Unexpected Lesson

Since I joined my new job position almost 2 years ago I've been struggling. It's a niche activity, very specific, with lots of technicalities that make up a layered, complex world to understand. And I didn't understand a single word of it.

In the past, I've relied on strong technical knowledge to lead the way. When I moved, I lost all of it and found myself stepping on thin air while holding an important responsibility. When issues were eventually escalated to me, I was supposed to have a view and I didn't. And the process of asking again and again to the same people in order to figure out what was going on made me feel ashamed and not worth of the position. In my engineer mind, technical skills are a key driver of value, and while I've read a good number of management books that describe leadership quite differently than simply knowing more than anybody else, it is a hard coded thing for me. And so I struggled.

Eventually the feeling erodes as the time goes by and you grow familiar with the industry, but still today I find a good number of topics I find challenging. And that's why the unexpected lesson I received a couple of weeks ago is so valuable.

A colleague of mine stumbled upon some old friend. They worked together many years ago. Catching up, my colleague mentions that he's working with me, and his old friend recognized me as my father's son (my father was a well known man in the bank, passed away two years ago). Interestingly, that old friend remarks one single thing about my father:

He wouldn't stop asking questions until he understood all of it.

And so I still benefit from my father's lessons even though he's not around to coach me: don't be ashamed of asking whatever it is that you need to ask, and don't stop doing it until you have truly understood. I've changed my mindset about my struggles as a result and now I unapologetically shoot questions until I get the whole thing. And one thing has struck me over the past days: asking questions has become my main driver of value. That's because on the fifth question you've already reached the bone, and many times even the most knowledgeable cannot really answer the fifth why. And figuring out that why together becomes a really powerful exercise.

Being ashamed of our ignorance is only natural, but an immature reaction rooted in our own insecurities. We must fight that fear. A powerful thought that helps in those situations is realizing that if you try to understand things in their entirety, you will probably reach a point where your interlocutor is learning along with you. And so both end up getting something out of it.

I cannot help fantasize my father somehow witnessed my struggles (and my ineffectiveness) and just had to send me a lesson. I miss him a lot. But I'm grateful he found that strange way to deliver the message. A little earlier would have been great but hey, better late than ever! Cheers!