How Can I Build Credibility with My Team?

How Can I Build Credibility with My Team?

MURIEL WILKINS: I’m Muriel Wilkins, and this is Coaching Real Leaders, part of the HBR Presents network. I’m a longtime executive coach who works with highly successful leaders who hit a bump in the road. My job is to help them get over that bump by clarifying their goals and figuring out a way to reach them so that hopefully they can lead with a little more ease. I typically work with clients over the course of several months, but on this show, we have a one-time coaching meeting focusing on a specific leadership challenge they’re facing. Today’s guest is someone we’ll call Yara to protect her confidentiality. She’s based in the middle east and recently changed careers. Her previous role felt a bit routine and she wanted a new challenge.

YARA: I was seeing all people getting into the software development and hearing a lot about software development and how it’s booming and how it’s that challenging industry, and I’m a person who really likes to be challenged. So, I applied for this job for master team lead role. I studied for the Agile Certified Practitioner. I got the certificate and I applied for the job. It’s something new to me. And I like it because there is a lot to it that I didn’t know about and it’s a whole new way of working.

MURIEL WILKINS: She chose to become a scrum master, in particular, because it felt more suited to her personality.

YARA: The scrum master has to be the one who’s removing impediments, who’s caring a lot for the team, always working to help the team reach their maximum efficiency, deliver the highest value and so on. I wanted the part of removing impediments, being the mother of the team and solving all their issues, all their blockers that they’re facing, help them get their work done very smoothly and actually protect them as well from any distractions outside the team.

MURIEL WILKINS: She’s been in the role for several months and she’s a bit overwhelmed with the learning curve she’s facing. Let’s start the conversation with me asking her more specifically about how it’s been going. So, how’s it been for you? How’s the first four months gone?

YARA: Pretty tough. I’m facing multiple challenges. One major challenge is that I lack on the technical knowledge. A scrum master doesn’t have to have this real technical knowledge, but when they’re discussing technical issues that I have to follow up on or some processes that I’m not familiar with, then this is a big challenge for me. And it kind of makes me feel that I’m losing their trust because when you’re the person that is supposed to help them, but you’re actually not knowledgeable enough for the work it’s kind of a challenge for me. And the second thing is that some people on the team are older than me and a scrum master is somehow a hidden managerial role or a team lead role. So, there is kind of this resistance.

MURIEL WILKINS: So, what’s the question that you’re trying to answer for yourself?

YARA: I would like to have your advice on how to deal with those challenges and how can I have a leading voice. I’m trying my best to get that knowledge and gain that knowledge where I can help them, but until then, how can I have this leading role in the team and kind of enforce some processes that might bring a good change for the team? Like for now, some processes are not clear. And I’m trying to enforce new policies that might change their way of working, but again, I want it to go as smooth as possible without having so much obstacles and so much resistance.

MURIEL WILKINS: So, you want to affect change and implement change, but you want to do it without any obstacles?

YARA: This sounds like-

MURIEL WILKINS: I’m just mirroring back what you said.

YARA: Yeah. But I don’t know if this is the right way to put it, but I want to do good things for the team. But at the same time, I’m facing a lot of challenges like trust issues and maybe resistance issues.

MURIEL WILKINS: Yeah. It’s more around thinking about what your goal is. And what I’m hearing you say is you want to create some good, you want to implement some change in the process, and you want to do it in a way where it doesn’t really create any waves. That’s aspirational. That’s ideal. We all would love that. Okay? And at the same time, I think, I mean, ask all the biggest change makers in the world, I think that they would probably say, “Yeah, good luck with not running into some obstacles,” but we’ll get there. Maybe. Let’s see. All right. And so, tell me a little bit about what your experience has been so far that makes you feel like, because you don’t have the technical knowledge, it feels like you’re losing their trust. What evidence do you have of that?

YARA: I tend to ask a lot of questions. They bear with me actually, and they tend to answer, but sometimes I get the feeling that I’m the weak link in the team. Sometimes I feel like I cannot talk about this issue because I’m not that knowledgeable, and therefore I cannot have my say in it.

MURIEL WILKINS: And so, as a result, what happens then?

YARA: As a result, I tend to, sometimes I just stay silent or maybe try to bring it without creating so much conflict.

MURIEL WILKINS: What do you mean, “creating so much conflict”? What does that look like?

YARA: Actually, this is a tough question. I’m not sure, to be honest. Maybe it’s just a feeling that whenever I try to discuss things or have a say in issues it turns that, “well, we already have this process and we go by one, two, three. So, why change it now? Or are you sure of what you’re saying?”

MURIEL WILKINS: So, they are actually – they’re asking you, “are you sure of what you’re saying?”

YARA: Yeah. Some-

MURIEL WILKINS: Or is it how you receive it?

YARA: Maybe how I receive it.

MURIEL WILKINS: Okay. So, I kind of want to play a little game with you, right, of, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of, I don’t even know if it’s a real game, but I’m going to make believe it is. Right? Fact or fiction. I’m sure when you were in elementary school, if you were in a school like me, like in lower school and they were trying to make you determine what’s fact and what’s fiction and you had to figure it out. Except this time, instead of saying fact or fiction, we’re going to play fact or feeling. Okay.

YARA: Sounds good.

MURIEL WILKINS: All right. Fact is what you can point to that’s actually happening, right? That you say, I think we should implement this process. You actually said it. It’s a fact. Feeling is whatever it is that you tell yourself is happening as a result of either how you said it or how people reacted or what not. Okay. So, I think it’s important here to distinguish between the two. When you’re in a situation with your team where they bring up an issue, for example, and you don’t have the full technical knowledge about that issue, what is that? A fact or a feeling?

YARA: It’s a fact.

MURIEL WILKINS: It’s a fact. So, we’re not going to make it up. We’re not going to make like you actually have all the expertise in the world or that you have nothing. You just don’t have all of the technical knowledge that they have. And what is the feeling that happens that’s associated with that?

YARA: Weakness.

MURIEL WILKINS: And why weakness?

YARA: Because this is how I perceive lack of knowledge. Like if you’re not knowledgeable, then you’re not strong enough to lead the team.

MURIEL WILKINS: All right. And where did that narrative come from?

YARA: From me?

MURIEL WILKINS: And so, is that a “story” – and I’m using quotation marks – which you’re kind of stating as an assertion? Is it one that’s helpful for you, or not helpful for you in this particular situation?

YARA: No. It’s not helpful, but sometimes I try my best to read a lot before we have a meeting or a discussion. And I have someone in the company that I trust a lot. So, I always go there and ask him a lot of questions. So, yeah, sometimes I’m on top of things. I feel like I know how this process goes, but if they get into too much detail, then now it’s not that helpful.

MURIEL WILKINS: Okay. So, I understand you try to get help and that you’re sort of using your feeling of not knowing as much to say, okay, let me go and ask some questions. But going and asking questions and it propelling to that, I’m trying to understand why you’re associating that with being weak.

YARA: It’s not that asking questions is the weak part. It’s the part when I have to say something or have I have to give my suggestion and I cannot do that because I get this feeling that if I’m going to say something, then it’s going to sound stupid.

MURIEL WILKINS: And has somebody told you that it sounds stupid?


MURIEL WILKINS: I mean, you’re telling yourself a lot of things.

YARA: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: But I mean, you’re reading into a lot. And I’m not saying that there’s nobody out there who doesn’t think you’re stupid. I mean, I’m sure there are a lot of people out in the world who think I’m stupid, but I don’t know for a fact. So, part of what’s happening right now, I believe for you, is that you’re turning your feeling about what you think may be happening into a strong fact as what is actually happening, and my sense is if I was in the room with you, what is actually happening is somebody from this team who’s been on this team much longer than you. Fact, right? Therefore, the assumption that they know more than you is realistic. Fact. That you are expecting yourself to know just as much to be able to keep up with everything that they’re saying when you’re four months into the job.

YARA: Exactly. That’s it.

MURIEL WILKINS: So, I mean, great for you for having high expectations, but there’s a difference between having high expectations and having realistic expectations of yourself. Let’s pause here because YARA is going through something. A lot of new managers and leaders go through, especially at a new company or in a new industry, she wants to do a good job, have an impact and help her team achieve, but she’s having a bit of trouble finding the balance between being comfortable coming up to learning curve while wanting to show up as credible and commanding the respect and authority she wants. It’s especially tough for her because the team has the technical expertise that she lacks, but in all kinds of industries, managers and leaders don’t necessarily have to have the same expertise as those on their team. And while that’s okay, YARA has not come to grip with this yet. Let’s dive back in as I ask her how the notion of self-expectations lands with her.

YARA: It gives me comfort. But when I think about it again, sometimes issues are not solved, and there has to be someone taking accountability for not solving it. For me, I’m supposed to solve those blockers and I’m supposed to do the communication. I get some people telling me, “You’ve got to do one, two, three and you got to do this and that.” So, yeah, it’s true what you’ve said. Like, maybe I’m having so many expectations for someone that has been only four months in this industry, in this role. But again, I took this challenge because I wanted to be stronger and I wanted to take a role that shows my inner leadership thing. But now I’m feeling like I’m falling behind.

MURIEL WILKINS: It’s interesting to me that you said you took the role because you wanted to be stronger, not just to be strong. And so if you compare where you are today to when you started on day one, do you feel stronger?

YARA: Yeah. I’ve learned a lot and I understand many things that back then on my day one I did not understand or I was not following up to, but I kind of feel like it’s slow for me.

MURIEL WILKINS: But I want you to first give full credit to the fact that you have learned over the past four months. So, you are stronger than you were on day one.

YARA: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: Okay. That’s a fact. All right. And based on that, we can assume what will happen in the future. Based on what your experience has been in the first four months, the fact that you’ve been getting stronger, you feel like you’ve been getting stronger. You are learning more, you know more now than you did on day one. What can we assume will happen in the next four months? Do you think you’re going to regress? Do you think you’re going to stay exactly the same? Or do you think you’re going to continue learning and getting even stronger?

YARA: No. I believe I’m going to continue learning and getting stronger, but the thing is, I’m just getting cold feet because it’s pretty overwhelming, and I don’t know how to start. Maybe I don’t have a solid plan. I’m trying to read as much as possible. I’m trying to follow up and ask people as much as possible. But yeah, it is still overwhelming. I haven’t yet got to this point where I have a solid plan of what I am going to learn in the future and what I am going to do. I only know that I have gaps and I know where those gaps are, but I don’t know how to go.

MURIEL WILKINS: Got it. And so, I want to acknowledge your state right now of overwhelming and I can feel it. Right? I can feel it because every time we come up on like, but here’s what happened, you follow up with like, “Yeah, but.” Right? “Yeah, but.” And you’re sort of dismissing the good stuff that has happened for you, and the reason I keep pulling you back, which I can feel is a little frustrating for you, because you’re like kind of come on, Muriel, can we get to the plan? What are the three things I need to do? And I keep pulling you back to, “But don’t you see what’s happening here?” Here’s why I’m doing that. It’s very hard to come up with an effective plan that’s actually going to work and that you’re going to have confidence in if you don’t accept and really see what’s going on right now.

YARA: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: If you’re not fully aware of like, “okay, yeah, here’s what’s actually worked. Here’s where I am right now. Here’s fact or fiction.” Now, based on that, what’s the plan that I want to make? I guarantee you in three months, you’ll be right back to where you are now. I have this vision of you where you’re rowing a boat to the other side of a lake and you see the other side of the lake and at the beginning you’re like, “Yup, I got it. I’m going to the other side of the lake.” Then you start rowing and you’re like a quarter of the way in, which is your four months. And you’ve gotten and you’re like, “Oh my God, this is hard. The lake looked so smooth when I looked at it, but now it’s not as smooth as it looked. And it’s really hard and my arms are tired and I’m just going to stay here and float for a little bit. And maybe I should go back to shore. But no, I’m here now, but I have no idea how to get forward.” And so, right now I’m just saying, “okay, well then rest your arms a little bit. Just stay here, get calm.” Right?

YARA: That’s actually the best metaphor I’ve ever heard.

MURIEL WILKINS: I mean, so what do you do with that metaphor? So, that’s where you are. You’re like a quarter of the way on the lake. So, what are your choices right now?

YARA: I believe I don’t have a choice, but continue doing it.

MURIEL WILKINS: You always have a choice. And here’s your choice: You can go back. Right? Which means you could say, “Forget this. I’m going back to my boring job that I had before because even though it was boring and routine, I knew how to do it and I excelled.” Right? Which is probably why it ended up being so routine for you. “I can do that. I can stay right here a quarter of the way in and just be like, this is it. This is it. This is what I’m doing. Or I can continue moving forward.” Based on that, what’s the choice that you’re making?

YARA: Continue rowing the boat to the other side. Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: So, again, the reason why I kept pulling you back is in order to do that, you have to be still first. Take a pause, say, okay, let me just take stock of where I am before I continue rowing. So that’s what we’re doing. And then we can decide, how do you row? How fast do you row? What does it look like? How do I break it down? Now, here’s the thing, I told you you had a choice. You can move forward, you can stay where you are or you can go back. Each choice that you make requires a different mindset in terms of how you think about yourself and how you think about the situation. And that mindset will then help support whatever actions you take. Okay. What you cannot do is use the mindset that actually keeps you where you are or takes you back and expect to move forward. You get what I’m saying?

YARA: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: All right. So, I don’t know why, I’m kind of in a game playing mood today. So I’m going to play a little game with you. What is the mindset that you believe you need to have in order to be able to support, I know we haven’t gotten to actions yet, in order to be able to support the choice that you just made, which is you want to keep moving forward on this traction of being and becoming an effective scrum master for your team?

YARA: Well, I believe the right mindset is I need to start thinking that lacking knowledge is not a weakness, if you’re trying at least, and if you’re pushing forward to learn more and ask more questions. And there is hope if you continue on learning and you continue on feeding your knowledge, then you’re going to get there. And it actually does matter that you have a say in whatever the team is discussing, even if you think that it’s not right or it doesn’t sound knowledgeable enough.

MURIEL WILKINS: Yeah. So, you have a voice.

YARA: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: And so, what’s interesting here, YARA, is what you are kind of surfacing is shifting to more of what’s called a growth mindset. And with a growth mindset, the difference… I’m going to kind of, like, really synthesize it down. It’s the difference between somebody saying, “I don’t know how to do this,” and shifting to a growth mindset which is, “I don’t know how to do this yet.”

YARA: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: That “yet” infers a lot. So, when I add the “yet, “what does that mean for you?

YARA: It gives me a lot of space because yeah, no one can know better in four months. You need time to adjust, time to accommodate and space to accommodate this change, to learn more. It’s going to come.

MURIEL WILKINS: It’s going to come. All right. You’re now in a place of, I have hope. I’ve made a choice. I have hope I can do it. It’s going to happen. It’s just not happening right now, but at some point I’m going to have the knowledge and the technical authority to be able to put some of these process in place. Okay. So, now we can move to action. Right? And here’s how I want you to think about it because I think what I also hear you doing is saying, “Here’s where I started on day one, fresh out of my certification, new on the job and here’s where I need to be.” I’m going to put words in your mouth here, which is not good, but just bear with me. “The most effective scrum master ever, okay? And my goodness, it needs to happen fast. It’s four months, why hasn’t it happened already? I just started swimming, but I should have made the Olympics already. What’s the problem?” Okay?

YARA: That’s exactly it. You put it the right way.

MURIEL WILKINS: I think what we can do, it’s not to take away the dream of the Olympics. I’m not going to be the dream killer here, but I think what would be helpful for you is to sort of break it down into stages rather than you just focused on the gold of the Olympics. That’s the vision. That’s down the line at some point, but what’s the training plan to get there? And what are the milestones that you need to hit that will give you a sense that you’re on the path to being an effective scrum master? What kind of scrum master does the team need you to be by the end of your first year?

YARA: A scrum master that can protect them from any distractions, that helps them remove blockers on the road and a scrum master that has maybe the, not necessarily all the technical knowledge, but all the technical knowledge necessary for them to keep going smoothly.

MURIEL WILKINS: Let’s pause here as Yara shifts into action planning. We’ve established by now that YARA needs to set realistic expectations for herself, and she’s starting to do that by listing the qualities that her team needs from their scrum master. Now, all of the qualities she’s listed, they can be a bit subjective and there’s not necessarily a clear point at which she’s finished. So, it’s important to make them more concrete and break them down into more manageable chunks for her. In her case, by giving them a realistic timeframe, this’ll help her deal with the ambiguity she may feel as she follows her learning path, and she’ll get a sense of accomplishment rather than feel like she’s chasing a moving target. I get the sense that’s probably what’s causing you the most difficulty is the ambiguity. You don’t know what you don’t know, and that’s exactly why we’re trying the best that we can to make the process as concrete as possible for you, so that you have something to hang onto. And so, the biggest thing that you can be doing right now is to A, do exactly what you just did, which is accept that it is ambiguous. That’s why it’s been hard.

YARA: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: Okay. So, stop thinking it should be easy. It shouldn’t be like this. And you said something earlier, which is, you said, “I have a sense of where my gaps are in terms of what it is that I don’t know, I don’t have the knowledge.” So, do you have, I just want to confirm, do you have that sense? Do you have a sense of, here are the areas where if I could just get a bit stronger from a knowledge standpoint, it would help take me from a two, to a three?

YARA: Yeah. I would, again, stress upon the knowing more about the product and knowing more about the technicalities behind it and what’s required. That’s number one. And number two, get more details and know how to extract the KPIs behind the team’s performance and how to improve those. That’s number two.

MURIEL WILKINS: Okay. So, that doesn’t sound ambiguous to me at all. It sounds very specific in terms of the areas, it’s not everything, but the areas that would create the most leverage for you right now in terms of your learning curve.

YARA: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: So, then now that you know that, then it becomes, “Okay, how do I beef up my learning around that?” Right? You already mentioned that there are people that you can go to when you have questions. The people that you can go to is it, as something comes up, you reach out to them and you’re like, “Hey, I have a question about that.” Is that how that happens?

YARA: Yeah. Most of the time.

MURIEL WILKINS: Most of the time?

YARA: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: Okay. So, that’s great. You should definitely continue to do that. And it’s great that you have reached out to people. It’s also very reactive to what’s happening in the moment. Okay. So, going back to our lake metaphor, when you’re rowing, you hit a rock and it’s when you hit the rock that you’re like, “Hey, hey, hey, wait a minute. How do I deal with it when I hit a rock?” Right. Versus when you were a couple meters away or yards away, you saw the rock coming and you said, “oh, there’s a rock that’s going to come, let me go call some people to figure out when they have situations where there’s a rock, what do they do? Even though I’m not there yet.” That’s being proactive. And I think part of what you need to do in your process is inject some proactivity to your learning. So, what does that look like? I keep using the word learning because I think you are on a parallel path right now. One part of your path is you started this new job. This other part of your path is it’s a complete new learning path. So, you have some modules that you need to work through. And I think you need to formalize it a bit. And what does that look like? I would suggest you identify some of the people that you feel are good resources for you, people who have the type of knowledge that you’ve identified you need, the two specific areas you said. And make a request from them, “Hey, can I meet with you for 30 minutes every two weeks or once a week or for an hour, once a month? And can you download for me everything you know about this area, I’ll come with questions, but could you start by telling me what are the things that I need to know about this?”

YARA: Sounds like a good plan.

MURIEL WILKINS: The other piece though, that we haven’t talked about is something that you’ve mentioned is, in the meantime, you’re still in these meetings and you said, “How do I have a voice in these meetings?” And I think at the beginning of the conversation you said there were two things kind of standing in the way for you. One is your knowledge and the other is, I believe you said was, your age – that you felt that because you were younger that you face some resistance.

YARA: Not for all people, but maybe a couple.

MURIEL WILKINS: Okay. All right. And you know for a fact that it’s because of your age?

YARA: No, I’m not really sure. I’m just assuming maybe. It’s because there’s this assumption that people get resistant to you if you are in a leading position and you are younger than them.

MURIEL WILKINS: There’s an assumption. Who’s assumption?

YARA: I believe it’s a thing between people, that maybe you hear about it a lot. I don’t know.

MURIEL WILKINS: But you’ve heard about it, it’s been said to you, like people have said, “Hey YARA, you’re going to get resistance from these few people because you’re younger and a leader.”

YARA: No, no, no.

MURIEL WILKINS: No. Okay. You’ve read about it somewhere? You saw a show on it?

YARA: No. I’ve heard some people’s-

MURIEL WILKINS: You believe it?

YARA: – issues about it. No, I maybe not. I’m not sure actually.

MURIEL WILKINS: Okay. Okay. So, in our fact or fiction game, it’s questionable, right?

YARA: Yes. Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: Yeah. Does it happen? I’m sure it happens. Is it happening? We don’t know.

YARA: We don’t know.

MURIEL WILKINS: But more importantly is the fact that you are younger than some people on your team. Is that something that’s in your control?

YARA: No. Definitely not.

MURIEL WILKINS: Exactly. So, there’s nothing we can do about that. We can’t change your age. Okay. I mean, it is what it is. When you’re my age, you try a lot of things, but you still can’t do it. You still can’t do it. So, it still goes back to the experience.

YARA: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: And it goes back to, as you put it, making sure that you are establishing trust with your team, because you started off by saying that you feel like you’re losing trust.

YARA: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: Let me give you a little bit of a riddle. I don’t even know if it’s a riddle, a puzzle. If you’re the youngest person on your team and you don’t have the full level of expertise yet, what are other ways that you can gain the trust or build trust with team members besides being they’re same age or older or knowing as much or more than them? What are other ways that you can gain their trust?

YARA: I believe better communication. Having a sync with them. Maybe ask them around if I can do anything to help them make their lives easier. If they have feedback actually, to maybe give it to me, anything that they would like to share, maybe. If there is something that I know for sure I need to be doing, then I go ahead and do it, but at the same time maybe ask them if that’s the right way to do it. If they would add anything from their side, if they have any ideas or things to share.

MURIEL WILKINS: So, in essence, what you’re doing is you are engaging them in the process, right. You’re building a connection with them. And this is not to dismiss what you shared earlier that you feel like if you could give direction, then it would create trust, but trust is not just built by giving direction. Trust is also built by building connection.

YARA: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: And so, what experience do you feel you need or what do you feel you still need to learn to be able to build connection?

YARA: I’m not really sure.

MURIEL WILKINS: I would ask you to sit with that because it might just be that you already have all the capabilities to build the connection piece of the trust equation, but you’re so focused on the other part of the equation, that I need to be able to be the expert and give direction, that you’re missing out on the trust building process that could have been happening and probably is happening over the course of the first four months. I just want you to realize you have a lot more at your disposal than you’re giving yourself credit for. It’s like having different muscles, but you’re just using one or you’re trying to use the one that isn’t fully grown yet. And meanwhile ignoring all the others and they’re like, “oh wait over here, over here, we can get you across the lake.: And you’re like, “No, I only want to use this muscle to get across the lake.” And they’re like, “Okay. Okay.”

YARA: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: And so, trust is a multifaceted practice – trust building, that is. And what I would encourage you to do is think about, what are the different layers, what are the different actions that you can take that help move the needle on trust with this team, in spite of you not having the full technical expertise that they have, and in spite of you not being the same biological age as them. Because those are the two things that are not fully in your control at the moment. So, what is in your control? And it’s all the things you just said. Does that make sense?

YARA: It does.

MURIEL WILKINS: All right. And in order to be able to do that, I would offer you that the skill that’s probably going to be most helpful to you right now – is the skill of being able to ask the right questions rather than have the right answer. Okay? Do you see the difference?

YARA: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: And I think the expectation you were putting on yourself was, “Something comes up and I just need to have the answer, I need to just solve, need to just save the world right all by myself.”

YARA: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: And maybe one day you will, right. Let me know, okay? That would be great.

YARA: Definitely.

MURIEL WILKINS: But in the meantime, become an expert in knowing what questions to ask and in framing the question and in figuring out, if that’s the question, what’s the plan to solve it, rather than an expert in the solution in and of itself.

YARA: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: And I think that’ll help take some of the pressure.

YARA: It does. It does. Definitely. Yeah.


YARA: At the end of the day, it’s a teamwork thing that has to be done within a team. There’s no one person that has one role that sticks to them. So yeah, I believe it has to be a team issue rather than one person’s issue to solve.

MURIEL WILKINS: I mean, it’s interesting to me as we’re talking about this because, forgive me, but I’m not wildly familiar with the role of scrum master. I kind of have a very surface level understanding of what it is, but inherent in the word itself, right? Like the word master, right? Just like, inherent in it is this “master.” There’s a certain level of mastery that is inherent in the title, and so, no wonder you have this expectation of yourself that from day one you need to have this mastery of everything. And so, maybe there’s an opportunity for you here, even though that’s the formal role title. What name could you give your role? How would you title your position in a way that is much more reflective of who you are and who you think you need to be for this team to meet its goals? Like if it were not scrum master and you could rename it, what would it be?

YARA: Maybe helpers/coach.

MURIEL WILKINS: And if you’re a helper/coach, how does that change the way you move about this role? The goal hasn’t changed, but does it change the way that you approach it?

YARA: Well, yeah, it does change a lot. There are some things and processes maybe, guidelines about the way of work about scrum mainly and how we do things that they need coaching about and how to be more of a self-organizing team. I believe I can do that well, maybe. And the other thing about solving blockers and helping them around, I believe I can do that without the pressure of being the only one that can do it. I can always help them, but at the same time ask them for more details. So, we all come up with a solution. It doesn’t have to be one person coming up with the solution.

MURIEL WILKINS: So, here’s a very practical thing that I would suggest that you do. I would list… if you have a whiteboard in your office or if you have a notebook, someplace that’s visible. I think electronic makes it a little hard because you don’t see it. It’s something that you should be able to see. Okay. Visible to you. I want you to list in a column, the four or five things that you think are the areas that you want to get to, remember we said by the end of year one. Okay?

YARA: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: And then to the right of that, columns that are by day. And every day I want you to keep a journal. Doesn’t have to be long. You’re not writing an essay. You’re just jotting down in bullet points. What did I do today that helped move me a little bit closer? Even if it’s like a little tiny mini step, towards that goal that I have for myself of where I want to be by the end of year one.

YARA: Yes.

MURIEL WILKINS: The second question is, what did I learn today in this particular area? Shouldn’t take more than five minutes a day.

YARA: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: I want you to just keep track of it. Why do you think I’m asking you to do that?

YARA: Well, I believe first of all, it creates maybe a relief that there is some kind of a progress to it. And a daily reminder that there is progress. Maybe you cannot get there by tomorrow, but you will be getting there by the end of next month or the month after that, and it creates a sense of commitment that to keep moving forward that, yeah, you can do it. You’re showing progress. Just keep on going and you’re going to get there.

MURIEL WILKINS: Yeah. So, there’s a saying that, well, there’s two sayings that I’m going to share with you. One is that you can’t manage what’s not measured. Right. It’s one of the very few things I remember from business school. It was in my accounting class. Right. You can’t manage what you can’t measure. And in this case, what you’re managing is yourself.

YARA: Yes.

MURIEL WILKINS: And the measurement is where you want to be in the future and where you are now and what steps are you taking to get there? The second saying is progress is not linear, meaning it doesn’t happen just straight up.

YARA: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: Progress is not linear. It’s zigzag.

YARA: Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: So, are there going to be days where you’re like, “I didn’t learn anything and I did not move towards the goal. In fact, I moved backwards.” Yes. There will be. But that’s just that day. It’s the whole picture that we’re interested in. And over time, regardless of whether you’ve moved back some then moved forward some, altogether it’s not even is there progress, but is there momentum? Are you gaining momentum towards being the leader that you want to be on this team? Okay. And so, I think with focus now, you can stop your rest period on the lake and continue to row forward. Okay.

YARA: Yeah. Yeah.

MURIEL WILKINS: All right. Terrific. Well, thank you. Thank you YARA.

YARA: Thank you. Thank you very much.

MURIEL WILKINS: For Yara, it was stressful to leave a comfortable job and take on this new challenge. But the main thing we worked through was thinking about how to make those challenges less ambiguous and more digestible so that she could walk away with concrete things to do in the form of a learning plan. What also helped her is the reframing of her role with less emphasis on technical mastery and more focus on that of a coach. When we started our coaching session, YARA wanted really specific answers from me. I purposely let her sit with her situation and without answers from much of our conversation, despite it being uncomfortable for her. Why? Because the coaching session mirrored what was happening to her in her role. She had to become comfortable sitting in the middle of that proverbial lake so that she could see where she was and then decide what direction to move in before she starts rowing again. Like YARA, sometimes we can all benefit from pausing to take stock of what we need to learn before we take action. That’s it for this episode, next time on Coaching Real Leaders.

NEXT EPISODE GUEST: And so, I guess one of the challenges that I’m facing right now is that I have a level of access, influence, and ultimately, opportunities for success that I’ve never had before, and I’m trying to find a way to synchronize those opportunities and to be very selective about which ones to choose in order to transition out of the military. And I feel like I have ideas for how I want to do that, but I feel like I’m really wrestling with how to say no to people. Whenever they feel like they have a need that I can fill, but that I don’t feel like aligns with those goals.

MURIEL WILKINS: Thanks to my producer, Mary Dooe; sound editor, Nick Crnko; music composer, Brian Campbell; my assistant, Emily Sofa; and the entire team at HBR. Much gratitude to the leaders who join me in these coaching conversations and to you our listeners who share in their journeys. If you’d like to dive deeper into these coaching sessions, join me and the rest of the Coaching Real Leaders community for live episode discussions at And if you’re dealing with a leadership challenge, I’d love to hear from you and possibly have you on the show, apply at And of course, if you love the show and learn from it, pay it forward, share it with your friends, subscribe and leave a review wherever you get your podcast. Fromm HBR Presents, I’m Muriel Wilkins. Until next time, be well.

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