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It’s Monday morning on your way into work, the weekend now over as you look at the day and week head. Do you hope that everything goes smoothly? No production incidents. Deployments run smoothly. Teams working well together steadily delivering features. We like an easy life, but does it really help us?

Think of times when you have learnt the most, either about people or your processes. Is this when things are going smoothly or when problems arise that need investigation, thought, and teamwork to overcome?

“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor” ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

Whatever our career, we learn from our experiences, it is these that help us develop our skills in particular areas. As with a sailor, smooth seas will only prepare you for certain situations, for the benefit of the crew, having skills in difficult circumstances could save lives. As a leader, who has a team or more, having previous experience across different areas will help to guide and protect them as events happen.

Seeking the easy path is not always the best choice, there are times when risks have to be taken and we need to step out of our comfort zone. Of course, there are events that cannot be predicted and problems we have no choice but respond to, but there are other opportunities for learning and improving outside of those. For instance:

  • Do we not give constructive feedback in fear of the reaction?
  • Do we avoid improving processes because it will take to much effort?
  • Do we ignore errors in the logs because it’s too much hassle to investigate or think someone else will?
  • Do we not schedule team meetings because of worry about what to say?

There are many more, the point being, by putting ourselves into new or uncertain situations helps build our experience and be better prepared for future surprises.

This can be taken further to seek out what you don’t want to hear from your teams. Ask them questions like: Do you feel management is transparent enough? Can communication from management be improved? Do they know the purpose of their work/project? You may not like some of the answers, but be humble and listen to the feedback. This should create problems that need resolving, but by welcoming problems we can increase our knowledge and improve the team’s health at the same time.

The more we can be prepared for rough seas the easier they will be to navigate. The more rough seas we sail through the better equipped we are for dealing with unexpected challenges.

Problems will arise whether we like it or not, by shifting our mindset to seeing these as learning opportunities we might welcome or even want new problems!

Sometimes we need to be challenged to be engaged, other times we need to be engaged to be challenged.

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