As you evolve into an effective tech executive, you’ll navigate through various stages of bottlenecking. On your journey to becoming a well-rounded leader, it’s crucial to identify your current needs and equip yourself with the right attitude and tools to address the current bottleneck stage. This process empowers you to effectively unclog your organization’s pipes by first understanding the issue. Think of this as a quick plumbing primer. It’s-a me, Mario!

Special Opportunity: Related to this topic, I’ll be holding a free live session about creating a healthy sense of urgency without going through an emergency to develop it. Would you like to help your team be more productive without the burnout? Check it out.

One with the Bottleneck

This is the basic state, especially when you’re a new leader or going through a significant change (e.g., you were promoted, the company hired a lot of people, etc.). When this is the case, your own personal operating system is lacking and is not sufficient in order to allow you to focus on the team and help it grow.

The easiest way to tell whether you’re in this stage is to consider how overwhelmed you are or how much your team depends on you to move forward. If you were to go incommunicado for a day or two, how many things would be blocked or go off-kilter?

So, first things first. Get in charge of your own time and your priorities. Get some coaching if you cannot do it yourself. Then, get things off your plate and start helping the managers and leaders in your organization. That usually means learning how to coach people for sanity.

Organizational Bottleneck

Nice work. You’re no longer personally holding things back, but your team surely is in everyone’s sights. This is the stage where your peers in the executive team are constantly bringing up issues about your organization (if you’re a healthy enough team that can speak about these things). Your team is having problems, often in the form of quality issues, a workload spike, or low output.

The fix isn’t always the same and changes for each team and its unique circumstances. However, we almost always use the same process. You start by listing the single priority that would make a tangible difference. A goal that—once achieved—will be undeniable and will make a genuine impact. Then, focus on that. Groundbreaking, right? However, having assisted all these startups over the years, that’s virtually always the answer: working on your execution muscles and (re)building them.

This is a bit like Occam’s razor applied to your backlog. Rather than worry about all the things you could possibly do and spread the team too thin, you choose one thing and get it done. If your team’s big enough, perhaps you can handle a couple, but be warned. This teaches the team how effective focus on impact looks like and realigns everyone.

It’s also how we cultivate 10x engineers. Those aren’t a myth, by the way. They’re just not what one would trivially expect. 10x engineers don’t go typing away really fast, banging out code faster than ChatGPT spews out boilerplate fluff. Instead, they are so laser-focused on the things that matter that they hack off any unnecessary work, making every line of code and minute count. One way to get there is to invest in your product mastery.

Gimme a Bottleneck!

You might think you’re golden once you’ve addressed the previous stage. Your organization is firing on all cylinders, and you can just relax and enjoy it. Well, you should be enjoying it, but don’t get too sanguine. Now, we have reached the inflection point separating capable executives from the great ones.

It’s natural to go off proclaiming that your team is now ahead of the business/product, and thus, you’re no longer the bottleneck, and everything is good. However, as I’ve explained at length, this is precisely your opportunity to shine. As an executive, there are two ways to leverage this situation, and you might be able to act on both simultaneously.

First, as explained in the article I linked, you should find the company’s current bottlenecks and see where your team might be able to make a difference. Perhaps you can create some tools for customer success, help with marketing automation, etc. Your tech team can use technology not solely to create features for your company’s users but also to aid others in the company.

Second, it might be that the company’s current bottlenecks are due to other organizations or leaders who are in the previous stages of the bottleneck cycle. Having displayed your ability to handle those, you might be able to help your peers handle the issues. It might sound intimidating, but there are not a lot of things more rewarding than realizing you can help others outside of your “tech corner.”

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