Software Executive Magazine

February/March 2018

Software Executive magazine helps software executives grow their businesses by showcasing the business best practices of our readers, executives from established and innovative software companies.

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The Intersection Of Joy, Skill, & Need "The company needs me to do it, so I'll do it" and "Nobody wants to do this, so I will do it, which protects my team so they can do more interesting things and be motivated" are common refrains. But taking on the horrible things your- self, even when you're good at it, is not healthy for you or for the company. You might be surprised that your team might actually want to help with the drudgery. Your team wouldn't expect to code up new features but delegate the bug-fixing to you. You might also be surprised to learn some people don't think of it as drudgery! In fact, for any work you dislike, I can find you someone for whom that's their perfect dream job, meaning they'll love doing it and will do a better job at it too. As executives, we think everything we do must be worth doing. But we also have long lists of things that would be more valuable to do. In reality, there are only a few things that really matter, and the rest is noise. Our job is to make sure the most important things get done, and the noise is set aside. Nevertheless, we still take on projects we love doing but that the company doesn't truly need. Or, we take on a project we enjoy because it needs done, but in fact, it ought to be delegated to someone else. The center of the Venn diagram is an ideal state, where joy, skill, and need intersect. It's not possible to inhabit the center all the time. What is possible all of the time is to proactively use the framework to figure out when we're chasing passions over requirements, or when we're tak- ing a bullet for the team instead of sharing the drudgery with the team, or when we should keep looking for the perfect person to take on an important project rather than powering through it. Of course, this is not just true of ex- ecutives. When each person on the team does work that makes them happy, and they are skilled at the work that the company truly needs, this creates a happy place of ef- ficiency, effectiveness, morale, and business performance. Use this framework to avoid burnout and to lead a stron- ger, healthier business. S ype-A executives don't have time to ask ques- tions like, "Do I love what I do?" or, "Are my projects important?" You can't love what you do all the time, or maybe even most of the time. And yes, of course what we are doing is important, we're VP of Something or the Chief Executive Something — the work is important by definition. Often the answers to these questions become excuses for not facing difficult facts. And this attitude certainly leads to burnout. I was the CEO of my last startup, which I ran for seven years and sold successfully, but I was burned out and did not maximize the potential of the organization. Today I am the CTO of my current startup, now nearly eight years in, and I did things differently this time. I'm not burned out, our company is extremely strong, our team is capable and motivated, and our valuation is 100 times larger than the previous one. Not a coincidence. Here's the framework I've used to make better decisions this time around. It's a typ- ical Venn diagram, where the circles are: Joy, Skill, Need. "Joy" means things you love to do. "Skill" means things you're good at. Often those are the same things. We often enjoy what we're good at exactly because we are good at it, and we became good at it because we loved it so much that we were willing to work hard to become good at it. But that intersection is not as big as you might think. We take on projects that we love, but these projects could be done better by hiring or delegating to someone. Keeping these projects for ourselves steals interesting work from others, work that others could do better, which undermines the company's best interests. We feel good about it anyway because we enjoy doing those activities. Another trap is when we do work we're good at, but don't love. This is where executives stay much of the time. T J A S O N C O H E N J A S O N C O H E N is the founder and CTO of WP Engine, the largest WordPress Digital Experience Platform serving 70,000 customers with 500 employees in the U.S., UK, Ireland, and Australia. As a successful, repeat entrepreneur (Smart Bear, sold 2008; IT WatchDogs, sold 2004), Cohen became a founding mentor and angel investor with Austin's top incubator, Capital Factory, in 2009. He has written about startups for the last decade at blog.asmartbear.com. SKILL NEED JOY LEADERSHIP LESSONS Insights By J. Cohen THE INTERSECTION OF JOY, SKILL, & NEED SOFTWAREEXECUTIVEMAG.COM FEBRUARY/MARCH 2018 42

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