Lead With Empathy and Curiosity — How This VP of Software Engineering Supports and Grows Her Team

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Fairygodboss
April 14, 2024 at 4:53AM UTC

What do the colors of a traffic light have to do with leadership? Well, they’re a management strategy used by Jossie Haines, the VP of Software Engineering at Tile, the company that uses hardware, software, and product partnerships to connect people to their things using a powerful global network of finding power. 

This traffic light check in helps Haines build empathy in her team, and it’s especially useful for hybrid and remote teams. “It is easy to lose track of team morale and general humanity at work,” explains Haines. So, she has her team share one of the following statuses every day:

  • Red: Super bad day, I need help!

  • Yellow: I’m ok, not at my best.

  • Green: Feeling good, like I should. 

By doing so, Haines' team “builds trust through vulnerability and creates empathy amongst colleagues.” And, as a result, her team “will naturally reach out to people who are struggling and offer to help,” says Haines. 

To find out more about Haines’ best leadership tips, her transition into her VP role and how she builds a team with a strong foundation of trust and inclusion, Fairygodboss reached out to see what she had to say.

Advice for transitioning into leadership.

Haines has been in her VP role for over four months. “Instead of working on the low-level details of specific projects, it’s now much more about long-term high-level strategy,” she explains. Since transitioning into leadership, her day-to-day work has been filled with more meetings, too. 

To handle this shift in responsibilities, Haines says that she’s had to work on her ability to say “no” and to set boundaries — skills that are crucial for her to not get overbooked. “It’s not to be rude,” she explains, “but it’s so important for me to prioritize my work and the work of my employees.”

For women who are also transitioning into leadership, Haines has this No.1 piece of advice to share: “Don’t sell yourself short.” Don’t wait for training classes or to obtain a certain skill set. Instead, Haines says that “leadership is a constant learning journey, and if you wait until you’re an expert — whatever being an expert means as a leader — it means you’ll never progress. What you have to ask yourself is, ‘How do I put myself out there to get the opportunities I want?’ It’s a lot more uncomfortable because you might get more no’s that way, but you’ll get to clarity faster.”

3 ways to effectively and empathetically grow and lead a team.

1: Lead with empathy.

Haines describes herself as “an empathetic leader who is there to help uplevel and unblock my employees.” As part of this leadership style, she makes sure to, “Lead with empathy, and come at things from a place of curiosity.” For instance, Haines makes sure that her direct reports know that she doesn’t always expect them to deliver everything 100% of the time, but she does expect clear communication.

As a result of this approach, she hopes that her employees view her as a helpful resource that pushes them to grow. “I want them to realize that each conversation won’t always be the most comfortable one in the world, but that feedback comes from a place of love, and that I want to see all of my employees grow,” she says. “I want to help them get to that next level in their career.” Haines also emphasizes the importance of vulnerability in these conversations, saying that “I can only help others if they're willing to be open to me with their own struggles.”

2: Communication and clarity.

As a growing company, Tile has a lot of shifting priorities, and Haines has to ensure that she can communicate these to her team to provide clarity, something that is even more important with remote work. Since miscommunication can easily happen with remote teams, especially rapidly growing teams like her own, Haines emphasizes the importance of clearly documenting decisions and action items and ensuring effective communication pathways.

Such direct communication is especially important when onboarding new employees. Clear day-by-day goals, introductions to relevant coworkers and more are all important parts of the onboarding experience. “You really can’t over-communicate during this crucial period,” says Haines.

Haines also recommends suggesting direct communication when an employee comes to you with a complaint or feedback for someone else. Direct communication is “about working through how to have those effective and difficult conversations,” notes Haines. “It doesn’t need to be an agreement, but one thing you realize is that when you don’t share your truths, it’s more likely to cause pain later.” Not only that, but by withholding feedback, employees are hampering their coworkers abilities to get better at their jobs. This is particularly important for women in tech, who often get less concrete feedback about their technical abilities, Haines notes.

3: Take time to build a strong sense of trust and inclusion.

Offering support to your direct reports is crucial, particularly for remote work. Haines suggests taking time to ask employees about their personal lives, and about what happens outside their work hours. Of course, this should be done while respecting boundaries, but it’s how you can begin to build trust. As Haines says, “You won’t build trust by discussing a work topic, but by getting to know each other and helping each other.”

Building on this, it’s important to set aside time for people to socialize. For instance, Haines says that one team started going to happy hours and, as a result, a teammate said that they learned more about a coworker in one happy hour than the last four months of working together!

And, in regards to building your team, that’s “all about starting with inclusion,” Haines remarks. “When you build an inclusive team where each and every person can bring their true self to work, and where people are being recognized for their contributions to the company, people want to work for you.” “It’s crucial to make sure that inclusion is the foundation for the culture,” she continues. And, after you have a solid foundation of inclusion, “then you can focus on how to increase the diversity of your recruiting to make sure that you have a more diverse workforce.” 

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