The power of shadowing: 9 inspiring takeaways from my time with a senior leader

Photograph of Paul Pop.

When Adobe Romania announced a program for shadowing senior leaders, I applied as soon as possible. As a new engineering manager, I’ve been in diverse mentoring and coaching programs, but I was very curious about the challenges senior leaders face when working at a top company.

I was lucky enough to get a perfect match: Dragos Georgita, director of Adobe Experience Platform in Romania. In my time shadowing Georgita, I joined a variety of his day-to-day meetings, from reviews to staff meetings, and difficult conversations.

Shared best practices

  1. Set regular one-on-ones with peers and stakeholders, not just your team and bosses. While local meetings can be direct and have a relaxed tone, think of cultural differences when meeting with stakeholders in other geographies and adapt accordingly.
  2. Think about stakeholders and what motivates them, what triggers them, what they follow, and how you can move on with your agenda while helping them.
  3. Ask deeper questions to get to root causes. Help your team discover the underlying reasons for their issues because the process usually steers them to find solutions and commit to them. You can get even more valuable insights by asking people who are not very talkative to add their points of view.
  4. Do post-mortems for failed or delayed projects, not only for successful ones.
  5. Repeat what you have understood from a conversation so the other parties can correct you if you're wrong. Recap conclusions and decisions to make sure everybody is on the same page.
  6. Use a consultative style regarding action items to solidify commitment to them.
  7. Be very thorough when planning the available bandwidth of the team and push back on projects that are at risk of being delayed. Don't overcommit, as there are always unforeseen events that can pop up and delay a plan. Weigh the pros and cons with the whole team for important project decisions.
  8. Have small icebreakers at the start of meetings. People may be tense from a previous meeting, so it’s useful to make time to talk and relax.
  9. Be very clear about expectations. Precise, timely, positive feedback is very important.

Valuable advice for new leaders from an established one

  1. Teams need a purpose, a sense of direction that is shared by everyone. Guide the team to set a mission statement that everyone can work toward.
  2. The most important thing in the first year of a team is to build trust. Everybody on the team needs to feel that his or her manager supports and empowers them. Only then can the team members have a relationship that supports one another.
  3. Try to steer the team toward the desired outcome without suggesting the solution. If the solution comes from the team, they will own it.
  4. Don't avoid tough choices and conversations. Address them early on, before they turn into bigger problems.

The biggest benefits of shadowing

One of the best things about my shadowing experience was taking time to listen and learn from an organization outside of my own team.

Think about it this way; usually all the meetings you attend are somewhat related to you and your job. You have some thoughts and history about the meeting and attendees, you think about what is going to happen, and a lot of times you prepare for it.

When shadowing, you don't know anything about the meetings you attend, so you start with a clean slate. The only job you have is to listen, watch, and write down your ideas. You are invisible, listening actively in the background. All your thoughts are rational, not clouded by emotions.

When it comes to learning new ways to think about your role, this ‘distance’ makes all the difference in the world.