people under you and the team itself.
- Perspective. Getting closer to the ground means seeing new things and how everything fits together.
For me, it acts as a refresher for how things work. As a lead, it’s vital for me to know the how so I can properly prioritize and speak the same language as designers, developers, and business folks. Same with my car – getting under the hood for the little stuff helps me know how everything works so that when I do need to bring it into the shop, I have a grasp on the problem and can speak to the mechanic in their language.