Team Lead Dmitrij: Leadership is About Enabling Freedom
Dmitrij Abolichin

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Meet Dmitrij - team lead of the Karma team and a father of three children. Currently,  Dmitrij is stepping up to Director of Engineering and shared his reflections on leadership, work and life.

 

What do you do at Vinted and why?

I am a developer and team lead of the Karma team, currently stepping up to the Director of Engineering position. The goal of our team is to ensure that our member support experience is at its best. While I still spend some time working on backend development, I am now mostly focused on my team. I support my team members in achieving our goals, help them grow, and care about people's wellbeing in general.

Why am I doing this? Well, for a long time in my life, I have been balancing between technical work and teamwork. I understand that I won't be able to make everything on my own. It's more efficient to do this with a team.

Therefore, while I like technical subjects, I also enjoy understanding human relationships, the way people communicate with each other, and how they lean towards acting in particular ways. It is more complicated than technical solutions. You can study these things in psychology, or by reading books and getting to know people better.

How did you come into a leadership role?

The company I was working at was expanding. People that were working there longer, myself included, got promoted into leadership positions. Initially, I didn't think much of it, but it turned out to be challenging. In hindsight, it was a misconception to perceive the team lead role as a promotion. It's not a promotion, I’d say it’s a complete change of position. You need strong motivation if you want to be a successful leader.

How is work at Vinted different from other organizations?

Here you can be impactful and you are listened to. While not all suggestions are accepted, all opinions are backed by arguments. The decisions made are data-driven and we always measure the possible impact before proceeding with any idea.

I love that Vinted is not as hierarchical as many other companies. You can get to know people personally, even those you don't work with, or have little in common with.

Another thing I like is that Vinted adopts the best engineering practices used in other organizations. And of course feedback: here it is deemed essential for both product development and managing professional growth.

What is vital for growing yourself and helping others grow?

When learning, choosing reliable sources that meet your interests is essential. I love learning from books that are broad in scope and provide overviews of other books and specific topics. Conferences are also great for inspiration – I like hearing interesting statements and digging for more information about them later on. That's why I started writing and keeping notes.

As for helping others grow – I always try to share my knowledge with others. But sometimes, when I see a teammate facing difficulties, instead of helping solve the issue right away, I approach it as an opportunity for coaching and growth. That is, I encourage people to look for explanations and solutions, not just direct answers that might not apply to every situation.

In a way, it’s like teaching children – sometimes you need to stop yourself from intervening to help and let your child make mistakes. It's one of the ways to learn and understand your capabilities better.

What did you learn about leadership after becoming a parent?

People tend to equate leadership and parenthood. While these are different things, they do have similarities. One of them is allowing failure in certain situations. Just as a child can learn from mistakes, an adult can reach meaningful conclusions by looking at the things that went wrong.

Another is giving people more freedom and space at the right time. As a team lead, you have to trust your team to do the right thing, to be self-sufficient and to have enough freedom to achieve the desired results. Initially, you need to provide support, but once the team reaches self-reliance, it's crucial to step back.

And finally, just like with children, you want to create surprises and pleasantries. In a team, these things are okay from time to time. However, I believe that the team shouldn’t rely on external incentives for motivation. It should come from within.

 

How does a group of people become a team?

Trust is the main factor. In our team, we have discussed the importance of mutual trust, not fearing to make mistakes and being vulnerable. It is our responsibility to help each other. People shouldn't be like robots focused solely on work, but instead try to talk to and understand each other.

This kind of support and encouragement is especially important for newbies. You need to give them time to get to know their new environment, colleagues and technology first. All in all, in my opinion, feeling that people trust you and trusting others is what makes a team work.

How do you establish and strengthen trust?

Starting from the early stages of meeting potential candidates and on to the time when they join the team, I always encourage people to be themselves. That means feeling safe to speak your mind, talking about daily life, family, hobbies – the same things you'd discuss with your friends. People should feel free to express themselves genuinely. And the organization should support that: caring about people, putting their needs first and creating an environment in which everyone feels cared for and important.

Have you always been so focused on empathy as a team lead?

No, I haven't. It's quite common to judge people based on what they do. But I think that asking why is equally important. I must admit that I despised this question before and used to jump to conclusions too early. I didn't take into account the many factors our behavior is influenced by and didn't see the broader picture. That's why I now seek to understand the root cause of what is happening and help people find a solution.

I find that in some organisations, motivational methods meant to speed up delivery may cause more harm than good. For example, a system that promises financial bonuses when organizational goals are achieved. Or worse – threats to take away some benefits if KPIs are not met. In this case, performance-based incentive pay may increase motivation to reach target metrics in the short term. In a long-term perspective, however, it might stimulate the changes in employees’ behavior – it would put getting the prize first, instead of reaching the organization’s goals. Moreover, it might end up causing more stress or burnout among employees.

I value intrinsic motivation over external awards. Seeing meaning in what you do, understanding the whys behind specific features and the business value each person can create – this is the kind of motivation we should seek.

Let's not forget personal development. The core thing is to know what gives you meaning. The second step is to keep practicing until you reach mastery in that area. Work will also be one of the means to become proficient. When you enjoy the ride itself, feel part of some significant project and see meaning in the company's vision, financial rewards become secondary. This isn't to say that they are not necessary. However, once you’ve reached a satisfactory income, intrinsic motivation starts playing a more significant role.

What were the biggest influences in your professional field?

Books. At times when I feel that something isn't working the way it's supposed to, I turn to books in search of answers. And quite often books don't give me new solutions, but rather reassure me and reconfirm my thoughts. In essence, I learn that others also find themselves in similar situations. 

If you could host a dinner and invite three people, who would you invite and why?

One person that immediately pops to my mind is Nicholas Taleb. I've read two of his books and follow him on social media. He's quite a complicated personality, and I think that we'd hold a tough and challenging conversation. He talks about uncertainty and chaos a lot. I'd like to discuss economics, life and how to navigate change. Naturally, I'd expect to apply some of the takeaways from that conversation at work.

I'd also invite someone whose actions have left a tragic mark in the world, for example, Hitler or Stalin. I understand that there's something that drives people to do evil things, but it would be interesting to know why. Probably, I'd invite both of them.

It's surprising to me how some people never feel satisfied with what they have. Even those who already have power and money, keep competing with each other to become even more powerful and prosperous. I feel uncomfortable seeing wars happening or companies disregarding moral values for the sake of further growth. I'd like to see more honesty in the world.

What principles do you follow in life and at work?

I trust people and try to understand them. I believe that people are inherently good. Their actions are not based on malicious intentions.

Another one, common in many religions – treat others the way you want to be treated.

I've been playing chess for quite a while now. Good players can predict their opponent's moves. They do it by putting themselves into others' shoes. I also apply this principle in my life. Sometimes it's not possible, as there are multiple things a person may be going through. Still, I try to empathize as much as I can.

What have been the major technological innovations that you have witnessed?

There have been plenty of them, from mobile phone advancement to artificial intelligence.

I enjoyed Taleb's reflection on innovations, which, in his view, are often unintended. If you are thinking about inventing the wheel, it means someone has already done it. And even when the invention is already there, it requires some luck and randomness to create its application.

How will technology change the role of leadership in the future?

I don't think that leadership can be affected by technology. I like the comparison between complicated and complex. For example, the mechanism of the clock is complicated. There are many interconnected parts in it. It's hard to make one, but easy to understand how it's supposed to work.

Weather forecasting is complex. Even though weather predictions for the upcoming few days tend to be pretty accurate, long-term estimates usually contain mistakes. Human relations are also hard to predict. Thus, leaders often have to rely on intuition and experience when making human-related decisions.

How do you keep a work-life balance?

I used to struggle with finding a balance between work and personal life. However, I now understand that not taking some time off work to focus on myself, my hobbies and my family is not only damaging in the long-term. It also sets a negative example for the entire team.

How do you spend your free time?

I usually spend it with my family, taking care of my kids and playing with them. As for my hobbies, I enjoy team sports. My favorites are basketball and football. I have a good time playing them, and they’ve also taught me the importance of teamwork. You can achieve much more in a team than on your own. Encouragement and mutual support is also essential in any group.

Swimming is my perfect way to relax. It allows me to stay focused on my breathing and strokes, and forget about everything else.

What music do you like to listen to?

I enjoy listening to Muse. But I usually listen to random songs or playlists on Spotify. I like its algorithms.

Is there any podcast that you could recommend?

Yes, The Knowledge Project

However, I prefer audio books to podcasts.

Are there any books that you could recommend?

Flow: The Psychology of Happiness by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

 

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