By Lucas Novelo, Engineering Manager - Brazil
2020 was an unpredictable year for all of us. Even though Covid-19 started in 2019, back then we didn't know that it would become the worst pandemic of last century. The year started very well for me - I got the opportunity to give people management a try. I always wanted to take this path, so it was a blessing to get the news that I would get the opportunity to lead a team.
Unfortunately, things changed fast, the virus spread incredibly quickly and doors around the world got locked. Everyone started to #stayhome and I - a brand new, unprepared manager - was now leading a team. If I knew that 2020 would be that hard, I honestly don't know if I would have accepted the opportunity - I don't even know if the opportunity would have been given to me. 2020 became the year of "I don't know" for many of us.
The year was difficult for all kinds of businesses. The whole world was afraid of this new threat. People usually avoid taking risks when things are bad and this impacted Yieldstreet as well. We've made a decision to drastically limit the deals on our platform to be cautious during the pandemic. This affected our revenue growth... tension was increasing. As a manager I had to keep the motivation up and convey the message that the company would overcome this, but only if people kept working. Many times my direct reports came to me preoccupied with thoughts on their future. My advice was what I thought at that time - I knew I wouldn't leave the company, even if I was at risk, so I said the same to them - believe in their own work, believe that they matter, and believe that we would get through this. The fun fact is that I was afraid too, but every time I said those things to them, I was also more confident that we would defeat this (and - spoiler alert - we did!)
We didn't know when things would get better, but we kept working. With that in mind, I tried to deliver the best job I could. As a manager and also an engineer, I was struggling with time management - I still do - and also other things like communication, conflict management, strategic thinking, and many others. I almost forgot to mention the eternal fight with the saboteurs in our own mind.
However, one thing I have learned very fast: managing people is not easy. Managing people without experience, during the worst sanitary crisis of the century, was, let's say, a unique challenge. I'm not saying that my direct reports were difficult people, I honestly can say that I'm very lucky to work with terrific colleagues. They helped and are helping me during the whole thing. Also, Yieldstreet is a great place to work. They have been providing lots of support with training, coaching, meetings, books and, of course, patience.
I have to say that patience is a manager’s ally. We must understand that people are not machines. Their answers are not exact, or even immediate. People don't always know how to express their feelings or what they need, so patience is the key to understanding. You start to learn that it is more important to listen than to talk. It is more important to ask for a solution than to give it. Your success is measured by the success of your team. You are not one, you are the company.
After some time, the company started to get back on track. We were back! We started to bring more deals back on the platform and the metrics started to rise again. All of us were more optimistic about the worldwide situation. The good news also brought back the old challenges. I was still learning how to be a manager. And I want to highlight a particular challenge: how to motivate people. I learned, back then, that you just can't do it. Yes, correct, you can't motivate people. What you can do, though, is to create an environment where people can be motivated by things that are relevant to their interests. For example, one of my direct reports said that they would like to be exposed to more technical challenges. All I did was provide more opportunities to expose them to it. I learned that this is a constant effort, we need to pay attention to the team all the time, trying to make the best environment possible for them. This may be the only way to keep the team motivated.
All of these were lessons that I learned, and with time I will continue adding more and more items to that list. Managing is not an exact or static science. Of course, we use some literature to guide us, but it is still something that each manager will do differently, according to the people they will work with. Because people will always be different and the approach should be different too.
I honestly appreciate being a manager at Yieldstreet. I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to work with amazing people that are helping me become a better leader. Yes, Covid is a pain for all of us. Nonetheless, it fueled my development, exposing me to so many difficulties that maybe I would have never experienced. As Roosevelt said "A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor", and I believe the whole experience made me stronger.
Things will get better and we all go back to work together, face to face, as humans, not screens and finally let these hard times in the past. It's all about time now, and my first experience as a manager during pandemic times will be a good story to tell.