4 min read

Australian Psycho

Australian Psycho
It is indeed hip to be square Patrick. All credit Lions Gate Films

I've been responsible for the health, performance, and wellbeing of groups of people for about six years.

You know, management.

In that time, I've run into a lot of situations where I feel like I have a good handle on things. Where I know what I'm doing and have faith in my skills and experience to shepherd things to a good outcome.

But there have been just as many times where the opposite is true, and I feel like I'm woefully underequipped.

I used to think that my approach to the people side of things fell into the first category, but I'm not so sure anymore.

I'm In Touch With Humanity

If you're responsible for people, you need to be able to understand them.

That understanding can't just be at a surface level either.

It's not enough to know that they have a wife, two kids and a dog and that they like to go camping on the weekends.

You need to go deeper than that. You need to have a good understanding of what motivates them, what keeps them engaged, what they find joy in and what they struggle with.

Even that set of things is just the tip of the iceberg though, but the more you mature your understanding, the more you can engineer win-win situations in which both the business and the person in question get what they need. The business gets results and impact, and the person gets fulfilment and happiness.

I feel like that building and maintaining that sort of deep understanding requires a level of skill that I just don't have.

I mean, I barely understand myself, and I literally live in my own head.

How am I supposed to understand other people?

I Can Be A Little Erratic Sometimes

A pile of cells trying to understand itself is a pretty absurd concept, yet we have created an entire discipline dedicated to exactly that.


There have been a few times in my life where I have reached out to professional psychologists in an attempt to better understand myself, and each time I've done it, I feel like I've learned more about the collection of weirdness that is Todd.

For example, I'm not really in touch with my emotions.

I've spent an entire lifetime building up mental walls to stop those sorts of messy complications from getting in the way, and I'm very good at it. Those walls aren't coming down in a hurry, and I don't even know if I want them to.

But the times when I've worked with a psychologist to chip a small hole in the walls and actually feel something have been some of the most relieving and rewarding experiences of my life. They left me exhausted of course, but I felt like a much more balanced person at the end.

I seriously doubt I would have been able to accomplish even a fraction of that growth by just reading books or thinking about it real hard. I needed an external party to poke and prod me in the right direction, even though I was the one that had to actually choose to go there.

And that brings me back to the point.

There Are No More Barriers To Cross

A lot of engineering managers come from a technical background; in that they were most likely engineers before they were managers.

I know that's certainly true for me.

As a result, it's common for their professional qualifications to be entirely limited to engineering, and in a role where people are ostensibly the main focus, that feels like trying to win a fist fight with one hand tied behind your back.

I think engineering managers would benefit from psychological qualifications.

More accurately, I think the people that the engineering manager is responsible for would benefit from the manager having appropriate people focused qualifications.

Being able to plumb the depths of the human psyche enough to understand someone and help them to work through the psychological things that are holding them back feels like it would be a real boon. Growth comes in many different forms, and it doesn't all need to be skill based.

Of course, you don't have to have any sort of formal qualifications to do that, but I've definitely found that even though I've read a tonne of books on people management and effective teams and so on and so forth, there is a baseline set of knowledge that just isn't there.

A fundamental understanding of the way that people behave, think, and feel.

To use an engineering analogy, sometimes it feels like I'm trying to write a new service to solve a problem without really understanding the basics of the language that I've chosen to write it in.

Sure, I can Google things, copy and paste code blocks, follow tutorials, and eventually get there, but it's going to be a painful and time-consuming process as a result.

And the resulting service might very well be a misshapen abomination.

I Have To Return Some Videotapes

I've been toying with this ambient thought for a while. Of getting some sort of psychology-based qualifications in order to better understand and grow the people that I'm responsible for.

But it's hard.

It's hard to carve out time for a thing like that when the value proposition is somewhat unknown. If you're not sure that the time and effort that you put into it will be worthwhile.

For me, the first step is writing about it. To put the thought out there and see if that implicit social pressure causes me to prioritise it.

That almost seems like some sort of psychological trick though, so maybe I've got a better handle on this stuff than I think I do.