The Happy Engineer Podcast

119: How to Succeed without Compromising Family Values with Aaron Hensler | Director of Technical Integration at Rivian | Husband & Father

In this episode, we are going to confront the tradeoff we all face between work and home with Aaron Hensler, Director of Technical Integration at Rivian. His career trajectory looks like a Blue Angel fighter jet with afterburners on. How do you create the ultimate work-life balance for engineers?

Aaron is also a husband, a father, and a man of faith. His home life is and has always been a priority.

How do you juggle the two? How can you experience tremendous success at work without sacrifice at home? Is that even possible?

The data is in, and the answer is YES. Aaron will share with you how he’s done it over five promotions in five years, and how he continues to do it at the Director level in an EV (electric vehicle) startup and scale-up culture.

So press play and let’s chat…it’s time to let go of lies, untruths, and enjoy success without sacrifice!

Join us in a live webinar for deeper training, career Q&A, and FREE stuff!  HAPPY HOUR! Live with Zach

Get access to bonus content and live coaching as growth-minded leaders build careers together. Join our Facebook Group


The Happy Engineer Podcast

WATCH EPISODE 119: How to Thrive in Your Career and Family Simultaneously as an Engineering Leader


[00:00:00] Excited for podcast, reminisces about past conversations.

[00:06:01] Challenging career decisions, pressure to choose.

[00:09:18] Engineering leaders unsure about long-term goals.

[00:12:47] Testimony envy: ordinary life can be extraordinary.

[00:15:26] “How to achieve success without sacrificing balance”

[00:19:59] Did we learn enough from the failure?

[00:22:47] Relationship building and trust deposits crucial for success.

[00:24:57] Leading whirlpool project with necessary design change.

[00:30:22] Be intentional about work boundaries and culture.

[00:33:25] Struggle with responsibility and teamwork in management.

[00:35:24] Managing emotions, teamwork, and holistic problem-solving.

[00:40:10] Challenge accepted: Untruths limit our future selves, so question societal norms.




LISTEN TO EPISODE 119: How to Succeed without Compromising Family Values as an Engineering Leader

Previous Episode 118: Are You Really as Good at Solving Problems as You Think You Are? with Jamie Flinchbaugh | Top Author | Senior Executive Consultant


From Promotions to Priorities: How Aaron Hensler Balances Work and Life

In this episode, we dive deep into topics such as taking the next step in your career, maintaining work-life balance, and the power of radical responsibility. Aaron shares his personal experiences and insights as an engineering leader, and we navigate the challenges and opportunities we encounter while staying true to my values.

Here are 3 key takeaways from the episode for you:

1. The next step in your career journey is always a new adventure, no matter how far along you are. It takes courage to step outside of your comfort zone and embrace the unknown. But remember, each step forward is an opportunity for growth and advancement.

2. Success without sacrifice is possible. It’s all about having the right mindset and taking intentional actions. By aligning your values, prioritizing what matters most, and building a strong support system, you can excel in your career while maintaining a fulfilling personal life.

3. Building relationships and trust are essential for success. Invest in your “relationship bank account” by being present, supportive, and accountable. When you have strong connections with your colleagues, you can navigate challenges more effectively and achieve greater results together.

I encourage you to listen to the episode and join the conversation! Let’s inspire and empower each other as engineering professionals on this journey to success and fulfillment.



Aaron is a highly motivated mechanical engineer, with cross-functional experience in design and manufacturing; providing leadership experience with clear communication for demanding and dynamic environments. Results oriented with the ability to coordinate multiple projects and teams simultaneously, while efficiently engaging in new technologies for development in both personal and corporate technical expertise. 

A demonstrated history of working in the automotive industry. Skilled in Geometric Dimensioning & Tolerancing, Matlab, Computer-Aided Design (CAD), Laser Cutting, and Engineering. Strong operations professional graduated from Cedarville University.




Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

[00:00:00] Zach White: All right, Aaron Hensler. I’ve been waiting for this day, for months, man. Welcome to the Happy Engineer Podcast, so, so happy you’re here.

[00:00:09] Aaron Hensler: Thanks, Zach. Yeah, real, really excited. I’ve been looking forward to it myself as well. I always enjoy our conversations and, feel like I get a ton of value out of them, and I’m hoping we can bring that to

Expand to Read Full Transcript

[00:00:18] Zach White: the audience today.

[00:00:19] Oh, no question, man. No question. And you know, we, we thought about doing this, what, like in Q3 of last year and then life got away from us and it didn’t happen. So pumped to do this. And Aaron, we’ve known each other for a while. I actually went back and checked. So you were the fifth. Person to go through what is now our flagship signature 90 day program, the Lifestyle Engineering Blueprint.

[00:00:41] It wasn’t even 90 days at the time. It was only eight weeks and so much has changed since then, so. So you’ve been with the Oaco family and Zach White since like the very beginning and it was a really critical moment for you in your career journey when we were in a conversation about.

[00:00:59] An offer that was pending in your career to take a new role that you ended up accepting. But at the time it was still a decision. And you called me up, we set up a session to go through, like, what should I do? Do I take this amazing director promotion at Rivian or do I stay put and, and look for something different?

[00:01:20] And there was a lot going on in your head and heart at that time. And what I thought would be interesting is if you could just take me back to what was happening. And your thoughts. When we connected for that conversation. 

[00:01:32] Aaron Hensler: there’s so many ways that I could go. Even, even the way that you phrased what should I do, like instantly triggers, a thought there.

[00:01:40] But, but maybe just to set the stage, was actually on vacation, in Tennessee. With my family. And I can remember sitting, on our patio on this, V R B O that we had rented and looking out at the mountains and just having this conversation with you and, and thinking through this idea of, can I take this new job?

[00:02:01] Can I take this promotion at Rivian, which is where I am today at this ev startup company at the time. And still maintain my core values, uh, which is family, faith, and prioritizing my life, and career without sacrificing either and really trying to determine what should I do or what could I do, in this situation?

[00:02:27] And, and, yeah, set that call up with you. 

[00:02:30] Zach White: So let’s, let’s talk first about. What we mean by core values, and I know you and I share a common understanding of that now, but it wasn’t necessarily always that way. So when you say my core values are family and faith, what does that actually mean to you? What is a core value?

[00:02:49] Like what are we talking about here? 

[00:02:51] Aaron Hensler: As we talk about core values within my life, I’ve always had them present, but I, I never really defined them well and more importantly, listed them out in order of priority, which we worked through.

[00:03:05] But this idea of, I won’t view what I do as a success if it comes at the sacrifice of. Me being the husband that I want to be, or me being the father that I want to be for my kids, or me being the Christian that I want to be for my church and those around me, these things are very concrete. And then there’s also some more that are a little bit.

[00:03:32] more ambiguous around. I want to be known as a hard worker. I want to be known as a collaborator. I want to be known as adventurous in, in the things that I’m willing to take on. And, risk tolerance and all of those things. setting them out. And so, um, Making sure I honor those of who I am as a person, uh, and not sacrifice them to chase some idea.

[00:03:54] Zach White: Can, can you give an example when you say some of these are concrete? I think, yeah. This is something I, even to this day as a coach, keep coming back to, and we use the word commandments within our coaching program, but this idea of concrete or non-negotiable. Terms of what it means to live out my values, and sometimes they do evolve or change throughout our lifetime.

[00:04:21] What was non-negotiable a decade ago is no longer on my list, et cetera. So what’s an example for you in that category of faith or family of one of these concrete exam, you know, examples of 

[00:04:32] Aaron Hensler: values? I, I think when I initially said that terminology, there’s a clear feedback of pass or fail, you know, like I, with my kids, you know, if they know me as, as the dad that’s always on the phone or always missing dinner, or never at the sporting events, like, that’s gonna be tangible in the way that we interact.

[00:04:52] Yeah. Um, but in addition to where you’re, you’re pointing this idea of, Things that just clearly rise to the top without thinking about them. Like if you ask someone their core values, they might have one or two that instantly trigger. Yeah. and I think on those things, we’re more sensitive to the things that are gonna come and potentially feel like an attack on those and make us maybe more limited in challenging ourselves around those things and shy away from opportunities in our lives.

[00:05:21] Zach White: Yeah. Yeah, it really, it resonates for me. I totally get this. I know it’s hard sometimes to keep that whole picture in our perspective or in our conscious thinking, rather than falling into some default patterns around how we approach our whole life like this. So when I asked the question earlier, you said, I.

[00:05:44] I might have triggered a little bit by using the word should. Yeah. Which for anyone who knows me or has coached with me, would really be surprised that I would use that word, because I’m very intentional about not using it. Mm-hmm. In coaching. And so I would be lying if I said it wasn’t intentional here, but tell me about what triggered you when I said what should you do?

[00:06:04] What was happening inside? 

[00:06:05] Aaron Hensler: Yeah. You right then. that was the terminology I came to you with on that call is what, should I do? And maybe even to take one step back, from that is. throughout my entire career of promotions, which I’ve, I’ve had a lot of them in the, in the past few years, I’ve always looked at the next step and said, wow, that looks like too much.

[00:06:27] I’m happy where I’m at. Maybe I, I wish I could do more, but I see the way that person’s executing that job or the demands put on a director and I’m a senior manager, that’s too much travel or that’s too many phone calls and things that drives the challenge there. from that perspective, this idea of should Like really challenged myself.

[00:06:49] to talk about that, the should statement, when I came to you with that terminology, what should I do? It was external. It was, there is some right path, there is some wrong path, and if I choose one or the other, It’s a nonrecoverable or it’s a mistake. and it’s so funny because I’m not in that mindset in many ways of my life, but these kind of certain decisions put that pressure on that I, I was thinking like a nonrecoverable mistake if I were to choose this and I shouldn’t have

[00:07:25] Zach White: that. Is an interesting distinction I can relate to where certain modes, certain types of decisions throw us off our game, so to speak. Mm-hmm. And it’s interesting how you say that, where, oh, like as an engineering leader, I’m really good at keeping all possibilities open. I don’t close the door on certain assumptions or I’m very intentional, but then, We get into these personal life decisions, maybe it’s with something we need to take care of in our marriage or with a partner.

[00:07:53] Maybe it’s, uh, you know, this idea of what career path, or do I change companies or should we move from one state to another state and, and suddenly we fall into this fixed mindset kind of perspective of one’s right, one’s wrong, and there’s big damage if I go the wrong way because of the pressure, or maybe some conditioning from our past.

[00:08:10] I’m curious, as we had that dialogue. Mm-hmm. is it for you that helps you to become aware of the should and get back into the mode that serves you in making these kinds of big decisions?

[00:08:27] Aaron Hensler: I mean, one, the foundation is this idea of a growth mindset there is the opportunity to improve and learn from every decision. Yeah. But, but more fundamental to that and the thing that empowered me to take the role was the challenge around the idea that I can be different. And I can execute this in Aaron’s way.

[00:08:52] Yes, that may not be right for someone else, but can absolutely honor the things that I want to accomplish in my life without sacrificing my career or, or vice versa. And I can set those boundaries and, and I can set that, definition of success and, and go execute on it in a way that brings value to. My company, my family, and all those that I interact with.

[00:09:18] Zach White: Mm, I love this. Okay, let’s, let’s unpack this deeply cuz I know for a fact, at this point as we’re recording this, so it’s July of 2023 and we’re creeping up on 2000 one-on-one conversations that we’ve had with engineering leaders who’ve reached out for some level of support. Or coaching or needing help in their career to the oasis of courage.

[00:09:42] And Aaron, I could tell you with certainty there are hundreds, if not maybe over a thousand of them, where when we ask that question around, well, what is the long-term goal? How high up the org chart would you like to climb? so as you’ve got maybe a goal for the next thing or something you’re stuck on, tell me about that long-term dream.

[00:10:03] It is extremely common for someone to say. Well, I don’t really know how high up I wanna go because I don’t want the life that I see the VP of engineering living. Yeah. Or I don’t want to give up to your point time with my family or time for my hobbies or staying healthy. Like I see even at the director level sometimes.

[00:10:25] Sure. Like I’m not even sure if I wanna be a director, cuz I look around at the directors of my company and I want nothing to do with the lifestyle. I see them living and so they, create this. Ceiling. I was about to say false ceiling. I’m not sure if it’s false, but in their mind it’s, it’s a ceiling of what’s the level they’re willing to go to because they see those trade offs as like automatic or, or given.

[00:10:46] And so let’s unpack this idea of having it all, doing it Aaron’s way. Like being different. Yeah. And when, for you, did you first buy into the belief. That it could be any different than what you were seeing other people do? 

[00:11:05] Aaron Hensler: I had to be honest about looking at my past and where I was. one thing about my.

[00:11:13] My life, whether you, you call it testimony from a, a religious perspective or, just my, my career journey. you think about like, oh, I’m not special. I’m just average, or maybe I’m good, like I’m doing good, but I don’t feel like I don’t have this magnificent story of a rock bottom.

[00:11:30] And I, I made, I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and I did these things and now look at how great this is. I would feel, I don’t know, inadequate or, limit myself based off of that. Yeah. But then if I would practically look at what I’m executing on, a day in and day out basis and the promotions at each step of my, career at, um, my previous company, Calsonic, I was, Taking the next steps and, taking a bigger picture over the problem statement at each level.

[00:12:03] And as I took on those new opportunities for improvement, like the areas I was able to improve and the people’s lives, I was able to make better in the work. And the quality of the product we were able to deliver was exciting and energizing. And I wasn’t sacrificing the things I was worried about sacrificing.

[00:12:26] And every promotion that I got, I thought this was the most that I would wanna take on, and I would get to the next level. And it’s like, oh,like, I can do this differently. I am doing this differently. Yeah. in fact, at every level I was, I was already doing it differently. and so it was just, Letting go of the belief, that it was a limiting factor.

[00:12:47] Zach White: So interesting to hear you say, I’m not special, and I used to call this testimony envy, Aaron. I, I always had testimony envy in my life. You know, I was the guy who, nothing really extraordinary, bad. Extraordinarily bad happened to me. So there was no big recovery, no hero’s journey until I ended up having my rock bottom experience That has, become an anchor point of why I do the work I do now.

[00:13:13] But even today with the story I have, I’ll sometimes notice someone else’s story or someone else’s journey and say, wow, like, You know, I went through divorce, whoop de do compared to what they went through. And I’ll still feel that testimony envy kind of feeling. Yeah. But j, just to brag on you for a second, you know, when we met, you’d already had five promotions in five years, and it’s just fascinating to hear somebody with the trajectory and the impact and the influence that you had to say, well, I’m not special, I’m just doing my thing and I just to me that’s worth noting that.

[00:13:47] Mm. A lot of times what I feel is nothing special because it’s my life to someone else is extraordinary. Yeah. And we need to be careful with this whole comparison game of, so-and-so’s testimony or experience versus mine. And I know, you know that. I just wanna Yeah. Like let you know, man, you’ve done tremendously well with what you’re given.

[00:14:09] the statement that comes to mind is that a belief is a poor substitute for an experience. Yeah. And it sounds like. The biggest thing that shifted for you was you, you got promotion after promotion, after promotion, scope increasing responsibility, increasing, team size increasing, and you continued to prove to yourself that it is possible that I don’t have to break these boundaries.

[00:14:33] at some level it’s like, okay, well then I’ll go prove that again at the next level. Yeah. 

[00:14:39] Aaron Hensler: Yeah. I, I, I think that was definitely part of it and I. I think, but it, it also in the moment, it, doesn’t feel like the next step is the same as the previous step. Mm. Right. It feels like, well, the, but that one’s gonna be different.

[00:14:51] And, and specifically on the conversation we’re talking about, that’s what the rivian scenario was because it was, yeah, this is the next level up. But it’s a California based company, and I’m in Michigan. That’s a three hour time zone shift. How am I ever going to eat dinner with my family again? That’s, you know, a, a California company, they work 70 hours a week or whatever.

[00:15:14] And so you let more and more of those things devalue your past experience. if you’re thinking about the shoulds and if you’re, you know, yeah. Doubting fundamentally the decision. 

[00:15:26] Zach White: That’s such a good point. I’ll just exclamation point. You have a thousand percent agree one of the like leveling things of life we all have in common that our next level, our next step, the next thing on your journey toward your vision is still the first time you’ve ever taken that step.

[00:15:45] Yeah. And so whether somebody’s a thousand steps behind you, Or where you are at today, or somebody who’s far ahead of you in the journey. We all share that the next step is a step of courage because it’s the first time you’ve ever taken it. Yeah, and that’s a great reminder. It’s like it doesn’t matter how many wins you’ve had.

[00:16:01] The next thing is the first time you’ve tackled that thing. Yeah. And it’s easy to feel that fear again or get into that uncertainty again. So, Aaron, let’s unpack the, what you’ve learned. You know, you’ve got a lot of wins. Mm-hmm. You, you’re facing, even today, you continue to expand your role within Rivian and you’re facing new questions, new challenges.

[00:16:18] So how does someone. Get into the right mindset and then actually execute on this. Like we could talk all day about, hey, you can take a promotion and not sure compromise your work-life balance for engineers. You know, if you wanna use that phrase, I prefer this whole life principle, but regardless, like Aaron’s saying, it’s possible.

[00:16:36] Okay, fine. I’m willing to believe that. How do you do it? Like what? What really needs to happen? So where would you take somebody in terms of what it requires and how to begin? Yeah. Living out success without sacrifice. 

[00:16:51] Aaron Hensler: there’s opportunities to talk about so many different things here and, in many cases, you know, it’s gonna be different depending on the situation that you’re in.

[00:16:59] A couple of things that, come to mind for me. this kind of resonates, I think with the, the Happy Engineer Podcast, but asking the right questions and I’ll, add a comment in the right order. So asking the right questions in the right order, This is a key thing for me that I think has differentiated, my ability to problem solve the right things at the right time and get me the visibility within the organization as a result.

[00:17:26] N not as the goal, but as a result. And so often what I see engineers, doing is this solutionizing before you have the problem statement solved. Mm-hmm. And whether that is. Designing the widget and making the d fema and all of those things around the product design, or that’s looking at the process and why we’re doing this release and why not do it in this order or why not collaborate with this team first or later in the process.

[00:17:56] That whole mentality as rivian terminology, one of our core values is zoom out. and I, I really love that phrase and idea to drive home that point, to ask the right question in the right order so you know where to add value for your team and for the company. 

[00:18:15] Zach White: Is there an example of wrong order that you’ve personally lived out that helped you just get, get to a level of wisdom and, and understanding?

[00:18:28] I. What this is, cuz I mean, the, concept makes sense, but I think in practice, the natural thing that comes to mind for me is like, okay, well then what’s the right order? How do I get that figured out? So maybe if is there a point you could look back to and say, well here’s where I went in the wrong order and how I learned from that.

[00:18:45] Aaron Hensler: The example that comes to mind for me is, um, at my, my first company, which was, first company I worked at was a prototype sheet metal company. So most of our projects were 12 to 16 weeks long. versus two to three years of doing a, uh, a production vehicle in the automotive industry that I work.

[00:19:05] we had this special program where we had gotten two samples of parts and we needed to make one good part out of it. and at the time I was, a manufacturing engineer within the organization. There was maybe 150 people. Totally. So, relatively small company, but I, I had worked into a position where I was in a practical sense.

[00:19:27] Dictating and directing a lot of the manufacturing steps on the floor. My boss was out that, that day. and so a decision had to be made on how we were gonna try to process the first sample. Okay. Um, and so I, being in the mentality that I am and the confidence that I am to present, Present myself, gave direction to the team, of which way we were going to go, and it, it didn’t work.

[00:19:53] Okay. Heads up on the story. Is it, it didn’t. Spoiler alert. It didn’t. Spoiler alert work. Oh man. And so We ultimately, we were down to one part. and the question was, did we learn enough, from the failure that I had given direction on? And as we came back, my boss comes back the next day and we’re talking through this.

[00:20:13] Come to find out he had a totally different strategy of a particular lesson he wanted to learn out of the first trial. And while my decision wasn’t a bad one, I was just thinking about one portion of the modification of the part, and not the whole system, not the whole experience. And so, In that case, I jumped in with my confidence that I think has served me well in my career.

[00:20:40] But because I wasn’t thinking about the whole system and solution and the lesson to be learned out of this trial, but just trying to make it right, we didn’t learn as much out of the first trial as we could have, by zooming out on that, that 

[00:20:55] Zach White: mindset. Yeah. Yeah. Super interesting. So instead of.

[00:20:58] What’s the solution to get the part made it? What do we need to learn? Yeah. On the first part to guarantee or give us the highest probability of success on the second. Completely different way to approach that. Yeah. Yeah. Really good example. So write questions in the right order. Aaron, is there any way other than experience Sure.

[00:21:21] To improve on that point as an 

[00:21:25] Aaron Hensler: engineering leader? Yeah. I mean, I, I think. The first thing that comes to mind, and as engineers, most of us will know the five why, strategy that we apply to problem solving or a failure actually, right? Mm-hmm. The, the most common times we use a five. Why is what went wrong?

[00:21:42] Yeah. and I would challenge if you’re trying to develop this skill, Do the five whys into the decision process and heck, that can be for a personal choice. That can be outside of engineering, that can be into a business case. Like, why are we having this meeting? Okay, why are these people invited into it?

[00:22:02] what is the outcome I’m trying to get out of it? And the more that we can get to the why that we’re doing these things, I think that’s the right question that will then help us, put them all in the right order of priority and, and be more effective with our time and our engineering studies.

[00:22:18] Zach White: Hmm. Okay. I like that. So clarity on the why creates at least a guiding point mm-hmm. Along the journey for which questions may matter the most. As we pursue solutions. I love it. So what else? How do we get to success without sacrifice? Aaron? I’m like, yeah, get the right questions in the right order. What else do we need to do?

[00:22:38] Or, or how do we become the kind of leader who can move up in our career without becoming something we don’t wanna become? 

[00:22:45] Aaron Hensler: I think Springboarding off of the story I shared with you is, is the next one. The idea of building relationships and depositing into the imaginary bank account with people, um, has served me incredibly well with, my career and my ability to manage a growing scope of tasks.

[00:23:08] Hmm. And so I’ll, I’ll give you an example of a failure, going back to the story that I shared with you after we had that failure of the first trial. my boss came back, who was the director of engineering at the time, and we sat in the room, me and him on one side of the table, and then the plant manager and the assistant plant manager on the other side of the table.

[00:23:32] This was completely coincidental into the seeding arrangement, but it was my direction to the plant to make the part in the way that they did. But I sat side by side with my director. Who communicated to them that they should not have moved forward without his direction or aligning with them. And this was an area where, looking back, I should have been on their side of the table.

[00:23:59] Yeah. In front of them being, uh, on the receiving end of that question. Yeah. Right. and this was an area where I felt and dealt with. A subtraction of that bank account to where after that meeting, I know that the plant manager and assistant plant manager talked like, we can no longer listen to what Aaron has to say because one, he’s not aligned with his boss.

[00:24:26] And two, he, he doesn’t sit on our side of the table. Yeah. When things don’t go well. Yeah. and I remember that feeling of like, I, I can never let this happen again. Because that was after years of me building a relationship with those two individuals of doing paperwork for them, getting on a high low and driving parts across the plant for them.

[00:24:47] Like all of these tasks of depositing into the trust and the bank account. Yeah. For when I ask for things was reduced at a very high rate. 

[00:24:57] Zach White: This reminds me when I was a tech lead system integrator kinda leading the whole project from the engineering lens at Whirlpool for one of our big closed dryer launches.

[00:25:09] We had a significant issue. Where we were going to need to change the design in a way, and Erin, you’ll appreciate this, that was very unfavorable for the factory, right? It was like they were not gonna like this. We knew they were not gonna like this, but it was the only path we had that we could solve for that would hit the deadlines and everything else, right?

[00:25:29] I specifically asked my boss, and I’m so glad that he was the kind of person who’s understood and supported this, said, look, we’re having the meeting to reveal the design direction, you know, tomorrow. I wanna get in the car and drive to Ohio and sit in the room with the plant director and the the plant project manager and everybody that I wanna be in the room with them for that meeting while the design team presents virtually from here, the solution so that they know.

[00:25:58] I’m in it with you to the end, like, we’re gonna figure this out and we know this isn’t ideal, it’s not permanent. That was one of the best decisions I made on that entire program because what happens on a conference call, right? they mute the live, they start talking amongst themselves.

[00:26:14] Right. You know how that is. Yeah. And. I would’ve missed all of that really important dialogue. And I know too that they, tempered some of what was said because I was there in the room with them and showing them I get it. This is a bad solution for you, but it’s legitimately the only way and how can I help?

[00:26:31] And what do you need? And, and we’re gonna redesign this and fix it down the road. But anyway. I really appreciate that point around being sensitive, conscious of this bank account, this, this relational bank account. Yeah, and if I connect it back to the idea of success without sacrifice, what I’m hearing you say is if you’re intentional to keep making deposits mm-hmm.

[00:26:53] Then when it comes time for me to draw a hard boundary or ask for what I need or do things in a way that’s different. I have something to withdraw. Is that accurate or would you frame it in a different way? 

[00:27:03] Aaron Hensler: No, that’s exactly it is. That’s where the value comes in, that that interaction and it’s, it almost feels transactional.

[00:27:13] where like we’re pushing for a personal thing and it’s a personal interaction, but the reality is like that is the way that it plays out you have to be thinking. One, this is a person that I’m talking to. Mm-hmm. Who has their own goals and frustrations and things going on in their life and in their career that’s affecting them.

[00:27:34] And so if every time I interact with that purchasing person or that salesperson, and it’s me asking, what can I get there? Why isn’t this done? Or, or when are you gonna get this to me? Et cetera, et cetera, then. those moments where you really need the help. That ask is way different than, Hey, I’ve noticed like we have this loop.

[00:27:58] That’s really inefficient. Or I notice you’re really frustrated over this system. I had some ideas. Can I help? And so when you like, provide solutions to people and then you come to make that request, Hey, I’ve got this challenge, can you help me out? The effectiveness, the efficiency, the willingness to help and cover you, as you grow is very much there.

[00:28:22] Zach White: You know, I’m tempted to. Play devil’s advocate around a couple things here for a second, and, there’s a couple places where, if, I even mean, just think about my own career, Aaron, where I would push back and say like, this is all great and we could list out 10 more tips about how to be, be successful without sacrifice.

[00:28:38] But, but what about, and these are the couple that come to mind. First. One of them is when my boss simply says, this is it like, take it early. Like you, you need to be here 80 hours a week or like you’re going on that trip even though you’re already committed to your daughter’s dance recital that night.

[00:28:57] You know, da da. and how do you handle those kinds of moments, or at least the perception of, I don’t have a choice in the culture of my company and Zach, you don’t know my boss. And Sure. You know, those, those kinds of comments that might come up. What would be your, your coaching or your insight for somebody if, if that’s the mindset that they feel is true where they’re at today?

[00:29:21] Yeah, 

[00:29:22] Aaron Hensler: I totally empathize with that situation. And, I think it would be a disservice to say that, this is all, in all cases, an exaggeration of the reality. So I want to empathize with that position that, that somebody might be in. have found in my experience that setting these boundaries and delivering at a high level enables respect of those boundaries and minimizes those types of requests.

[00:29:58] At the end of the day, we’re all accountable to the product. We’re responsible for the launch issues, the manufacturing like, and that’s part of the job That’s the reality. We have to make money. that’s where we’re at. But I think if we can set those boundaries and then deliver or overdeliver even Yeah, it like, it allows the respect of those to, to be there.

[00:30:22] Zach White: One of the things I tell every engineering leader who I coach Aaron, is be really intentional when you start a new role or start at a new company to. Imagine how you want to show up to work and what those boundaries and the culture and experience around you what that you want that to be like a year from now?

[00:30:40] Yeah, and start acting that way now because it’s so easy to wanna impress people or get off to a quick start or ramp up and put in those 70 and 80 hour weeks, at the beginning. But then, Oops. Like you just told everybody in the team that that’s how you operate. That’s who you are. That’s what you’re willing to do.

[00:31:00] And yeah, it’s harder to change that than it is to just start from the beginning saying, yeah, this is the way that you know, I need to operate. And actually had a client one time within two weeks of her starting a new role, being really intentional about this, realized. They pulled the wool over my eyes in this interview process.

[00:31:20] There is not flexibility here to live the way I wanna live. This isn’t gonna work. Had a hard conversation with her leader and she made the decision to quit a week later because she just said this, this will not sure work for either one of us. So I’m curious, in your experience, those first 90 days, you know, at Rivian when you started that role, how did you establish yourself and your values and boundaries?

[00:31:42] Yeah. Any, any tips on that? 

[00:31:43] Aaron Hensler: I love the example you bring up because I. you’re sincere about your core values or the way that you want to live, is that decision, albeit a hard one, and maybe scary to quit, the company absolutely feels right. and it’s what she should have done.

[00:32:01] And so I think first and foremost is you. You’ve gotta know what you want and firmly believe in it. As it relates to when I started at Rivian, I’ll even raise the level. I was supposed to hire a team of 12 people. There was two of us when I started, we had work for 10. So I was starting at a, a new company.

[00:32:21] A California time hour, the three hour shift. So like dinners could have easily been sacrificed daily. and I don’t have my team, but we’ve got the work that needs to be done That whole mindset, was really helpful. I blocked off my calendar and it’s still blocked off every day from five 30 to seven, which is two 30 to four California time.

[00:32:44] and I have meetings occasionally I do during that time slot, but I don’t accept standing meetings during that time slot and I make. At least four, if not five dinners a week with my family and protect that time. Yeah. And, and I did so when we only had two people on our team and I had to go hire 10 more.

[00:33:03] I think if you’re sincere about it, you absolutely can execute towards it. Yeah. That’s awesome. So yeah, it was good. And that’s awesome. And maybe final comment there, I. had glowing reviews throughout that time of the contribution that I was contributing. And I did so by putting maybe an hour of work in the evening after my kids were asleep because my core value was my kids.

[00:33:23] Right? And so there was able ways to, to, to manage that time. I love 

[00:33:27] Zach White: that. It’s, it’s great to just hear the story and, and again, to create a sense of possibility that it can be done. Yes. So the last thing before we run outta time, I really wanna hear your perspective on. Something that I’ve personally struggled with, and I know lots of engineers struggle with, is the tension between two different, I’ll call them values, but maybe just mindsets.

[00:33:52] I’m not sure what the appropriate word would be, one of them being. The common theme that you’ll hear around what I call radical responsibility or Jocko would call extreme ownership. Yes. Yep. This idea that, hey, if I’m a director of engineering, everything in my purview is my responsibility. And if it doesn’t get done because someone on my team failed, I still own that because it’s in my space and I’m the one who’s gonna take action on that.

[00:34:17] And it doesn’t matter how it got here or whose faults it is, I’m gonna own this. That’s my, that’s my job. Yeah. And on the other side is this idea of saying, if I constantly go through my life, letting other people’s priorities and their mistakes or their things dictate everything about how I show up.

[00:34:37] Then I’m in a way becoming a victim to other people’s inadequacy. Yeah. Or fill in the blank. Or, maybe we would wave the banner of being a team player. as the, the right way to do it. But then it’s like, Well, Aaron, I always have to be at work because so and so didn’t get the job done.

[00:34:53] I need to get the job done. It’s like, yeah. But the opposite of that say, well, I don’t care if you failed. That’s your problem, not my problem, and I’m not a team player. Mm-hmm. Doesn’t resonate well with people. So how, how do you dance between radical responsibility and what that really means, but not coming across as isolated or independent or like, I don’t care about.

[00:35:15] The failure of the team. I’m gonna go have dinner with my family cuz that’s, I already did my part. It’s your problem. You fix it. Yeah. what are your thoughts about that? Yeah, I mean, 

[00:35:24] Aaron Hensler: I think we, we touched on the emotional bank account, I think contributes to that significantly. I think in addition, I have to be careful how I say this, but.

[00:35:35] At my current company, there have been weeks where I’ve worked less hours than any of my other previous roles, like consistent, not one off. I took a vacation, like consistent, built around this idea of. Managing the team, working cross-functionally on the tasks. And so one illustration I’ve used in training other leaders underneath me or around me is this idea of swim lanes.

[00:36:02] where when you’re an individual contributor, You think about what’s next in your progression to move forward and this is your swim lane and you might be working next to another engineer or a, a buyer or whatever in the team, and they have their own swim lanes. And I’ve discovered, or maybe kind of put into practice the idea that.

[00:36:23] If I think about us all as a team and we all need to reach the finish line, sometimes the most effective tool for me is to focus on myself. And I need, three hours today to get this PowerPoint done or activity done. And sometimes it’s looking at the cross-functional team and seeing somebody’s falling behind and rallying everybody to go get them up to speed because it, it pays dividends in the long runs.

[00:36:48] So when I think about extreme ownership from Jocko as a great example, one that has to be true throughout the entire organization. If you’re the only person doing that, yeah, you’re in trouble. But you can inspire that cross-functionally within the team. And if you’re the leader of the team already, bringing the whole team and pushing that extreme ownership down.

[00:37:09] Being the leader in Jocko’s book, he talks about the mission planner. Mission leader wanted the feedback from the team on what should be done and how to progress. Yeah. And, and, and get that feedback. So, I think you can absolutely live within that tension and succeed there. If, you’re thinking from a, holistic perspective of the problem statement.

[00:37:28] Hmm. 

[00:37:30] Zach White: So glad you brought up the point that radical responsibility or extreme ownership is an everyone mindset. Yeah. Not just you. And if you find yourself in a situation where you’re the only one. That’s not a sustainable way to show up. You know, like there, there’s a real problem there within the organization, but a lot of people don’t think about the truth or even the possibility that, you know, Aaron, if you’re my boss, I’m 100% responsible from my results and outputs of what’s been given to me to get that job done.

[00:38:04] And you are 100% responsible for my outputs and results and delivery. A lot of people don’t. Get it. They think of it as like a, some sort of pie that we’re slicing. Only one of us can. Right. You know, we look at racy, but what’s the distinction between responsible and accountable? We want to get really nuanced about it.

[00:38:19] It’s like, well, no, no, no. It’s just. We’re both responsible, like, yep. And we need to treat it as such. And when you get that kind of culture, it’s a different ballgame. Oh, Aaron, we could go all day, man. I wanna be respectful of your time and, uh, I think people are gonna have questions for you and be curious, but I just wanna say thank you for sharing, your story and these examples of how it is possible to show up in our careers at a very high level and growing.

[00:38:46] You’re not done yet, and still honor. Your whole life (work-life balance) balance and your values the way you want to. So if someone wants to connect or just follow your success and your story from here, what are the ways that the happy engineers out there can. Learn more or connect with Aaron Hensler. 

[00:39:03] Aaron Hensler: LinkedIn is, the primary, social media tool that, that I use. you can find me there under Aaron Hensler on LinkedIn and, and send me a message reference. This, I, I get a decent amount of, spam messages, so that’ll definitely help me filter through that.

[00:39:17] But, uh, would love to connect and spend time. I’m definitely willing to give up. time for coaching or conversations, along these things to help you guys move forward. 

[00:39:25] Zach White: amazing. So send Aaron a note and be in the first line, very specific. You heard him on the Happy Engineer podcast, or you’ll get spam filtered.

[00:39:34] We’ll put a link, uh, direct link to Aaron’s, uh, LinkedIn profile in the show notes. So encourage everybody to take advantage of that. And if nothing else, just follow him and see where his career path and, and success goes from here. I’m excited to watch that. So, Aaron, You know, you’ve experienced it as a a client, you’ve done it as a coach yourself, and as a, very influential leader in every company you’ve been a part of.

[00:39:57] But questions lead, answers follow. So if we want better answers, we need to start asking ourselves better questions. So what would be the question that you would lead the happy engineer with today? Yeah. Um,

[00:40:12] Aaron Hensler: I first heard this idea actually from rj, who’s the C e O of Rivian, uh, at a, O E S A event, which is a, automotive supplier event.

[00:40:21] He was there presenting and this was back in 2016 or so, so a decent while back. And he, he talked about the mission of Rivian, and why they want to exist and why we build what we build. And he, he presented this idea that we want to prove that certain untruths are. Not truth. And so he specifically didn’t say lies or, or misconceptions.

[00:40:49] He said, untruths. and the difference here is this idea of things that we as a society or as a person, have accepted as a truth, but it’s not. And so it’s masquerading as this limit in our lives. And so my question to the listeners is what untruth. Have you accepted in your life that’s preventing you from taking the next step in your career or your personal life that, that you are limiting the future self that you could become.

[00:41:21] And, and in my case, it was almost this idea that I can’t have success without sacrificing. And so that’s, that’s the lesson or thought that I wanna leave the audience 

[00:41:32] Zach White: with. What untruth have you accepted? That’s holding you back so powerful. Aaron, thank you for your generosity. Congratulations on your success, and I wish you continued tremendous success at home in your values and at work with the products and people that you impact every day.

[00:41:52] Thanks for being here, man. This was awesome. Yeah, thanks Zach. Appreciate 

[00:41:55] Aaron Hensler: it.