Changing your own oil

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:

  1. Empathy. For the team, especially new folks joining.
  2. Humility. No one is too important to pick up trash, change a light bulb, or lend a hand.
  3. Context. Puts your high level decisions in context of implementation.
  4. Support. Volunteering to help out shows support, to the people under you and the team itself.
  5. 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.

Published by Kelly Hoffman

Senior Design Director of commerce at Automattic.

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