Driving Leadership, Shawn Freed


Shawn Freed, Director of Software Engineering at SRC joins Bill Berthel for a drive and conversation about his leadership which includes continual learning and development, shifting his mindset as his leadership responsibilities grew and the essential balance between achieving tasks and projects as a high-level technician and relating as an effective leader.


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Bill Berthel: Welcome back to Driving Leadership. Joining me today is Shawn Freed. Director of Software Engineering at SRC. Shawn was a participant of our LeadFORWARD program about a year ago. I’m sure today is gonna be a conversation you won’t want to miss. Shawn.

Shawn Fried: Hey, how’s it going, Bill?

Bill Berthel: Going really well. Hey, thanks for doing us today.

Yeah, no problem. Yeah, I, I love our conversations we have. So let’s take a ride and talk a little bit about you and your leadership.

Shawn Fried: Sounds great.

Bill Berthel: Awesome. Thanks.

So Shawn, as we take this ride, don’t be afraid to use your best leadership skills with me because I get lost in my own living room. Okay. So let me know if I need to turn or stop or anything as we’re chatting. Sounds good. I I really appreciate, not that you’ll be in the backseat, but backseat drivers.

Okay. So this is a team sport. Let’s go for a drive. So tell me a little bit about. Your role at SRC, what you do, and how the heck did you get into it?

Shawn Fried: Yeah. Okay. So my role, I am the director of software engineering. I lead a team of a little bit over a hundred people. Wow, that’s a big team. Yeah, it’s pretty, pretty large team.

So yeah, it’s, it’s grown over time. So maybe best to explain, you know, how I got here. So I’ve been at src. I. Started straight outta college back in 2005. So I’ve been here 17 and a half years, almost 18 years now. Congratulations. Thanks. Yeah, thanks. And I started as a, what was called a digital engineer at the time where I was doing like embedded programming and, you know, just came in and was just happy to do what I’m doing.

And I kind of, I kind of took the philosophy of, you know, let, don’t worry about the next thing. Let the next thing take care of yourself and just concentrate on doing the best job you can at, at what you’re at. And so I was. I didn’t have any interest, really. Not interest, but I didn’t really have any plans to go into leadership per se.

I was just enjoying my programming and all that. But as you know, time went on and I kind of got, you know, my feet under me. Opportunities where, you know, at SRC we have what’s called a team lead position where you have a group of maybe three or four people that you kind of work with and supervise.

And so I did that and really found that I kind of enjoyed it. And so when the opportunity came to be a manager where I was still mostly technical, like only maybe 20% of my job was management, I said, yeah, that that’ll be good. So I did that. I think the big change came when. We had the opening for a director, which was gonna be more like 50 people.

And at that time, I remember saying in the interview, I’ve really come to realize that when you’re dealing with technical things, they all operate by the laws of physics. So certainly, there are new challenges, but they all follow physics, so they’re all predictable. Okay. And when you’re dealing with people, People are very unpredictable.

You could spend your entire life studying people and you still won’t have figured them out. And so I said, for me, I’ve kind of taken my engineering and said, I find it more challenging and more intriguing to work with people because I can almost use my engineering skills for that. So.

Bill Berthel: So while we’re prone to the laws of physics, we may not follow them predictably.

Shawn Fried: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. So that’s when I kind of took that leap. And when I first became a director of the 50 people or so that’s when I think it really clicked with me and I was really said, hey, now my focus, rather to be on the technical engineering is really how do I become the best leader? It really, it has been good for me because it forced me to change my mindset. Because previously, you know, I’m, I’m pretty productive, efficient, quick person. And so it was like when I got new opportunities, I’d say, okay, well how do I fit this into my schedule?

I can still do this technical work and I’ll just add on this management on top. And I just need to be more efficient with my schedule. I need to make optimizations, but hitting that number of a hundred people forced me to say, no, I can’t just, I just can’t, you know, add things. I need to prioritize things and let go of some things.

And this is really the first that I’ve said. I’m not gonna be a technical person. That’s not my path forward. I am going to be leading other people and my biggest contribution to the company is leading others.

Bill Berthel: So Shawn, not, not everyone would lean into that mindset shift. What do you, what do you think it is either about yourself or what was it about the situation, circumstances that facilitated that for you?

Or, or, or, or allowed you to do it?

Shawn Fried: I think one of the things that I’ve come to realize in life in general is people are, Resistant to change because they get comfortable and they like how things are. And when you’re faced with an unknown, it could be great and it could be much better, but it could also fail and it could be bad.

And your current situation may not be the best, but it may be okay. But you know what you have. That’s right. And so a lot of times people say, well, I’m just gonna stick with this because I’m comfortable with it. And you know, for me, I embraced the change, embraced the unknown. It was, I was thinking about this when doing this where I was kind of maybe a little bit nervous or intimidated, and it kind of went through, went through my head and mind was when somebody said to me before, if what you’re doing, you’re not a little bit scared or nervous about it, why bother?

Because if you’re not scared or nervous, you’re not growing. And so that’s, that’s really what got me there.

Bill Berthel: I love that. What’s your, what’s your leadership philosophy?

Shawn Fried: Yeah. So I would say my main. Leadership philosophy or brand,

I love that. Leadership brand.

Yeah. Yeah. Is and I, I take this kind of from Adam Grant’s book, thank again, but I think if I were to term, the way I like to lead is Confident humility, and that he talks about that in the book.

And the way I see that is you, you can kind of have the extremes where some people are sort of, Very, I need to prove myself as a leader. And so I’m going to be very proactive. I have my opinions, I’m gonna push for my point of view and I’m gonna be assertive. Mm-hmm. But that can come off as, you know, sometimes cold or not relational.

Or not emotional. And you go the other route, which is, I’m gonna be passive, I’m gonna listen to others, and I’m just gonna let them decide what they want to do. Mm-hmm. And that can kind of come off as well. You’re not actually leading, you’re just having everybody else do everything. You’re just kind of filling the role.

And there’s that, that middle ground as there, there’s tension there where the confident humility is. I’m confident in the direction we’re going. I’m confident that I believe that my ideas are the right way to go, and so I’m going to strive in that direction. But at the same time, I’m completely open to hear other people’s viewpoints.

I’m, I am open to the idea that I am wrong because nobody is right for everything. And everybody. Knows more about something than you do.

Bill Berthel: So you were a participant in our LeadFORWARD program and that’s really where I got to know you. Yeah. And enjoy some conversations. In that program we share the polarity management. Or, you know, working with dilemmas and, and and paradoxes, really paradoxes. What do you think it is about the problem solving tendencies of leaders that gets in the way of managing these creative tensions?

Shawn Fried: Yeah. I think the challenge with that is when you see everything as a problem, you go into a simple, all right, I identify a problem, I can fix that. Here’s, you know, let me try to find a solution for it. There’s a number of ways I can, I could go with this, but I’m just thinking

what’s your natural, yeah, what’s your natural inclination?

Yeah. Another, another aspect that I really am trying to work on that I, I don’t know that I’m very experienced now, but I’m trying to get better day by day, is the, Coaching mindset. And so I tie this together where I say if you say this is a problem and I’m gonna figure out and solve it, you know, you are just doing what you think is best and maybe you’re not pulling at other people and being collaborative.

Right, right. From a coaching environment, it’s not about whether you can find the right answer or not. It’s about whether we can learn from the experience, whether we can collaborate with other people. It’s, it’s about. Allowing other people to go through that process of discovery and what maybe the issue is.

And so that’s you know, one difference I see now, you know, and that’s where it comes in of the polarity theory of sort of, rather than problems to be solved. Polls to be managed Is that tension isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You know, it’s something to be managed. Like when I talk about the confident humility, those are kind of polls because they seem like, it seems like an oxymoron.

Confidence and humility seem to be the opposites. Yeah. But when you put them together, you get the right framework. If you, if you consider it not a problem to be solved of, hey, you’re too confident, you need to be more humble, or you’re too humble, you need to be more assertive and confident, but, these are polls to be managed and you need to be both. It’s a both and not an either or.

That’s exactly right.

You find the what’s best for me and the organization.

Bill Berthel: That’s it. That’s it. Absolutely. So, and your team and folks that you’re coaching. And your peers, right? And your colleagues. Absolutely.

Shawn Fried: Yeah. And it’s not usually the obvious thing. You have the, you know, the obvious thing is do this or this.

And if you say, well, I reject that, those can’t be the only two choices. You have to dig deeper. And that’s when you find, like that third solution. That’s maybe the win-win.

Bill Berthel: I love the idea of digging deeper and I get that concept. Mm-hmm. What does that look like for you? How do you go about doing that?

Shawn Fried: Yeah, let me, let me share another viewpoint that I have. That I took, I actually first saw this on Ted Lasso, but it was a quote from Walt Whitman. Which was the curious, not judgemental. And so from that I try to approach things with a mode of curiosity. And so, part of that digging deeper is somebody, they will come to me with a problem.

They say, this person is not doing what I want them to do. Or you know, I’m not happy with this. And they’re looking for me to solve a problem. Like, oh, I can do this for you, but it’s not usually that easy. And I might come and say, oh, yeah, I could solve this by doing, you know, x, y, and Z.

But you’re choosing what’s good for one person and may be bad for another person. Mm-hmm. What, what’s more helpful is, Talking to them, being curious, saying, tell me more.

Being curious.

Why? Why is this a problem?

Asking questions.

Asking the questions, and then what? What people come to you as The problem a lot of times is a symptom to the problem.

Oh, and you interesting. Dig deeper and find the core of the problem. Then you say, well really the problem isn’t this thing, the problem is this other thing that causes this thing. How can we address that core issue. Hopefully that answers the question, like, how do I dig deeper?

Bill Berthel: And that’s, it’s the curiosity mindset.

Right. It’s the curiosity mindset. And one of your methods is asking questions. I think you’re, you’re being open, right? You’re first reminding yourself, wait a minute, if I just go to a conclusion, a solution or a judgment, which is a form of a conclusion. Well then that ends the process of curiosity, doesn’t it?

What are you doing to keep growing and like, keep stretching your abilities?

Shawn Fried: So, One of the big things that I’ve been doing is reading a lot of several books.

What are you reading?

Probably one of my favorite books that I’ve read was the previous book I read, which was Radical Candor by Kimberly Scott, I guess.

And that one has been great. I actually I had put together a professional book club at work. Nice. Where we would read through a book and discuss it. And so that’s the book that we read.

Radical Candor, you did that together.

Radical Candor. Yeah, we did that one together.

And so it was, it was really good. Cuz one of the things I like about the book is the first half of the book is maybe a little bit more about the theory. But then like, you know, the second half is really specifics of how do you actually implement this. I’ve taken this and I’ve said, okay, I wanna try some of these things.

And a lot of it is about just. Being transparent And being completely honest. And so it, it kind of, it really falls into both that confident humility and the being curious because you are talking with people, you are soliciting other people’s ideas, so you’re being curious You’re being humble to like, you, you might know more than me and I could learn something from you. So, absolutely. But yeah, that’s facilitates that openness. Yeah. Yeah. But yeah, no, that’s, that’s one of the things that I’m trying to do in the future is, How do I not just benefit myself, but how do I help other people to grow and learn?

Bill Berthel: So I think that’s leadership, isn’t it, Shawn? It’s a, it’s a vested interest in other people’s growth and development. Your team, your organization’s growth and development. And leading that self-learning, that continual improvement process. You know, for yourself and with others, right.

You’re, you’re no different. I, I’m speaking for myself. I’m no different Than anyone I’m leading. Right. So we need to be able to continue to grow and, and develop as well, and take a vested interest in our own growth and development.

Shawn Fried: Yeah. It’s like I said, so there’s another area that I kind of prescribe to as well, is if I want somebody to do something, I, I want to lead by example.

Cause I think too often it can come across, if we’re leading, we say, Hey, I want you to do these things. If people are like, well, you want me to do this, but you’re not really pulling your way, you’re not doing anything yourself. So a lot of times I try to like get in the trenches with them and that maybe not doing exactly the same work but being involved, like if I want somebody to put in extra hours, I’m gonna be there with them.

There’s an element of credibility I think, attached to that. Right.

Exactly. Yeah. So my the director that was above me he was all about that. And also he’s like, you need to get out and develop relationships with.

The people. And he was all about that authentic leadership and that really helped me. But then when I switched from that, ma, I don’t know what it was, but when I switched from that manager to that director position It was the first time that I think it clicked for me within the organization that I went from helping to execute other people’s ideas.

And people are saying, I want you to do this. And say, yeah, I can help you with this. I’ll, I will do the best I can. Okay. To help your ideas. To having the freedom to be creative myself and Sort of implement my own ideas and it was some, I don’t know what it was, it was a switch that flipped in my brain that was, I have the freedom that I can try my own ideas and hey, I have things that I think might work and they may work and they may not, but let’s try them out and learn from them.

And so, I’ve loved my current role because of that mindset change. Mm-hmm.

Bill Berthel: Shawn, this was awesome. Thank you so much.

Shawn Fried: Yeah, no, it’s been a lot of fun. Yeah, absolutely. Always fun with you. Yeah, I’ve really enjoyed the talk.

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