Hello! What's your background and what do you do?
Yunar is a startup in Berlin in the fintech space that was founded last year - with Deutsche Bank as the primary investor. I joined at the beginning of this year with the charter to build up a strong engineering culture and organization. We have released a Loyalty Card Wallet App (Apple/Android), and since then have been improving it with regular releases. At the moment, the technology team consists of 50+ people. Interestingly when we started most of them were external vendors and consultants. This led to the task of hiring and building up a team in an unusual way. Basically gradually replacing external contributors with internal hires, and doing knowledge transfer on an ongoing basis. This was a great leadership challenge as the perceived level of change within the organization was substantial.
How was your transition from software development to management like?
Back in 2006 I was working as a senior engineer at Yahoo in Silicon Valley. My manager at this point allowed me to “try out” what it is like to manage. At that point I realized that I can increase my contributions significantly with the help of a team. After roughly a year my manager asked me how I like it to be a leader and if I would still like to keep doing it. It was then that I decided to officially become a manager, and started evolving as a leader in various contexts, situations, teams sizes, topics, and roles.
What does your day-to-day work look like, and what motivates you to do it every day?
Every day is actually different. In a startup you never know what happens. Pace is fast, but fortunately still not as crazy as in my Silicon Valley days. As a leader I usually focus on the roles of a visionary, a catalyst, and a coach. The question I ask myself every morning is how I can create value for my team. Then I prioritize the tasks to optimize that value. I feel good if I can help others grow, and give them support and inspiration during their daily work.
What are the biggest challenges you've faced so far? What did you do to overcome them?
I have encountered numerous challenges during my career. For me returning to Germany (Berlin) in 2016 after spending 20 years in the Silicon Valley was a major personal and professional challenge. At that point Zalando had offered me a position to build up their Search & Personalization organization. Moving a family across continents, to a new city, and not knowing how this will all unfold involved a lot of uncertainty. Overcoming this uncertainty of not knowing, I felt was the major challenge, and gladly at that point I had already practised mindfulness. This helped me a lot through this challenging time. Eventually things turned out very well, and I was able to accomplish a lot during my time at Zalando.
What has been the biggest surprise so far? Something you didn't expect?
I thought initially you take a class on “management 101s / basics”, become a technical expert in your field, and then you are all ready and set. However, it turns out that as a leader, the learning never stops (similar to other professions). Leadership is not learned by books, you need to be exposed continuously to new contexts, situations, roles and ambitious goals. It’s all about communication with people. Eventually I understood that the underlying foundation and mindset is very critical to boost your leadership effectiveness. Basically your emotional IQ. For this I have discovered that mindfulness applied to leadership has a powerful side effect to boost your leadership capabilities.
What's the best advice you've received about being a manager?
There is lots of advice. I could write a long article (or possibly even a book), but I would say that “Don’t micromanage - find the right balance of support for your team” is a very helpful one.
What do you tell developers who are considering making the switch or new to the role?
Before doing this, really reflect on your inner values and purpose. Leadership is not about power and control. It is to help others grow, and in parallel, influence the shape of the organization and build up a culture that thrives based on sound values to have a positive contribution to this planet.
Final call to action! Where can we go to learn more about you?
I’m passionate as mentioned above, about the topic of mindful leadership. Check out my blog at https://www.themindfulleader.net/ for more articles to learn more.