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Harry, head of engineering for a midsize software company, looked up as Anna, one of his up-and-coming engineers, knocked on his office door.

“Do you have a minute?” Anna asked as Harry waved her in.

Harry checked his calendar. “Yep, about ten minutes. Is that enough time?”

Anna pursed her lips, thinking. “Yes, probably. Since we don’t have long, how about I dive right in?”

Harry gave her a thumbs up in agreement.

“Okay. Well, I’m having to decide which things I should be doing. I’m especially struggling with prioritizing things that we will need eventually. Whether to invest in those upfront, because I know they’ll become important down the road, or to focus instead on what we need right now. I just don’t always have strong feelings about the priority of things. It can feel pretty arbitrary. I’m not sure if my mental picture lines up with that of my manager and the project leadership.”

“That is quite a pickle,” Harry acknowledged. “How could you get that clarity?”

“Well, obviously I can just ask. But, I’m uncertain that will actually work. I don’t know whether my manager actually knows. Or how far up the line I’ll need to go to find someone who does.”

“So you’re here to go straight to the top of the chain?”

“No. This isn’t the first time I’ve had this quandary. I need to find a solution. Do you have any suggestions?”

Harry thought for a moment and then said, “I do. What if you talk with your manager and say, ‘These are the heuristics I’m using to decide what to focus my time on. These are the three things that I’m deciding with, and this is the algorithm that I’m using. How does this align with what you’re expecting?’ How would that feel?”

Anna considered. “I guess that would feel okay. I like that I’m not asking for permission but rather about alignment.”

“Yes, exactly,” Harry said. “You’re showing up in your full power and agency. You’re also inviting them to feel into how your approach works for them. That can help them listen to their intuition in addition to their logic.”

“Which is good, right? We’ve talked about this before: how the logical thing to do isn’t always the most efficacious thing to do, and how we make better decisions when we consult our intuition as well.”

“I always find more points of view lead me to a better decision, yes,” Harry confirmed.

“I guess this might also lead into a conversation around how much I should be helping the team versus growing into leading the team,” Anna continued.

“It does,” Harry said approvingly. “That is very astute of you. That balance between moving the team forward versus moving yourself forward is often challenging. Discussing that with your manager helps identify where you and they might not be on the same page.”

“Where we’re not aligned,” Anna nodded. “I like this framing of alignment. It encourages a conversation that I may not need to do things exactly how my manager does, especially when that isn’t what works best for me. The exact implementation becomes irrelevant as long as the outcomes—and, maybe, the processes—align.”

“That is exactly right,” Harry agreed. His computer dinged and he checked the alert. “Just about time to head to my next meeting. Anything else?”

“No, that’s it. Thank you, Harry, for this helpful advice. This seems like a conversation I can have, and I’m feeling pretty neutral about it.”

“You’re welcome, Anna. My door is always open. And please let me know how the conversation goes. Probably I want to have that discussion with all of my managers, and encourage them to do the same with their people.”

“I’d love to be a fly on the wall of some of those conversations,” Anna laughed. “I know of several instances of extreme misalignment.”

“Really? I’m disappointed to hear that,” Harry responded. “Now I even more want to encourage these discussions. Maybe I’ll add that to the agenda for our next all-hands,” he muttered, making a note as Anna made her way out.

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