About the Book
The ability to context switch is foundational to your success as a senior leader. It’s not enough to just lead your department or functional area. To succeed at the senior leadership level, you need to master the ability to proactively and reactively switch between four key contexts as you focus and collaborate. The contexts are: the inward or self context, the managing up context, the horizontal or peer context and the department context.
I didn’t realize this aspect of being a senior leader when I was in my first VP of engineering role. My natural default was to have an intense focus on my department context. I think many senior leaders probably do this as well, because that’s what we know. We focus on developing the people that report to us, our organizational structure and needs, as well as the products or services we are building. In the years building up to this level of leadership, our jobs focus in that way as well. And many of us, if coming from an engineering or related background, have the inclination to avoid context switching and to create structures to protect our direct reports from context switching, especially if they are engineers who need to do deep work and get into the “flow” in the sense that Mihaly Csikszent wrote about in his book with that name.
So I believe there is a bit of rewiring of the brain that might be necessary especially for new senior leaders. And, if you’re the studious or academic type like I am, and you’ve searched high and low for books on how to succeed as a senior leader in tech. You’re not going to find many with this emphasis, they rather focus narrowly on the department context. That’s not enough.
It’s more than two years after my initial experience embarking on senior leadership. As I reflect back, I’ve decided that I’d like to fill what I see as a senior leadership onboarding gap. I’m grateful that I’ve been given the opportunity to wear the hat of “senior engineering leader”. I’ve earned a few scars and also some feathers in my hat. I’ve made decisions both highly unpopular and crappy, and others a bit more effective. And through my experiences, I’ll have to say I did pick up a few things to pass on in service to you and to our industry. I’m basically trying to write the book that I was looking to find before my first VP role.
About the Author
Heidi Helfand is author of the book Dynamic Reteaming. She coaches software development teams using practical, people-focused techniques, with the goal of building resilient organizations as they grow and shrink. She has worked at several startups that either went public or got acquired. She’s worn many tech hats over the years starting as as an IC in UX to TPM to Coach to VP of Engineering. Heidi is currently SVP of Strategy & Innovation at Artium. Heidi lives in Southern California.