After I became a team lead, my job suddenly changed. When I was a software engineer, I worked on projects, developed software, and ensured that the project was on track. Now, in my new role, I'm leading projects, understanding people's and business needs, helping my team grow, and learning and growing myself while doing all of these. When this change happened, I needed new ways of learning leadership, management, and staying up to date and focused.
Learning as a Leader
Leadership growth usually happens by experience. Additionally, reading books, listening to podcasts, and talking with others. While I have a few people at work that I can talk to discover the profession, it's still tricky to get new perspectives because we're always in a similar context and dealing with similar problems.
That's why I decided to leverage my podcast and invite different guests to learn different perspectives. Also, having a podcast means that I share what I know, and many people can listen to our conversations and learn from them.
While this seems like a good idea, finding people is tricky, and finding the best people is even more difficult. Usually, I send cold emails or messages asking people if they are willing to join me as a guest, and to be honest, these messages often don't work.
The main problem with these approaches is that I have no idea if a person is even open to being a guest on any podcast.
Some people are visible online with their articles and writings but never want to be on podcasts. Some people do live streams but find podcasts tiring because of all the work after recording. That's why finding the correct people to speak on a podcast is difficult. At least, it was.
Once I saw Polywork, I was suspicious because it was a new product. However, when I got in, I understood what it was.
Polywork is a new professional network, but not a boring one. It enables you to represent and express your professional life in a way that welcomes your whole being.
When I look at the other professional networks, the profile pages are all CVs (wink wink, Linkedin). However, my life is more than my CV. In these networks, I share with my followers what I achieve during a project and I never found a way to represent it in my profile. They all got lost.
Now in Polywork, I can share all of the proud moments with highlights. There is a timeline view that I share my highlights from my work, my projects, and my life.
I've used different timelines before (good old Twitter and Facebook), but the differentiator here is that Polywork has activity tags, badges, and collections to organize highlights. These features empower me to reflect on what I have done in the past. Also, it enables others to find my previous highlights when they are looking at my profile before contacting me.
Contacting People on Polywork
Polywork has a place called Space Station. There, I can see people directly with a specific interest; in my case, people with interest in speaking on podcasts. When I search for people, I look for their background, highlights (if any), and check if I want to learn from them. If they are, I send a message to invite them to my podcast.
This strategy is different from sending a cold email because it's clear that they are willing to collaborate over a podcast. For example, I reached out to Eric via Polywork with a clear purpose: speaking about accessibility and inclusive design. Eric is a wonderful human being and thanks to Polywork, I discovered Eric and had a chance to talk with him over a podcast. I recently published the episode with Eric. Give it a listen and you'll realize how great he is.
Once I have a guest like Eric, I have a dedicated learning topic, and I have a chance to consolidate my knowledge. Having a guest demands a good amount of research before recording because it becomes a social contract. This strategy helps me learn different technical and non-technical subjects.
Being Contacted on Polywork
While I use badge search to see what others are working on, I also offer my time as a beta tester, mentor, and coach. On Polywork, I can specifically select what I'm interested in and am open to collaboration. People approach me to test their product, ask their questions, and be a mentee.
I learn different user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design flows during testing products. Understanding trends and technologies is essential to have different perspectives in my job as a leader. For example, one company approached me to test their product and give feedback. The company is working on improving the calendar to solve scheduling challenges between busy people. Once I looked at the product, I realized that they lack onboarding and the user flow is not that smooth. I gave candid feedback to help them improve their product. This feedback nudged me to think about a project that we've been planning at work, and I started thinking about the onboarding.
Being open to these kinds of opportunities helps me to get out of my bubble and gain new perspectives. These perspectives not only come from beta testing but also come from coaching and mentoring.
With coaching, I expose myself to different career journeys. When people reach me out on Polywork to have me as a mentor or coach, they seek help on their problems. I had precious discussions with two young people looking for somebody to show the road to them.
One of them was looking for a CTO for their startup. Although I didn't join, we talked for over an hour about different topics, such as managing projects, leading people, being a young entrepreneur, having a mentor, and more.
Another person approached me for my engineering skills. They needed help on creating a good architecture for their problem in an iOS app. We worked on it together and came up with an architecture. (This was the first paid collaboration I had via Polywork!)
As a leader, learning other people's struggles and difficulties and looking for strategies to overcome the problem helps me develop empathy and learn various challenging situations.
There is one more very personal reason why I like Polywork and why I started using it.
Keeping Focus on Action
In May 2021, I struggled to have the motivation to write every day. The writing was something new I started in March the same year as a daily routine. While having a new hobby, I needed small wins to celebrate and keep the focus on writing.
When nobody reads what you write for the first months, the need for achievement arises. I was using Twitter and Linkedin and was sharing my writings there. Of course, a few people read them, but I needed a sense of celebration to continue my writing journey.
In the Polywork timeline, adding a new highlight gives me that feeling because it helps me move my focus from goals to process. Adding one highlight after another and seeing them in a timeline bring delight.
The joy lasts longer because, finally, I have a social profile that shows almost all of my work with my authentic identity.
Putting myself on identity is one of my biggest struggles. I cannot identify myself, my work, and my personality with one definition. Albeit many people defining themselves with their work, that is problematic for me. Along with this problem, my personal brand builds up due to many initiatives I took in my life.
I write, host two podcasts (1, 2), send newsletters, write code, lead people, manage projects, hike, snowboard, play bass guitar, learn German, mentor and coach people, run workshops, and moderate events. When you have many activities, focusing on either one or two becomes extremely difficult.
I couldn't find any network that I could be fully myself. Linkedin pushes me to just share things about my job, and Twitter always promotes what is happening at that moment. On Instagram, life depends on the best moments. The major problem with all of these networks is all of them have a "like" button.
Having a like button moves the focus away from the activity to social acceptance. When I write a tweet that nobody likes within my 2000+ followers, I look for something wrong. As I have an inner critic voice, it becomes difficult to keep the focus on the content I produce.
While working on one activity, your mind goes into another one. While writing a new piece, your mind tricks you into focusing on how many people liked your last post or tweet.
On the other hand, Polywork gives me a judgment-free place to share all the things I do and find others to collaborate with while keeping my focus on the stuff I do, such as podcasting, mentoring, and writing.
Now, I use Polywork to stay focused because I know that the process makes you successful, not goals and definitely not the number of likes.
I will keep learning, connecting, collaborating with others, writing, podcasting, mentoring, hiking, playing bass guitar, and more. While I produce work bird by bird, you can follow me on Polywork highlight by highlight.
P.S. I planned to write this post for quite some time. Meanwhile, Polywork reached out to me and sponsored the article. Although the article is sponsored, this is my authentic view and how I use it.
P.P.S. If you don't have a Polywork account, use my V.I.P. code 'candost' so that you can skip the waiting list.