With not long to go until our forthcoming conference CTO Craft Con: The People One on 1-3 December, we’re getting very excited. So excited in fact, that we couldn’t wait to pick the brains of one of our keynote speakers, Lena Reinhard, VP of Product Engineering at CircleCI, public speaker, and all-round inspiration on how to be a leader during times of change. Take it away, Lena!

Hi Lena, thanks so much for taking time to chat to us at CTO Craft this week! What’s keeping you busy at the moment?

All things scale! CircleCI is growing fast, and making sure that we evolve our technical, operational, and human systems appropriately is a constant source of busyness for my team and I.

My biggest ongoing task is planning for the next year and beyond, and, with that, identifying the best paths for us to scale further both effectively and sustainably.

Exciting times! So tell me about a leadership lesson you’ve learned or a tip you’d like to share?

2020 has reinforced to me how crucial it is for leaders to manage our operational horizon. The human brain is programmed to narrow its focus in the face of a threat – that’s an evolutionary survival mechanism designed for self-protection. It also means that our field of vision becomes restricted to the immediate foreground. If you’ve worked your way up the hierarchy in your organisation, this can become even more of a pattern to fall into. If you’re very good at the operational level, managing a difficult situation directly can feel thrilling – your adrenaline spikes, decisions are made and quick actions are taken – it feels like you’re adding tangible value, and triggers our reward systems. I call this the ‘operational comfort zone trap’; our instincts and often our prior experience are pulling us towards resorting to what we know, what we’re used to, and what we know we’re good at.

This is why in times of high uncertainty and change, it’s so important for those of us who are leaders to pull ourselves out, take the long view, create and/or maintain sight of the vision and bigger picture.

What does a successful team look like to you, in 2021?

To me, it’s a team:

  • That accomplishes their goals;
  • Where the teammates share strong relationships and can depend on one another;
  • Where everyone shares a clear mission and finds purpose even when things are a bit murky;
  • Where everyone leads in some way – regardless of their level; and
  • That values learning together.

I believe teams that are able to constantly learn from their successes and mistakes increase their resilience, trust, and ability to respond to and drive change.

Last but by no means least, can you tell me your top tip for remote team-building?

Foster leadership at all levels: especially on distributed teams, having people develop and demonstrate leadership skills helps you build a thriving organisation.

Thank you so much, Lena!


Catch Lena Reinhard and some incredible other speakers at our forthcoming CTO Craft Con 2020: The People One on 1 – 3 December.

Find out more and get your tickets here!

If you or your CTO / technology lead would benefit from any of the services offered by the CTO Craft community, use the Contact Us button at the top or email us here and we’ll be in touch!

Subscribe to Tech Manager Weekly for a free weekly dose of tech culture, hiring, development, process and more.