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Human Skills 026: The Importance of Caring
with Garima Sahai
Garima Sahai "grew up" with Google, spending almost 20 years with the organization through a series of engineering roles, followed by management, and finally director of engineering. Throughout her time there she not only led technically, but became increasingly involved in initiatives around human impact, including but not limited to being Inclusion Lead for DEI programs in the Google ads organization.
We talked about a number of things - we talked about authenticity, we talked about management, and what managers can do to create safe spaces for diverse teams, but the overwhelming thread in this conversation was about caring. How important it is to truly care about your work and about people, how to expand your circle of caring, and how to care for yourself.
What do you think about/mean when we talk about "caring" in a work concept?
So I have a very short, interesting story. When I was asked to become a manager, actually, I was tech leading a team, I was unsure. I was actually nervous.
Two reasons. One, I feel as a woman, I felt like my software engineer title was hard earned, and I felt like I would be diluting it with manager, so I was a little reluctant there. But the other one was also, I was not sure if I could really be a good manager and a technical person and a leader at the same time.
And I think this is something many of us struggle with in general, I realized over the years. But one of my ex manager, I asked her like, "do you think I can be a good manager?"
And she was, she just said a short thing. She said, you know, Garima, I think there isn't like a recipe or a training to being a great manager. And by the way, this resonates even with being a great parent, I realized as I.., As you said, I grew with Google. And so there were multiple things happening in parallel in my life. I became a parent, I became a manager. It was actually on my second maternity leave, I became a manager for the first time.
And she said, the main thing is, if you really truly care for the people you are leading, you will automatically show up as a good manager. And I think that was a very simple thing. It was very crystallized, but I think it holds the essence.
When you care about the team, when you care about the product you're leading, automatically you will be putting a lot more effort than is required by the job. And the outcomes will reflect that because the product will show up better in ways because you deeply cared. The people will go above and beyond to do things because they know it's not just about the job or the task at hand.
It's about somebody who is noticing their work, who cares about their long-term growth, and things get aligned. So I think that's where the caring piece started from.
What are some examples of how caring shows up?
I think in the caring for people aspect, especially your reports as a leader or manager... there are multiple ways you can be a manager. You can actually really take interest in the work they are doing and go deeper with them in that, in terms of problem solving, helping them with their code and output and stuff.
You can go, I would say, next level deep and care about what do they want out of their work in a slightly longer term timeframe. It's not about delivering this project. It's like, "where do you wanna go?" And I would say that's a step two depth.
And step three depth is caring about that human, that person, because work or this job may be one aspect of their whole. And a lot of things interplay in our lives. So when we care about the whole, we can actually see a bigger picture.
And when something else is draining them out, work also suffers. So we are actually partnering with them in making progress on the whole, which I think is a net win for everything involved. But it requires patience and it requires time.
Because for example, there was a time when I had a report who was, and this was during COVID, and I think this was a pretty common thing which was happening. This was a single person who was living in an apartment, they were not allowed to go anywhere, they did not have roommates or other partners.
So basically their social connection was the job and Google used to provide a lot of things where people could stay at job pretty much, you know, the whole from morning till dinner time and then just go.
And now they were suddenly cooking for themselves, they did not have people to hang out and it was a really hard time for them. And yes, we did talk about the project that they were assigned to and the progress they were making. But I think in more of our deeper conversations, I realized this person's really struggling to just be. And at that time, having all these expectations.
So we had a more productive conversation, I would say, saying how do you take care of yourself so that you can show up better at work? You need to take the time off, you need some resources from work which can help you. Do we need to figure out something where you get to interact at least virtually with more people so that can become your support system.
So I think, yeah, that's an example. I would say, like I said, three levels... I think you can even go deeper, but I would say this is a two-way street. And one thing I sometimes now feel we tend to forget when we are trying to care too much for others is taking care of ourselves. So there is that aspect too.
To be able to care for others, to give to people, to community, I think the individual also needs to make sure that they are nourishing themselves and doing.
And not only does that help us as individuals, but also it sets an example again around us when we do that. We say, "hey, I have to take this week off because I'm just not able to deal with the five things and I'm going to actually turn off my email."
And that happened. I used to be one of the poorer examples earlier on in my management career where I would reply to emails on weekends. I would reply after hours. And to be honest, after hours is sometimes a necessity. When you have young children, you put them to bed and that's when you pick up your laptop again and get... And I think that was fine once I told people that, "hey, this is how I am splitting up my work time. This does not require you guys to be on at that time." And I actually started using the scheduled send feature or Gmail, which I think also helped.
How do you expand your circle of caring? Or if you're struggling with burnout, should you even extend your caring?
I think it's a great question. And I do hear you on the burnout thing. There have been times where you reach a point where you're like, nothing else matters. I don't care at all. But I think that goes back to that point. That means that we have not been caring for ourselves.
I have this, I guess, huge faith that in general, humans tend to have a tendency to give when they are in a healthy place. So I think that's an alarm bell actually, when you are getting to that point where you stop caring, that means, "hey buddy, it's time to take care of yourself."
And I think maybe the best way to encourage or teach somebody to care deeper or in those levels for somebody else is to first mirror it how it would be for them. Are you caring enough for yourself? Are you just doing the job and producing the output and going home and then getting up in the night and then again, you know, just going through the motions of doing the work or are you actually looking at is this what is the purpose? What gives me fulfillment from my work? Am I headed in that direction?
I think that's a next level thinking for yourself. And then even deeper thinking was "What do I want from my life? Am I able to balance the things, my work, my family, my relations, my other hobbies, to a point where I will feel fulfilled from my life?" And that's the third level of deep, and that's for yourself.
And I think if a person actually takes the time and does a little bit of that, I think the extension of that will come naturally once you have done that for yourself. It's actually easier for us to see that in others when we have actually mirrored it within ourselves. So it's a little bit of introspection there.
Links to Garima
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