Category Archives: Leadership
This blog post is a continuation from a previous one called Leading Leaders
“We must be the change we wish to see in the world”
Everything you do as a leader is watched, assumed or guessed at. People will copy your behaviors. Your behaviors are contagious. People will guess at what you are thinking, they will interpret your facial tics and what they think it means. The absence of your behavior or body language will also be interpreted by those with any level of emotional intelligence. Your behavior, intended or not, is contagious. And people will copy it or comment on it.
Steve Blank recently wrote a good example for how contagious perceived leadership behavior can be, in the following post Leadership is More Than a Memo.
It’s so important to practice what you preach and set the example: You can preach respect and integrity all you want; it won’t mean a thing when you ignore someone’s opinion.
There are many traits that you need to model as a leader. Your thoughts, ideas, and values can’t stay in your head, they need to be expressed in actions and behaviors so others can see them.
You will often need to combine otherwise conflicting traits such as confidence and humbleness, or find balance in a particular trait like empathy. Too much confidence will can lead to assumptions of arrogance, and too much humbleness will lead people to think you are timid, weak, and uncertain. Too much empathy can overwhelm a person, whereas too little empathy can lead others to believe that their relationship with you is artificial.
You need to be adaptable to be able to communicate at a high bandwidth with different individuals. So the words, thoughts, and ideas you share with one person may look different than the way you share it with someone else. The balance changes for every set of people, and even how a person is responding to you that day. If you are looking for a job that is consistent, leadership is not it.
While variance and adaptability is a key part to leadership, as a leader you need to consistently model particular traits in order to build trust. The following traits and topics will overlap.
“Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions.”
Harold S. Geneen
Each trait will have some quick points, quotes, some will have thoughts, for you to think about and questions for you to answer, as well as a collection of resources I have found helpful.
As I keep learning about humans, grammar and leadership I will update this post from time to time.
- Being Authentic
- Showing Empathy
- Being Transparent
- Showing Appreciation
- Being humble
- Showing Accountability
- Show that you respect Time
- A growth mindset for your people
- Clear Communication
- Good at Influencing others
- That you Learn and grow
- That you respect Diversity
- That you can make Decisions
- That you are Coachable
- That you build Trust/Psychological Safety
You may think after reading this list, you are all good, that you cover all of these traits. The reality is that we, like any of us, in the human race will NOT be able to get the right mix of all of these things, all the time. You are a human being, not Supergirl, even she makes mistakes.
Being truly self aware is hard and how we impact people with the unintended ripples in the pond that spread beyond us, from the words that were uttered when tired or triggered. Again you are a human being, unless you are an AI..
We will make mistakes because we are human, and we have 191+ cognitive biases, and that we have not encountered every type of person (in every state in their life, or every culture), or every type of project.
What makes Leadership better (not easier) is talking, sharing, learning, having a coach, having a mentor, being in the room with people different perspectives. What makes leadership amazing is growing a culture of psychological safety throughout your team, department, organization and maybe one day the world. That is a another blog post(s) for another time.
I truly welcome your thoughts, experiences and perspectives. Share them so we all become better.
Make it safe to approach you, give time to be approached, be present and follow up
“Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”
— Colin Powell
Employees whose managers are open and approachable are more engaged. And those who can talk to their manager about non-work things are even more engaged. People who find you approachable will share information and ask for your advice. Successful senior leadership is about being able to include people who can openly give you the information you need.
The best managers make a concentrated effort to get to know their employees and help them feel comfortable talking about any subject, whether it is work related or not. A productive workplace is one in which people feel safe (Psychological Safety) — safe enough to experiment, to challenge, to share information and to support one another. In this type of workplace, team members are prepared to give the manager and their organization the benefit of the doubt. But none of this can happen if employees do not feel cared about.
In organizations where the Leaders are approachable, are much more able to catch things before they go wrong and this in turn encourages strong connections throughout the organization. As a leader you are setting tone, to talk who you need to, when you need to, this helps counteract, communication barriers created by title, position, influence, department, etc
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
— Maya Angelou
Thoughts on encouraging approachability:
- Show warmth, smile and be easy to talk to
- Be seen, out and about – do not let your calendar get full of meetings
- Be present, attentive and actively listen to others
- Approachable leaders learn names and ask questions
- When you get ideas and suggestions from colleagues or your team, appreciate them.
- Avoid sarcasm – be more straightforward
- Be consistent in your actions to avoid being seen as moody, as people will be less inclined to talk to you, where as smiles draw people in
- Approachable leaders share their mistakes, people see you as a human
- People want to know you. Don’t hesitate to share a story or two about yourself that shows something about your character
- Consider making extra effort to be gentle with people who are easily intimidated, or less prone to go “toe to toe.”
- Approachable leaders tell the truth
- Be helpful
- Be mindful of the clothes you wear and the message they send
- Respond and follow up, when given ideas or suggestions
Ways to kill approachability:
- Walk around the office with headphones on
- Avoid eye contact
- If you are lost in your phone/computer or always have headphones on people will not find you approachable.
- Multitask in meetings
- Be known to be judgmental (whether it is true or simple perception)
- Talk too much without listening, or interrupting or taking someone else story/questions
- Appear angry, or frustrated
- Hide in an office or create overt physical barriers
- Break promises or forget to follow up
Questions on approachability:
- Do random people come to talk to you?
- How do you make your time available?
- How rushed are your in one on one meetings?
- Do you pass credit for ideas given to you?
- How much do you know about your people?
- How do you encourage your leaders to ask you questions?
- Are you approachable to all people, regardless of their race, gender or level in the organization?
- How good are your inter departmental connections, how good is your non work network?
Resources for Approachability:
- Blog -> How Approachable Are You?
- Blog -> High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here’s How to Create It
- Blog -> Why psychological safety matters and what to do about it
- Book -> Outliers: The Story of Success
- Book -> Strengths Finder 2.0
- Book -> Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
- Book -> Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success
- Blog -> If You Multitask During Meetings, Your Team Will, Too
You are human, they are human, share life, its joys and horrors
“Authentic Leaders are not afraid to show emotion and vulnerability as they share in the challenges with their team. Developing a solid foundation of trust with open and honest communication is critical to authentic leadership.”
Farshad Asl, The “No Excuses” Mindset: A Life of Purpose, Passion, and Clarity
I think the leaders I have most trusted are those who are authentic, share their opinions, admit to their failures, build plans with their teams (as opposed to building it on their own), and advocate for you and your career. If things change they admit to it.
We trust people who we feel are authentic and often they will inspire us. Authentic leaders give you the sense they are the same at work and at home. When a leader divides their personality between work and home (sometimes to protect themselves) this leaves gaps that others can sense or see. This often leaves an impression of a lack of authenticity, and can create a space for distrust.
Authenticity creates trust. We’re drawn to those who “keep it real,” who realize that they aren’t perfect, but are willing to show those imperfections because they know everyone else has them, too.
Authenticity doesn’t mean sharing everything about yourself, to everyone, all of the time. It does mean saying what you mean, meaning what you say, and sticking to your values and principles above all else.
Authentic means, do not be passive aggressive – be open and clear with your communication. If you have say something to choose the environment, timing and say it.
If you are comfortable to be completely yourself as a leader at work, everyone else will feel safe to be themselves.
“Extraordinary things begin to happen when we dare to bring all of who we are to work.”
“We are all of fundamental equal worth. At the same time, our community will be richest if we let all members contribute in their distinctive way, appreciating the differences in roles, education, backgrounds, interests, skills, characters, points of view, and so on.”
— Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations
Thoughts on Authenticity:
- What are you your Values and Principles? Write them down, understand them and check your behavior against them. Reflect on them at regular intervals. Do you have a work self and personal life self?
- How often do you reflect?
- Who are your mentors, advisers and coaches?
- How do you get feedback from your reports?
- How often do you solve problems with your team?
- When you make a decision do you rely on authority of your position or do you explain why?
- How much does your team know about you? How well do you know your team?
- Do you share your failures and what you learnt?
Resources on Authenticity:
- Blog -> What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It)
- Report -> Uncovering talent – A new model of inclusion
- Blog -> 4 Ways to Get Honest, Critical Feedback from Your Employees
- Book -> Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness
- Blog -> Be Yourself, but Carefully
- Blog -> Most Employees Feel Authentic at Work, but It Can Take a While
Bring your whole self to work – Mike Robbins TEDxBerkeley
Pay attention, be vulnerable, respond/acknowledge and care for others
“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
— Theodore Roosevelt
We are not robots or even resources, we are humans. Humans come with emotions, feelings and passions. Apathy is a lack of feeling, emotion, interest, and concern. One of the most common interview questions in the US is “What are you passionate about?” We want to see people alive, maybe even passionate and human, not apathetic. Can you imagine a workplace with no feelings, no laughter? Is that a place you want to work?
A leader who develops their emotional intelligence will be less likely be caught off guard by what their reports do. A leader who can be present, listen and understand their reports’ rational and emotional states will be able to support and inspire them.
There are at least two types of empathy to consider:
Beyond listening, try your best to understand your fellow team members and their perspectives. Listen to their ideas, ask about how they got there and the root problem they are trying to solve. Understand the journey as well as the conclusion.
You’ll benefit from showing affective, or emotional empathy. This means attempting to share the feelings of another. For example, if a colleague shares a struggle, you may think: “Well, that’s not such a big deal. I’ve dealt with that before.” This sort of response can strain a relationship. Instead, when this happens, try to think of a time when you felt stressed or overwhelmed, and draw on that feeling to help you relate.
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
— Brené Brown, Daring Greatly
Leadership is as much about vulnerability, as it is about confidence.
Showing empathy to your colleagues, will help create strong authentic relationships that will help to grow an amazing culture, and will survive the tough times when they come.
Thoughts on Empathy:
- How do you protect people who are shy or introverted?
- How do you protect people who are “Cultural Add” or a diversity hire?
- How do you react to failure and crisis?
- What do you do if someone cries or loses their temper?
- How do you build connection with people?
- How often do you check in with people?
- If they are having a bad day, how do you spot it or how do you check in to make sure they are not alone?
- How do you forgive people?
- How do you form opinions? Are you judgmental? Can you forgive and move on?
- How do you make people feel safe? Not just in the moment, but in the department, throughout the whole year?
- Do you admit when you got it wrong? And than do something about it?
- Do you look at people as you pass them in the corridor?
- Do people come to talk you?
Resources for Empathy:
- Blog -> Why Do So Many Managers Forget They’re Human Beings?
- Book -> Emotional Intelligence 2.0
- Video -> Brené Browns TED Video
- Book -> Daring Greatly
- Book -> Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity
- Blog -> Why Do So Many Managers Forget They’re Human Beings?
- Blog -> If You Aspire to Be a Great Leader, Be Present
- Book -> Sticky Wisdom
Share information, be proactive, focus on messaging and who knows the plan
“Shame derives its power from being unspeakable.”
— Brené Brown, Daring Greatly
There’s nothing worse, than the feeling that leaders don’t care about keeping you in the loop, or even worse, that they’re keeping secrets. Transparency does not have to be “Radical” to be effective, there is a balance. Does your culture have a lot of hierarchy or levels? Does this limit or slow down information? Is you culture overly autocratic or command and control? Is one person making decisions? Do they get upset if others implement ideas? All of these factors will create resistance for information to flow and create a less transparent culture.
Make sure your vision, intentions, and methods are clear to everyone on your team and that they have access to the information they need to do their best work.
The essence to good change management is that people do not feel surprised, that they could see what was going to happen. Even better if they were a part of the problem finding, problem solving, decision-making and implementation process.
Gossip & Grapevine
Wherever you leave gaps of information, gossip will arise, people will start to make assumptions. You will hear a lot of information and personal opinions. Gossip a natural thing amongst humans. You will have to be good or become good at filtering the chaff from the wheat. Whilst gossip may give you speed of information you will not get from a more formal route, but be careful of trusting it. As a leader you should kill gossip with facts. Where you can get ahead of gossip by proactive with intentional sharing.
If you delay information and people find out from another source, you will lose trust. Or worse they might think you are not in the loop. How much do you share that is true as opposed to gossip? If trust is damaged, your team may stop talking to you, and start gossiping with others.
Teams, departments where the leader is judgmental or disconnected, information will not flow fast and some will never travel at all. People will hide or delay information if they are scared of what “the boss” thinks. This will likely also create a strong gossip vine, of incorrect or misinterpreted information.
Employees want to be kept in the loop. If an organisation fails to provide information, employees will go about searching for it in their own way e.g. gossip. To keep employees engaged, organisations need to be transparent. This will minimize distractions, establish trust in leadership, and allow employees to maintain focus on their work rather than going around trying to discover who’s doing what and why.
Copy the Behaviors of the Best
By being radically transparent about performance, companies make sure they are rewarding the competent, not the confident. This helps newer employees see what the most successful employees do, allowing them to easily model the behaviors of the best. As a result, the whole workforce progresses faster, creating a culture of continuous improvement and engagement.
“Don’t move information to authority, move authority to the information.”
— L. David Marquet, Turn the Ship Around!
Transparent organizations get information to people, often this will lead to much easier change management, less surprises, also people giving solutions to problems they see. There is often much stronger trust between organizations and its people when they are more transparent.
Thoughts on Transparency
- Information audit on who you share information with and why
- There should be no surprises, if there has to be, be mindful how you share the information
- Bring people in early to help problem-solve
- Messaging can lead to over selling and a disconnect from reality
- How much information do you pass on?
- What information do you hoard?
- How surprised are your people about changes? Ask them on a regular timeframe, did anything surprise you?
- Change is always emotional difficult, how do you make it easier?
- Cognitive Biases can get in the way
Resources for Transparency:
- Blog -> Yes, You Can Make Office Politics Less Toxic
- Book -> Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders
- Blog -> Radical Transparency Can Reduce Bias — but Only If It’s Done Right
- Book -> Principles: Life and Work
Thank people for their work, Celebrate the wins, show appreciation during failure
“Recognition is largely about behavior. Appreciation focuses on performance plus the employee’s value as a person. Recognition is about improving performance and focuses on what is good for the company. Appreciation emphasizes what is good for the company AND what is good for the person.”
— The Five Languages of Appreciation
Appreciation is a key part of motivation. How it is delivered depends on the individual. How appreciation should be shown depending on the achievement. Appreciation should be a cornerstone of your culture.
When you appreciate and praise others, you satisfy a basic human need. As your colleagues notice that you appreciate their efforts, they’re naturally motivated to do more. The more specific, the better: Tell them what you appreciate, and why.
And most if not all people deserve appreciation, commendation, recognition, respect, or esteem for something. By learning to identify, recognize, and praise those talents, you bring out the best in them. If you are not sure what peoples strengths are Strengths Finder 2.0 has a tool to be able to highlight what people are the strongest at.
The single highest driver of engagement, according to a worldwide study conducted by Towers Watson is whether or not workers feel their managers are genuinely interested in their wellbeing.
“The difference between appreciation and flattery? That is simple. One is sincere and the other insincere. One comes from the heart out; the other from the teeth out. One is unselfish; the other selfish. One is universally admired; the other universally condemned.”
― Dale Carnegie,
Here is a slide deck I did on Gratitude or saying Thank You:
Thoughts on Appreciation:
- Know exactly how each member of your team likes to receive appreciation. Yes ask them directly. If they are unsure, use a question set to tease it out
- Do team members prefer recognition in front of their team, or the wider public or only in private?
- Keep evolving and growing ways to show appreciation e.g. handwritten note, gift, have more facetime
- Create a list of each of your reports for what they like e.g. their favorite drink is, they love this cuisine or dish.
- Work with others to create an agreed list of career events that should be consistency celebrated e.g. promotion, birthdays, having babies, etc
Resources for Appreciation:
- Book -> O Great One!: A Little Story About the Awesome Power of Recognition
- Book -> The 5 languages of appreciation at the workplace
- Research -> Men Get Credit for Voicing Ideas, but Not Problems. Women Don’t Get Credit for Either
Being humble (checking your ego)
Balance your ego/confidence with humility, realize you are not always right, listen
“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
Confidence is important for success. But we are full of errors. There are at least 191 cognitive biases that we can all fall for. Everyone one of us makes bad decisions or has had experience that taught us the wrong lesson. For example, leaders who have become successful because they are decisive, without good advisers, they can become judgmental.
Too much confidence may stop others from sharing vital information with you, because you are unapproachable, or they may feel you know everything. Too much confidence can also kill creativity, from others.
“Judgment hinders imagination.”
― Roger Fisher, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In
Be humble. Being humble doesn’t mean that you never stand up for your own opinions or principles. Rather, it means recognizing that you don’t know everything and that you’re willing to learn from others.
It also means being willing to say some difficult words when needed: I’m sorry OR I was wrong. And mean it.
Questions on Ego:
- When are you an arsehole? e.g. hungry, lack of sleep, ill, new baby, overwhelmed, implementing policy that you do not agree with?
- What are your buttons, when pushed you find it hard to control your emotions?
- Who do you trust, to give you good advice?
- Who will tell you like it is?
- Who tells you when you got it wrong to your face? How do you react?
- How do you explain your opinions?
- Do you think your opinions matter more than other peoples?
- Who calls you out when you are wrong?
“Do you know how you can tell when someone is truly humble? I believe there’s one simple test: because they consistently observe and listen, the humble improve. They don’t assume, ‘I know the way.’”
Ryan Holiday – Ego is the Enemy
Resources for Ego:
- Blog -> People Don’t Actually Know Themselves Very Well
- Blog -> What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It)
- Book -> Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self Interest
- Blog -> Why Real Leaders Don’t Care About Titles Or Formalities
- Blog -> Why There Are No Job Titles at My Company
- Blog -> Do You Have a Controlling Personality?
- Book -> Ego is the enemy
Own your own shit, give feedback direct, respect failure, learn from failure, share failure
“Implementing Extreme Ownership requires checking your ego and operating with a high degree of humility. Admitting mistakes, taking ownership, and developing a plan to overcome challenges are integral to any successful team.”
— Jocko Willink, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win
The Leader ultimately assumes responsibility for their teams’ successes and creates the structure and processes to help their teams deliver on expectations. They also own the failures, and they work towards learning how to prevent them, and prepare the team for the future.
“When it comes to privacy and accountability, people always demand the former for themselves and the latter for everyone else.”
― David Brin
Delegation is not giving away accountability
I have seen a number of times where C Suite or senior leadership have delegated a problem or an idea to a leader. Than the senior leadership does nothing. It as if the problem/idea has being removed from their brain. They do not encourage others to get behind the leader in any meaningful way. I called this ‘Delegate and Abandon’, sometimes work out but if this thing affects stakeholders or multiple peers and it is not on their priority list, they could be holding a ‘poison cup’ and slowly the thing will fail and that leader gets to take the fall.
If you delegated something you are still accountable for the success and you should work with the person you delegated the thing to. Setup checkin times, agree how all parties should ‘play’ in this way and how you can help. Yes, let the leader set the tone, but be an advocate and be available. Do not delegate and ghost..
Do not delegate feedback
Too often I have seen people give feedback via other people e.g. their bosses, rather than talk to the them direct. You are accountable to owe your own feedback. This indirect feedback, loses context, specifies that need to be understand and heard by the receiver – and create poor quality feedback. In my experience, it also creates a lot of toxicity in a culture where people cannot talk directly to each other – through gossip, politics and reputation management.
So next time you have something to say to someone, talk to them directly, not through their boss, HR, or some other way. In you are a leader you need to own this.
Why is accountability avoided?
In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Avoidance of Accountability is highlighted as one of the five dysfunctions.
In the Book Mistakes were made (but not by me) it looks at the consequences that our tendencies to under-rate our own culpability for mistakes and misdemeanours has and to over-rate the intention and severity of the actions of others when committed against us. The ‘us’ here is not just ourselves personally, but also the ‘us’ as a group or as a society as a whole.
Are you inadvertently sending a message that erodes ownership and responsibility among subordinates? We were.
L. David Marquet, Turn the Ship Around!
Owning means sharing what went wrong, the causes and the arising symptoms, so others can learn from the failure. Hiding failures is a sign of incompetent leadership or worse a judgmental culture.
In the Agile process of Software Engineering it is common to have regular retrospectives every couple weeks, to learn what went well, what should be stopped or failed and how to get better. Sometime you will hear the term of Continuous Improvement and or Kaizen (the translation of kai (“change”) zen (“good”) is “improvement”).
Thoughts on Accountability:
- Own what you say, if you got it wrong admit it
- As a leader the words that come out of your mouth, have much more power. Understand how they make others feel.
- Your team will copy your behaviors, how accountable you are to your team, will impact their teams.
- Make failure easy to talk about, build psychological safety amongst your team, so talking about failures is OK and expected
- Do not haze people for failure, it can create unexpected culture consequences
- Communicate the tough things early, if there is not a plan, give them a sense when one will be created and if possible how – they need to know you are on it
- With difficult meeting follow up with an email with the key points laid out
- No one should be surprised by not being promoted
- Own failures and understand why they happen e.g. retrospectives, post failure meeting
Resources for Accountability:
- Blog -> Retrospectives
- Book -> The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
- Book -> Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win
- Book -> Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity
- Book -> The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels
- Book -> Mistakes were made (but not by me)
- Book -> Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders
Show that you respect time
Know your Chrontype, Technical time(or non interrupt time), plan you time
We all have the same about of time. How we use it is very important and how effective we are able to prioritse our work will define our success. Also how we use other peoples time in meetings and with requests for information will impact on their success.
Everyday there are periods when you will make smart decisions, when have breakthroughs, and then times of the day when you make poor decisions. It is a fixed pattern depending on your individual Chronotype. There are three types: early birds, standard and night owls. Establishing your type will help you understand when you are at your best for certain decision making, and when you should avoid making decisions. Taking breaks (20-30mins) also helps reset.
The importance of the Beginning, Middle and the End
In the book ‘When’ Daniel Pink shows the science in how important each of these stages are, the myths associated with each of these key points and how to turn them your advantage. Here are some examples
- Starting Again – This can often be much more effective than continuing with a false start
- UH-OH Effect – People focus when they realize that time is running out
- Encode – People remember just the end of a persons life or a project end rather than the journey, leaving often false impressions.
- Spend the last five minutes of your day, looking at what you achieved, a basic plan for the next day and send a thank you note.
Technical Work/ NO Interruptions
A lot of different types of work need a high degree of concentration. If you lead teams of technical people, understand their work style and avoid setting up meetings when it could impact on their best concentration time and cycles.
Book time for yourself
It is important you have a chance to catch up with everything and that you have time to plan next steps. Book time in your calendar, to avoid it being interrupted. Maybe even find a room, or a coffee shop so that it becomes your time.
- Monday 3pm to 3.30pm – Changes to the plan
- Tuesday 8am to 9am – Learning time
- Wednesday 3pm to 3.30pm – Changes to the plan
- Thursday 8am to 9am – Learning Time
- Friday 4-5pm – Reflection and plan next week
Thoughts on Respect Time:
- Know when you are at your best and your worst, plan your activities accordingly
- Know when your reports/team are at their best and when they need to be left to focus
- Take real breaks
- Respect others’ time, and recognize their best times may not match yours
- If you have to cancel a meeting give them a why and be pro active in setting up the next
- Lunchtime – Do not eat at your desk
- Plan your time, for you, both planning and reflection
Resources on Respect Time:
- Wiki -> Munich ChronoType Questionnaire (MCTQ)
- Book -> When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing
- Book -> 168 Hours: You have more time the you think
A growth mindset for your people
Useful feedback, Real Coaching, asking for advice, create opportunities, Protect, Advocate
“Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.”
— L. David Marquet, Turn the Ship Around!
If you actively support your leaders, you will, have more successful leaders. I have seen more leaders fail because their boss was poor at giving timely feedback and coaching them to success, than any other cause, of failure.
Get your leaders perspective BEFORE you make a decision or judgement when it concerns them. The worst senior leaders make proclamations about what they have done without getting their side. It seems common sense, to say this but a lot of senior leaders fail to give timely feedback, leaving to days, weeks, months or worse until your annual performance.
Be careful about building a pattern from discrete incidents, until you understand what is going on. People often want the the bad feedback first.
One of my observations about Feedback is in a organization where people give each other feedback rather than rely on their managers above to do it, there is less politics and gossip. Encourage people to talk to each, rather than around each other. If you are unsure how, read Crucial Conversations.
Here is a detailed look at feedback:
Understand the strengths and the areas to grow in each of your reports, have a list that you do not share. I say not to share as you can create a ripple effect and never allow your reports to RESTART when they move managers. Leaving them on option to restart, leaving the organization and you.
You may not be the best coach for certain areas, find other people to help them with targeted areas.
Find space, projects or people that could use your reports to help, when they are able to coach or mentor others, or share their expertise in a presentation. Allow them to grow beyond you and their day to day.
Respect learning through failure
Leaders will fail. How you react to that failure will define your relationship with them. And it will be watched by everyone else. Do not Haze, this has never be shown to be an effective tool for socializing people into a new culture.
Talking someone down will lead to a self fulfilling prophecy. They will fail. There is a belief that hazing is an effective way of stressing someone to see if they are good enough. A lot of life full of stress, and the reality is that you will see more of a person when under real fire with your support.
Talking someone up can build space and influence they need to do the job you want. But be careful not to over sell as, people on platforms can fall off.
Growing leadership takes time, and some of best emerge from failure. You will need to be patient and let people fail to some degree.
“Those who take orders usually run at half speed, underutilizing their imagination and initiative.”
― L. David Marquet, Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders
If you are a leader known to grow new leaders, you will attract talent. You will gain deeply invested talent, who already understand the sector/domain you work in. Leadership growth does not stop once they have the manager title, each level of leadership requires different perspectives, different applications of skills and ever growing ability to abstract and strategize. Consider the Leadership levels and how your mindset and the organization development/training programs fit them.
Thoughts on Growing Leaders
- Build a culture where feedback is the norm and ok
- Tease out answers, do not give answers
- What leadership style(s) are you teaching, encouraging?
- Leadership trials. Give the opportunity to manage for two weeks, get the whole team to give feedback. And than give another opportunity later
- How do you react to failure
Resources for Growing Leaders:
- Slides -> Feedback
- Book -> Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders
- Book -> Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity
- Book -> Crucial Conversations
Explicit communication vs Implicit communication, Change, Be present, Public Speaking
Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.
— General Colin Powell
The best leaders can communicate what they want and why. The worst expect you to read the signs. Reading the signs is sadly very common, it is more common with male managers.
Communication is often the basis of any healthy relationship, including the one between an employee and his or her manager. Alex Pentland (MIT) showed that the more cohesive and communicative a team is – the more they chat and gossip – the more they get done.
The meanings of your words
Do you call your people resources? Why are they just a cog to be replaced? Or is it a word that we use to make easy to abstract from the human. Consider the words and their impact. Than consider the different cultures in the room and how you are effecting them.
What are the three things you need to say and repeat and repeat with examples. make your point, make it again in a different way and than embed. Should I say it again?
To be an effective leader you will need to do this a lot. The good news is this a learned skill and you will get better at it. Involving others in your speech or deck writing is a great way to seek advice and help other understanding your thinking. And they will sometimes give you great advice.
Speaking on the spot
There will often be moments where you have to just speak, rally the troops.. It happens a lot to a leader and not under the best of circumstances. First pausing to think is great it adds gravity to your words. If you find this difficult, may I suggest taking Improv classes (Second City is a great school if there is one close to you) these will help in many ways, but especially for this.
Alignment and the purpose bigger than me..
In all your communications show how my job, the thing you are talking about connects to the vision, the Business Goals, etc. Show alignment in all these things.
People do not all listen the same way!
In the book When Cultures Collide it attempts to show how different people from different counties communicate and listen and resolve decisions in different ways. The same could be said of sub cultures within those countries.
Thoughts on Clear Communication:
- Are you talking more than listening? Maybe shut up and lets others do the talking?
- Who knows what your plan is?
- Who are your stakeholders?
- Are you clear about what you want your reports to do and not do?
- How good are you at giving feedback?
- Does your report know what you appreciate about them?
- How clear are you? Ask others
- Are you present? When people are speaking to you, should you take a break?
- When you are receiving difficult communication do you write notes, to help you process later?
Resources for Clear Communication:
Being a motivator, Advocate for the Business, Be the boss people want to work for, happiness leads to greater productivity, Stress Resistance
Great leaders move us. They ignite our passion an inspire the best in us. When we try to explain why they are so effective, we speak of strategy, vision, or powerful ideas. But the reality is much more primal: Great leadership works through emotions..
What helps you jump out of bed and run to work? Your team, the work you are doing, your boss? Who wants to work for you gain?
It is not always the same but they all impact on you, without a doubt part of a leaders role is to help their people do more. How do you?
Hopefully your vision/mission is something you understand and believe in. Where it is, aligning this to the day to day tasks and projects, will help people connect to something bigger than themselves. Sometimes it is focus on their actual, or it could be wider the work they do as a corporate citizen.
The champion of your people
Grow psychological safety, remove the risk of talking about anything that needs to be talked about. They need to know that you have their back. That you advocate for them and when they fail you, you help them become better, to grow from the experience.
“Optimism is a force multiplier.”
– Colin Powell
Work for a leader that believes in what they are doing and who they are doing it with, is just inspiring. They will be able to see a path through the troubled times, that everything we have done is not wasted. Optimists create more businesses.
Colin Powell (in his book, It Worked For Me) says military training is the best preparation for approaching difficult situations with an optimistic outlook. The following was drilled into Powell: “Lieutenant, you may be starving, but you must never show hunger. You may be freezing or near heat exhaustion, but you must never show that you are cold or hot. You may be terrified, but you must never show fear. You are the leader and the troops will reflect your emotions.”
Powell tempers his optimism with logic. “Maybe it can’t be done, but always start out believing it can be done until facts and analysis pile up against it. Don’t surround yourself by skeptics but don’t shut out skeptics who give you solid counterviews.”
“Every exemplary leader that I have met has what seems to be an unwarranted degree of optimism – and that helps generate the energy and commitment necessary to achieve results.”
The Leadership Advantage, an essay from the Drucker Foundation’s Leader to Leader Guide, Warren Bennis
The best leaders are known for all their successes as they get ahead of problems before they occur. This is often because you have the information you need, as people are willing to share, sometimes early to allow you to get ahead of the problem.
“We have three innate psychological needs—competence, autonomy, and relatedness. When those needs are satisfied, we’re motivated, productive, and happy.”
― Daniel H. Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
Read Daniel Pinks’ book Driven. Beyond a certain threshold money doesn’t matter; what matters is that people have autonomy, mastery, and purpose in their work and their lives. While external rewards worked for the mundane tasks of the last few centuries, they are actually counter-productive to success in the 21st century where what we really need is more creativity.
Bain Inspiration Leadership Model
In a survey of 2,000 employees, Bain & Company found 33 leadership traits:
“You may be able to “buy” a person’s back with a paycheck, position, power, or fear, but a human being’s genius, passion, loyalty, and tenacious creativity are volunteered only.”
— L. David Marquet, Turn the Ship Around!
Thoughts on Inspiration
- You need a vision and a plan
- Should be aligned with companies vision and values
- Openness to new ideas
- Turn problems and constraints into opportunities
- Manage or ignore what you cannot change
- Coherence between body language and what you say
- Have a career plan for each member of your team
- Pay attention to your teams, needs, wants and desires
- That they matter to you and the company – and showing it
Resources for Inspiration:
- Book- >Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
- Blog -> The 3 Things Employees Really Want: Career, Community, Cause
- Blog -> How to Be an Inspiring Leader
- Blog -> What It Really Takes To Be Inspiring
- Book -> 9 Awesome Ways to Inspire Others
- Blog -> Optimism – The Hidden Asset
- Book -> The New Leaders by Daniel Goleman
- Blog -> How Leaders Inspire: Cracking the Code
- Book -> Executive Charisma: Six Steps to Mastering the Art of Leadership
- Blog -> Why People Lose Motivation — and What Managers Can Do to Help
- Book -> It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership
- Book -> Drive
Good at Influencing others
Avoid the title trap, win win, seek advice, partnership, peers, relationships,
I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure, which is: Try to please everybody.
— Herbert Swope
If the only way to get things done is by using your title or position you have failed to influence and are instead relying on control via command and control. This works for a period of time, but it is unlikely get the best out of people in the medium to long term and will impact the culture in multiply ways.
This skill is key to the success of all leaders. It should be a skill you learn, refresh and grow throughout your career. I read Getting to Yes every couple years.
Managing upwards and sidewards
As a leader a strong part of your success will be your relationship with your boss. A great boss will be advocate for you and your team. Be careful in putting your leader on a pestle, they will fail and they will need you to support them. You also need to call them out.
If your team needs more people, you are the person that needs to prove this. It is a fundamental part of your and your teams success.
Adapt your leadership style to Context
There are multiple leadership styles, the following is adapted from the book ‘The New Leaders’ by Daniel Goleman
|The leaders MO||Demands immediate compliance||Mobilizes people towards a vision||Creates harmony & builds emotional bonds||Forges consensus through participation||Sets high standards for performance||Develops people for the future|
|Phrase||‘Do what I tell you’||‘Come with me’||‘People come first’||‘What do you think?’||‘Do as I do, now.’||‘Try this’|
|Impact on culture||Negative||Most Strongly positive||Positive||Positive||Negative||Positive|
|When style works best||In a crisis, to kick start a turnaround or with under performing employees||When changes require a new vision, or when a clear direction is needed||To heal rifts in a team or to motivate people during stressful circumstances||To build buy-in or consensus or to get input from high performing employees||To get quick results from a highly motivated and competent team||To help an employee improve performance or develop long term strengths|
“People listen better if they feel that you have understood them. They tend to think that those who understand them are intelligent and sympathetic people whose own opinions may be worth listening to. So if you want the other side to appreciate your interests, begin by demonstrating that you appreciate theirs.”
― Roger Fisher, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In
Is Influencing bad?
Some times people get confused between Influencing vs politics vs socializing an idea. The reality is sometimes it is a good idea to talk to people about an idea. People will perceive it a certain way based on their relationship with you, if they do not like you (or the idea) or do not know, you they may see it as political and those that like you (or the idea) will see it as socializing or building the case. Be careful that people may perceive you as self promoting.
Thoughts on Influencing others:
- Always do it with good intent and honestly
- Listen to what they are saying to you and really understand it
- Have a stakeholder map for each project and share it – try not to forget those affected
- Look for the win win
Resources for Influencing:
- Blog -> How to Increase Your Influence at Work
- Blog -> Master the Art of Influence — Persuasion as a Skill and Habit
- Book -> Getting to Yes: Negotiating an Agreement Without Giving In
- Book -> Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
- Blog -> To Change Someone’s Mind, Stop Talking and Listen
- Book -> When Cultures Collide: Leading Across Cultures
- Book -> The New Leaders: Transforming The Art Of Leadership Into The Science Of Results
- Book -> Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration–Lessons from The Second City
Stability (Protecting your Mental Health)
Understand how you react under stress, moving beyond, buy time, process, leave
When overwhelmed or under stress most of us rely on more “basic” approaches to problems, which is not our best approach. Understanding what triggers stress reactions in yourself is incredibly helpful.
The reality is we are all overwhelmed at different times, it could be last night we did not have enough sleep or a specific event, use of trigger word word – all can remove rationality from us.
Some classic examples of being overwhelmed that we tend to ignore are insomnia, headaches, and pain. A list is here. Most of us have experience being overwhelmed in a crisis – over time you can learn to break the problem down and delegate. You are not alone.
The reality for us in leadership is that we are often under stress and we are also the victims of stronger use of cognitive biases. They will become more pronounced such as confirmation bias, because its easily and are mental guards are down.
One Psychological test I found helpful was Birkman test, which attempts to show what behaviors you may express under extreme stress. Whilst no psychological test is likely to be 100% accurate, it may point you in the right direction to being more self aware, and where you need to develop better coping mechanisms.
Signs of been overwhelmed:
- You feel more emotional than usually. Emotional volatility
- Unable to be present or inability to concentrate or listen
- Procrastinating on making decisions Difficulty making decisions
- Unable to feel emotions e.g. Numbness or withdrawal — from other people and activities
- More things irritate you
- Physical symptoms include headaches, back pain, digestive issues, fatigue, insomnia
Getting past it:
- “If this were the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my day?”
- “Will moving this forward make all the other to-do’s unimportant or easier to knock off later?”
Time to leave?
Step back and consider:
- Is the actual problem you? Not every organization, environment or culture is good for you and others will help you thrive and be your best
- Is the role or project bringing out the worst in you?
- Is it your boss?
- Is it your peers?
- Is the products you work on?
- Is it the C Suite or Directors?
- Is it the culture?
If you get a lot of yes, it may be time to move on to somewhere that is a better fit or challenge that will help bring the best out of you. If you asked a fair number of people leaving there jobs or being asked to leave they sometimes will describe it has a “Weight off their shoulders”.
If you decide to leave, consider deeply how you should do it. My advice is do not burn bridges. Not everyone is the same in every environment/culture. And most people will learn, adapt and change.
I think is universally true that we respect people who have grace under fire and if you are a leader you still have responsibility until you step off the plate.
That said you, you also do not have to do an exit interview.
Thoughts on Mental Health:
- Take care of yourself
- Take vacations
- Have more than work e.g. play, have fun, date..
- Have time for yourself
- Take Breaks
- Have time for those you care about in your life
- Spend time with the opposite side to your work. If is very rational/logical find an outlet for your creativity and vice versa.
Resources for Mental Health:
- Blog -> 9 brilliant leaders, investors, and thinkers share the questions they ask themselves when they’re completely overwhelmed
- Test -> Birkman Personal Style Profile
- Blog -> 1 in 5 Highly Engaged Employees Is at Risk of Burnout
That you learn and grow
Evolving you, evolving leaders and evolving the team, evolving the strategy, feedback
“When you can truly understand how others experience your behavior, without defending or judging, you then have the ability to produce a breakthrough in your leadership and team. Everything starts with your self-awareness. You cannot take charge without taking accountability, and you cannot take accountability without understanding how you avoid it.”
— Loretta Malandro, Fearless Leadership
I once worked in a place where the vast majority of managers/leaders did very little to nothing to grow their skills with the exception of doing their daily job. There was no 360 Appraisal system, the performance reviews were annual. There was no book club, no formal training, no on-boarding, it was expected you would cope. People were leaving who just were not being given the feedback they needed and than no coaching – it was like leaders expected people to read minds – I am not sure telepathy is a thing but I have see a lot of ineffective cultures expect it. These cultures often expect implicitly that everyone understands what everyone else expects. This is often caused by bad male leadership.
Without a doubt on the job experience is a part of our learning and you are responsible for your evolution. That said in organizations that do not really embolden learning in all aspects of leadership will often have problematic cultures. As a Leader of leaders you are responsible for encourage your people and others to aggressively learn and share, what you have learned.
If you have a primary capability you are employed to do, how do you know its improving? What are you actively doing to improve yourself?
I would suggest starting with two paths, how to bring my general game up (Growing Stronger) and how do I build for my next full on evolution (Strategic Growth).
The first might focus on your areas of development, weakness, unknowns that you do need to learn. Maybe you get this from a performance review, or a coach or a mentor or through other feedback. Find a book, a blog, a podcast that covers that key topic. Maybe its receiving feedback better – Read Thanks for the Feedback – create a checklist, put on your phone and just before you know you are going to receive feedback read those notes or summary. Phillippa Lally and her researchers found changing behavior on average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact with you taking the “better route” before it sinks in. The researchers also found that “missing one opportunity to perform the behavior did not materially affect the habit formation process.” In other words, it doesn’t matter if you mess up every now and then. Building better habits is not an all-or-nothing process. Also do not take this journey alone confide in someone who can help make you accountable.
Becoming your 2.0, maybe you pull a job description for the level you want to work towards, say you are missing Finance Experience? Maybe take a course at a local college or University, or you find someone who is willing to teach you. Maybe you take time to process information and you need to be faster, take an Improv course? Find a mentor who is doing that job already.
The power of writing and sharing
It is hard for a human to hold large amounts of information and actively use it in every context. Something that will help is writing, or teaching others about what you have learned. It will force (well hopefully) you to condense your learning, and understand the wider forces in action. This is also helpful for those who are more tactically driven start developing strategic awareness.
Places to learn from
On the Job
- Doing the job
- Weekly Retros
- One to Ones
- Performance Reviews
- Reading Books/Podcast/Videos
- Book Club
- Confrence – either Sector or Skills based
- Peers coffee/drinks/networking
Thoughtful Creation Learning
- Creation/Sharing – Colleagues/Conferences/Blogs
- Mentoring others – Volunteering at Startups Hub or local school
- Coaching Others – Volunteering at Startups Hub or local school
- Editing books/articles of other creators
Learning in leadership has to be one of your core and aggressive skills. You cannot afford to stop, or even pause. Even in a crisis or in a fire situation pay attention to what you needed to know and what you needed to know deeper. Find time later to understand and learn from it.
If you stop evolving you will stagnate.
“People can have two different mindsets, she says. Those with a “fixed mindset” believe that their talents and abilities are carved in stone. Those with a “growth mindset” believe that their talents and abilities can be developed. Fixed mindsets see every encounter as a test of their worthiness. Growth mindsets see the same encounters as opportunities to improve.”
― Daniel H. Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
Thoughts for Learning
- What is your learning plan?
- Who is coaching you?
- Who is mentoring you?
- Are you in a book club with other leaders?
- What skills are you going to upgrade this quarter? How?
- What is your learning style?
- How do actively improve yourself?
- Do your one to ones focus on operational and fires, how often do you talk about the big picture and how you fit in? How often do you talk about your career?
- What skills are degrading as you no longer use them? Will you be able to get through a round of interviews in your careers?
“One of the things that limits our learning is our belief that we already know something.”
— L. David Marquet, Turn the Ship Around!
Resources for Learning:
- Book -> Pragmatic Thinking & Learning
- Blog -> Learning Styles (Kolb)
- Wiki -> Neuro-linguistic programming
- Magazine -> Harvard Business Review
- Blog -> Your Strategy Should Be a Hypothesis You Constantly Adjust
- Book -> Thanks for the Feedback
That you respect diversity
Diversity brings greater innovation, uniqueness challenges culture to evolve, we share and learn
Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations
Vulcan Philosophy from Star Trek
I am not sure why, but I have always believed that Diversity and Uniqueness are a good thing in humans. I used to think that my thinking had evolved from all the Science Fiction that I read as a Child. Many of the Science fictions books explored racism via different alien races, or that sexuality, gender could be so varied, or that whole civilizations destroyed each other because they could not talk to each other.
Personal I do not look for clones of me or anyone else.
Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers show that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups
Advocates of diversity look for ways to best leverage their asset. They implement new structures and work practices that are radically different from traditionally-minded management approaches..” https://creativityasia.com/workplace-diversity-is-your-asset/
The end of “Culture Fit” and beginning of “Culture Add”
There term cultural fit, has often become a decider in recruitment, but too much Culture fit can lead to a cult, eh? (Sorry I am Canadian). Or a monogamous culture, where everyone looks the same and thinks the same.
For any community to survive it must adapt, it must challenge itself, essential it must evolve or stagnant. A strong way to keep evolving it is to bring on people who are different i.e. Cultural Add. And those people must be supported not socialized. I am not saying this comfortable it is not, but an evolving community is not comfortable.
“New ideas come from differences. They come from having different perspectives and juxtaposing different theories.”
— Nicholas Negroponte
How are you supporting people are different?
They may have different communication style or conflict style. What is their understanding of team working. How are you demonstrating values that they should copy?
This is journey of an immigrant and it takes about 18 months? What is it for your company on-boarding process?
People from different parts of the country are surprisingly different..
Thoughts for Diversity
- Are you are all one skin color, sex, gender, sexuality, culture, nationality? How about your leaders, your C-Suite/Directors, your Board?
- Where do you recruiters target?
- Are you still stuck on culture fit rather than culture add?
- What are you doing?, to up your game in communication, negotiation and conflict skills?
- Do people that are different have good internal mentors to help guide them?
- How do you help people that are different, raise their voice?
- How honest is your on-boarding process, is it about making them a cultural fit i.e. socialization or help them add their uniqueness to the community?
- How do people share their uniquenesses to the organization?
- Do you have a comprehensive Unconscious Bias Training program?
- Are your benefits oriented to to one group or do they exclude another? young men, old men, pregnant woman?
Resources for Diversity
- Blog -> How Diversity Makes Us Smarter
- Guide -> Managing Unconscious Bias
- Blog -> The end of culture fit
- Blog -> How Men & Women See the Workplace Differently
- Blog -> Why we shouldn’t underestimate the power of diversity
- Blog -> Why Doesn’t Silicon Valley Hire Black Coders?
- Blog -> Why Tech Degrees Are Not Putting More Blacks and Hispanics Into Tech Jobs
- Blog -> Two Types of Diversity Training That Really Work
That you make decisions
Unbiased, for the good of the team/business, conflict management, change management
“Problems cannot be solved by thinking within the framework in which they were created.”
— Albert Einstein
Let facts drive your decision making, not opinions. As humans we have an incredible number of cognitive biases that drive us to make decisions in certain ways that are sometimes not helpful, correct or even close to the ball park.
When decisions can take time, use that time, consult people who may have something contribute and be careful about asking the same people or people who may agree with you. Have a hypothesis, test it, get rid of it when you can see it will not work. Loosely hold your hypothesis unless you can see it will work. And than ask for other solutions.
Fast decision making or decisivenesses is often see as an important trait, but it can lead to being judgmental.
Be OK with changing your mind when new facts or evidence show another angle.
Nobel-prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman has said that overconfidence is the bias he’d eliminate first if he had a magic wand. It’s ubiquitous, particularly among men, the wealthy, and even experts.
We often think we are making the best decision with data we have. Unfortunately our brains are wired to do certain things that are not always helpful. There are at least 181 cognitive biases, but here are the top 18. Cognitive bias can get in the way of making good decisions.
What is your goal?
Decision making must understand what you hope to achieve, the impact and consequences for the decision.
Disagree and commit
As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos explains, to “disagree and commit” doesn’t mean “thinking your team is wrong and missing the point,” which will prevent you from offering true support. Rather, it’s a genuine, sincere commitment to go the team’s way, even if you disagree.
Of course, before you reach that stage, you should be able to explain your position, and the team should reasonably weigh your concerns.
But if you decide to disagree and commit, you’re all in. No sabotaging the project–directly or indirectly. By trusting your team’s gut, you give them room to experiment and grow–and your people gain confidence.
Decisions often lead to change, change is hard, most humans hate change even if they agree with it.
- Are you a dictator? e.g. “I am the director and I will tell you what you are doing”
- Are you passive aggressive e.g. “Interesting perspective”
- Do you hide behind others e.g. “You will tell your reports”
How to change is even important and will differ according to the culture, but here are some suggestions.
- Involve early on, if possible get the affected to help you review the problem and solve together
- Agree a plan of change
- Agree messaging
- Have a stakeholders map
- Consider opportunities for review
- How do you evaluate changes later to see if they were successful?
If you want a list of good exercises for serious change management checkout The Change Leader’s Roadmap. I have used many of these exercises whilst as a consultant and they worked well
How you respond to conflict will show to all what kind of leader you are. Conflict is necessary. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team describes the lack of it as a dysfunction. Of course not all conflict is good, so managing conflict so it produces healthy results is part of a Leaders role. The biggest hint is to make sure all are heard and understood before moving to making a decision.
A quick and often inaccurate judgment based on limited facts and our own life experiences. These judgments can give individuals and groups both unearned advantage and unearned disadvantages in the workplace.
Biases are shortcuts our brain forms based on:
- Our own experiences
- Things other people tell us
- Media portrayals
- Institutional influences
- Other external influences
11 million bits of information per second go through our senses. We can only consciously process 40 bits. 99% of our mental process is ruled by our unconscious.
If you ever get opportunity take the training.
“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”
— Abraham Lincoln
If you suffer from procrastination, maybe this slide deck will help you. I wrote it for a Women in Technology group:
Being able to make a decision is important, how you do it and who you involved, will create your culture. So decisive is good, but sometimes you should take your time involve others in the decision making process.
Making a Decision
- How do to evaluate alternatives?
- Move from decisive to flexible and involve others
- How is information used? Are you forcing your opinion or was the information used rationally?
- How is the information evaluated? What biases have you used
- How is communicated? How will this impact people?
Thoughts on Decision Making:
- How do you check biases?
- Are you rested well enough to make the right decision
- If need to delay a decision, if it is not urgent delay it
- Can you involve others in the decision, will this help get wider perspective or spot poor thought process
- How do you evaluate major decisions
Resources for Decision Making:
- Wiki -> List of cognitive biases
- Book -> Thinking Fast and Slow
- Book -> Predictably Irrational
- Book -> When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing
- Book -> The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature
- Blog -> The Seasoned Executive’s Decision-Making Style
- Blog -> 3 Ways to Improve Your Decision Making
- Book -> The Head Game: High-Efficiency Analytic Decision Making and the Art of Solving Complex Problems Quickly
- Video -> 4 Things Successful; Executive Do Differently
- Book -> The Change Leader’s Roadmap: How to Navigate Your Organization’s Transformation
That you are Coachable
Good at listening, open to change, able to change, able to let go and good at reflection
My best skill was that I was coachable. I was a sponge and aggressive to learn.
― Michael Jordan
Whilst most of us prefer to have a leader who is experienced, smart and inspiration. Most of us as leaders, have blind spots or areas that we need to grow in. Our boss may have indeed hired us to cover one of those blind spots for them or the organization. And let us not forget the world does not stay still for anyone, whether the market changes, completion takes some of our space, technology opens new doors or we evolve as a human race – we need a leader who can change, adapt and grow. Part of this is on us, how can we help our leader be better.
On the other side we like people who report to us that are coachable, if people see you are coachable, they will often help you through any trouble times, or mistakes you make. Lets face it, you will make mistakes or delay a decision, something. If your team know you are coachable you and your team will often grow into something stronger.
If you are coachable you are more likely be able to accept new evidence/new data and change your perspective. Rather than force the new thing, into your world view, or force it into a pattern you were trying to prove.
If you are coachable, you less likely to be stubborn, judgement and people are more likely to come to you with ideas and concerns because they feel psychological safe.
Core elements to being coachable
- Be present and process feedback and be able taken criticism
- Choose the rights moments for feedback, get their permission that this is a good time
- Insist on the specifics in receiving feedback
- Be CURIOUS
- Reflect and not just when things go wrong
- Be vulnerable
- Take action on feedback and close the loop with those action
- Acknowledge, appreciation and invite more feedback
Challenges to Coachability
I have seen the lack of coachability in managers who were promoted above their ability or just too fast, some are coached to success, but working under a manager/boss/leader that is un-coachable, sucks.
- Too opinionated/know it all/defensive in feedback situations
- Too critical of others/Judgmental
- A poor listener/ multi-tasking/ always on computer or on phone during meetings
- Too blunt and too bold/lacks empathy/too controlling
- Too intense
- Too “me” focused/They find blame elsewhere
- Too difficult/ unable to connect to others
- Too nice
- Not “edgy” enough
- Too attached to the details/unable to see the big picture/They are not open to new ways of looking at a situation
- Too slow to make decisions
- Too easy on performance issues
- They are unwilling to be vulnerable
- Unable to change/stubborn/unable to explain their decisions/does not action feedback
- Unable to recognize gaps and cover him/self aware
- Picks on bad examples , rather than the story -> Receives feedback and says no, that is not the case,
- Victims of their own data
“Coachable people seek out those who speak truth to them, even if it is a painful truth, because it protects them and it makes them a better person and leader.”
― Gary Rohrmayer
Resources for Coachable:
- Blog -> The Eight Habits Of Remarkably Coachable Leaders
- Blog -> Are You a Coachable Leader?
- Blog -> Coachability: What is it, can we measure it, and why it matters
- Book -> Thanks for the Feedback
- Webinar -> How Coachable Are Your Leaders?
- Slides -> How Coachable Are Your Leaders?
- Blog -> How to Solicit Negative Feedback When Your Manager Doesn’t Want to Give It
That you build Trust/psychological safety
Avoid surprises, build creditability, build reliability, show authenticity and share credit
“When trust is extended, it breeds responsibility in return. Emulation and peer pressure regulates the system better than hierarchy ever could.”
— Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations
This takes time and effort. Rarely will people give you trust. Usually you will see it form quickly in a crisis or slowly through being consistent.
In the book ‘The Trust Equation’ by Steven Drozdeck and Lyn Fisher. They shared an equation that you build trust through having Credibility, Reliability, Authenticity divided by Perception of Self Interest. A good article by Anne Raimondi covers this in detail.
Another perspective is advocated by The Trusted Advisor where The Trust Equation uses four objective variables to measure trustworthiness. These four variables are best described as: Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy and Self-Orientation.
Here are my guides for building trust:
- Be available and present
- To build trust, you must respect how others think and feel. That’s why it’s important to listen first.
- Proactive/Preventive support
- Follow through – Do what you say you are going to do
- Be fair and consistent – Do not play favourites
- Be explicit – Do not make them guess what you want from them
- Be an expert on something
- Build relationships that encompasses more than work
Countering Perception of Self Interest:
- Give credit to correct people i.e. who did the work
- Advocating may get what you need but pay attention to your peers reactions
- Highlight common goals amongst those have this perception
- Pay attention to the political and cultural landscape
- In cultures where people are passive aggressive they may not give you the feedback, but rather talk behind your back. This maybe resolved by searching out feedback directly.
When you regularly and skillfully listen to others, you stay in touch with their reality, get to know their world and show you value their experience. Active listening involves asking questions, along with concentrated effort to understand your partner’s answers–all while resisting the urge to judge. Careful listening helps you identify each individual team member’s strengths, weaknesses, and style of communication.
Additionally, you send the message that what’s important to them is important to you.
Questions on Trust:
- Do you know your team – who are they at work and home
- Understand what motivates them, do not assume, ask them and explore it
- Get to know who they are, what gravities do they have in their life e.g. family, hobbies, favorite reads/movies
- What is their leadership style(s), does it adapt depending on the context?
- How do they like to be led, how do they report to you?, how do they like to receive feedback check both for positive and performance improving
- Tell them how you like to receive feedback
- What level of transparency do you prefer?
Resources for Trust:
- Blog -> 5 Ways to Build Trust and Honesty in Your Relationship
- Blog -> Building Trust Inside Your Team
- Blog -> How to Build Trust at Work
- Blog -> What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team
- Blog -> How to Build Trust with Colleagues You Rarely See
- Goggle Guide: Understand team effectiveness
- Blog -> Use This Equation to Determine, Diagnose, and Repair Trust
Whilst three strengths were the same (in bold), two new ones appeared. I wonder how much this survey is affected by the actual job, I do day to day. My work has changed since I last filled out the survey.
My core top five Strengths:
You love to learn.
The subject matter that interests you most will be determined by your other themes and experiences, but whatever the subject, you will always be drawn to the process of learning. The process, more than the content or the result, is especially exciting for you. You are energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence. The thrill of the first few facts, the early efforts to recite or practice what you have learned, the growing confidence of a skill mastered—this is the process that entices you.
Your excitement leads you to engage in adult learning experiences—yoga or piano lessons or graduate classes. It enables you to thrive in dynamic work environments where you are asked to take on short project assignments and are expected to learn a lot about the new subject matter in a short period of time and then move on to the next one. This Learner theme does not necessarily mean that you seek to become the subject matter expert, or that you are striving for the respect that accompanies a professional or academic credential. The outcome of the learning is less significant than the “getting there.”
Your Individualization theme leads you to be intrigued by the unique qualities of each person.
You are impatient with generalizations or “types” because you don’t want to obscure what is special and distinct about each person. Instead, you focus on the differences between individuals. You instinctively observe each person’s style, each person’s motivation, how each thinks, and how each builds relationships. You hear the one-of-a-kind stories in each person’s life. This theme explains why you pick your friends just the right birthday gift, why you know that one person prefers praise in public and another detests it, and why you tailor your teaching style to accommodate one person’s need to be shown and another’s desire to “figure it out as I go.” Because you are such a keen observer of other people’s strengths, you can draw out the best in each person. This Individualization theme also helps you build productive teams. While some search around for the perfect team “structure” or “process,” you know instinctively that the secret to great teams is casting by individual strengths so that everyone can do a lot of what they do well.
The Strategic theme enables you to sort through the clutter and find the best route.
It is not a skill that can be taught. It is a distinct way of thinking, a special perspective on the world at large. This perspective allows you to see patterns where others simply see complexity. Mindful of these patterns, you play out alternative scenarios, always asking, “What if this happened? Okay, well what if this happened?” This recurring question helps you see around the next corner. There you can evaluate accurately the potential obstacles. Guided by where you see each path leading, you start to make selections. You discard the paths that lead nowhere. You discard the paths that lead straight into resistance. You discard the paths that lead into a fog of confusion. You cull and make selections until you arrive at the chosen path—your strategy. Armed with your strategy, you strike forward. This is your Strategic theme at work: “What if?” Select. Strike.
You are a conductor.
When faced with a complex situation involving many factors, you enjoy managing all of the variables, aligning and realigning them until you are sure you have arranged them in the most productive configuration possible. In your mind there is nothing special about what you are doing. You are simply trying to figure out the best way to get things done. But others, lacking this theme, will be in awe of your ability. “How can you keep so many things in your head at once?” they will ask. “How can you stay so flexible, so willing to shelve well-laid plans in favor of some brand-new configuration that has just occurred to you?” But you cannot imagine behaving in any other way. You are a shining example of effective flexibility, whether you are changing travel schedules at the last minute because a better fare has popped up or mulling over just the right combination of people and resources to accomplish a new project. From the mundane to the complex, you are always looking for the perfect configuration. Of course, you are at your best in dynamic situations. Confronted with the unexpected, some complain that plans devised with such care cannot be changed, while others take refuge in the existing rules or procedures. You don’t do either. Instead, you jump into the confusion, devising new options, hunting for new paths of least resistance, and figuring out new partnerships—because, after all, there might just be a better way.
Command leads you to take charge.
Unlike some people, you feel no discomfort with imposing your views on others. On the contrary, once your opinion is formed, you need to share it with others. Once your goal is set, you feel restless until you have aligned others with you. You are not frightened by confrontation; rather, you know that confrontation is the first step toward resolution. Whereas others may avoid facing up to life’s unpleasantness, you feel compelled to present the facts or the truth, no matter how unpleasant it may be. You need things to be clear between people and challenge them to be clear-eyed and honest. You push them to take risks. You may even intimidate them. And while some may resent this, labeling you opinionated, they often willingly hand you the reins. People are drawn toward those who take a stance and ask them to move in a certain direction. Therefore, people will be drawn to you. You have presence. You have Command.
People who are especially talented in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.
People who are especially talented in the Restorative theme are adept at dealing with problems. They are good at figuring out what is wrong and resolving it.
People who are especially talented in the Self-Assurance theme feel confident in their ability to manage their own lives. They possess an inner compass that gives them confidence that their decisions are right.
People who are especially talented in the Futuristic theme are inspired by the future and what could be. They inspire others with their visions of the future.
People who are especially talented in the Communication theme generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters.
People who are especially talented in the Intellection theme are characterized by their intellectual activity. They are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.
People who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.
People who are especially talented in the Achiever theme have a great deal of stamina and work hard. They take great satisfaction from being busy and productive.
People who are especially talented in the Activator theme can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient.
People who are especially talented in the Adaptability theme prefer to “go with the flow.” They tend to be “now” people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time.
People who are especially talented in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links between all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason.
People who are especially talented in the Developer theme recognize and cultivate the potential in others. They spot the signs of each small improvement and derive satisfaction from these improvements.
People who are especially talented in the Positivity theme have an enthusiasm that is contagious. They are upbeat and can get others excited about what they are going to do.
People who are especially talented in the Belief theme have certain core values that are unchanging. Out of these values emerges a defined purpose for their life.
People who are especially talented in the Woo theme love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over. They derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection with another person.
People who are especially talented in the Relator theme enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal.
People who are especially talented in the Maximizer theme focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. They seek to transform something strong into something superb.
People who are especially talented in the Responsibility theme take psychological ownership of what they say they will do. They are committed to stable values such as honesty and loyalty.
People who are especially talented in the Significance theme want to be very important in the eyes of others. They are independent and want to be recognized.
People who are especially talented in the Analytical theme search for reasons and causes. They have the ability to think about all the factors that might affect a situation.
People who are especially talented in the Empathy theme can sense the feelings of other people by imagining themselves in others’ lives or others’ situations.
People who are especially talented in the Competition theme measure their progress against the performance of others. They strive to win first place and revel in contests.
People who are especially talented in the Includer theme are accepting of others. They show awareness of those who feel left out, and make an effort to include them.
People who are especially talented in the Context theme enjoy thinking about the past. They understand the present by researching its history.
People who are especially talented in the Discipline theme enjoy routine and structure. Their world is best described by the order they create.
People who are especially talented in the Focus theme can take a direction, follow through, and make the corrections necessary to stay on track. They prioritize, then act.
People who are especially talented in the Deliberative theme are best described by the serious care they take in making decisions or choices. They anticipate the obstacles.
People who are especially talented in the Harmony theme look for consensus. They don’t enjoy conflict; rather, they seek areas of agreement.
People who are especially talented in the Consistency theme are keenly aware of the need to treat people the same. They try to treat everyone in the world with consistency by setting up clear rules and adhering to them.
Maybe you are a Director, a Head of X or a Vice President, and you now own a department or multiple teams. Moving from a front line leader i.e managing Individual Contributors (IC) to leaders of other teams – requires a shift in leadership style, decision making, coaching topics, and evolving strategic/abstracted perspective. This blogpost and the following posts will attempt to explore these differences and my thoughts on them.
Leaders are not born, they are made from experience – for some reason they stood up and led. Effective leaders help us overcome limitations, they help us do more and bigger things than we can do alone. They get the best out of people. They build a better future, looking at potential rather than being stuck with baggage of the past.
The hard thing about stepping up leadership through the levels is the number of stakeholders increases, and how you make decisions will have to change to be successful, or you will fail. This is best laid out in an excellent article in the Harvard Business Review, The Seasoned Executive’s Decision-Making Style.
Are you a leader or a manager?
“Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position.”
I believe a Leader is an evolution beyond just a manager. It’s not a title, it’s how you do the job – where you are breaking new ground with your people and with the area/topic/business you are in charge of. You are creating something new. You are defining and evolving strategy. You are inspiring more from your people than they could do alone.
With this said, I have met great managers who were poor leaders and great leaders who were poor managers. Context matters a lot here, as not all cultures or leaders encourage the best from each person. It is easy to forget that we are each unique, especially when we are encouraged to call humans a resource.
Evaluating your Leaders
Great managers possess a rare combination of five talents.
They motivate their employees, assert themselves to overcome obstacles, create a culture of accountability, build trusting relationships and make informed, unbiased decisions for the good of their team and company.
You need a method that helps you evaluate your leaders, and maybe HR already uses one. Below are a couple others if your organization does not yet have a clear framework for leadership and leadership development.
There are a lot of good tools to assess each of your leaders, and one of my favorites is the Talent Dimension introduced in a report by Gallup on Management:
I would strongly recommend you read their report, which gives you a basic view of their capabilities. It’s a good starting place.
Korn/Ferry International has a report that evaluates managers’ skills with a focus on how to develop them. It has 15 skills and a table to define them:
- Time Management
- Action Oriented
- Business Acumen
- Ethics and Values
- Building Effective Teams
- Command Skills
- Conflict Management
- Decision Quality
- Developing Direct Reports (those you manage) and Others
- Managing Vision and Purpose
- Motivating Others
Checking in with a leader’s team on regular basis is also important, as well as with their stakeholders. After you have gathered this information, make sure you circle back to the leader and get their perspective in a timely fashion. Work to separate the agenda, politics, personality, and the actual work from each person or group.
I would suggest that for each leader you have reporting to you, create a document and write down your thoughts and questions you want to ask, and keep it through out the whole year. Add wins and feedback you get throughout the year. This will help you during performance reviews and to spot patterns you wish to encourage or discourage. It will also help you avoid cognitive bias e.g. recency effect, poor memory or only remembering the fires/crises.
Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose
Daniel Pink, in his book, Drive, lists three elements of the motivation formula: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. In situations where people are paid fairly, this trio drives, engages, and stimulates us to do our best work. Whilst I often see good leaders work hard to deliver all three of these for their teams who are Individual Contributors, I have noticed that more senior leaders begin to neglect Mastery or Leadership Development for leaders at mid level. There is often an over-reliance on ‘learn on the job’, with little opportunity for reflection or professional coaching. A great leader is great at feedback and coaching.
That said, to a large degree your boss defines your actual level of autonomy and the organization defines the level of discovered purpose (e.g. startups are still looking for market fit, whereas a large company like Apple understands its market fit and is evolving it). In a larger organization, the level of autonomy will often be reflected through organisation culture and will either flow from the top, or else middle “management” will create a level of protection for those under their wings.
On an even bigger abstraction, the sector you are working in will impact autonomy, e.g. Banking is very regulated in most countries, thus the sector is reflected in the risk-taking of C-Suite and Board decisions, which is also influenced by perceptions of investor tolerance.
Support and Grow Leaders
Explicit communication (i.e. no telepathy), effective feedback and coaching for leaders is vital. Every decision they make can cost money, a project deadline, a member of staff, etc. Thus they need it more than an individual contributor. The reality is that “we” think managers can manage and thus give them less time or less training or less face time.
- Have regular, consistent 1 to 1’s with all the people that report to you i.e. that you manage
- Do not build collections of feedback, help them understand what they are getting right and not.
- Be careful of building patterns of behavior from separate incidents, ensure you know the real context from all sides. Weak Leaders who are too decisive and judgmental people have a habit of creating a pattern and than forcing all the behavior into that pattern e.g. tunnel vision. And we are all weak sometime.
- Agree on a method for separating operational, strategic, and career oriented sessions. e.g. have your leader send you a regular (weekly) operational email, and ask them to point out what needs to be discussed. Have 1 to 1s every week and have a monthly check-in with them which can be an extended 1 to 1.
- Be open and approachable – if people think you are judgmental they will not be open or honest with you.
- Grow team strength – Through meeting as a team discussing purpose, review if you achieving that purpose together. Spend social time together. Learn together.
- Have a clear plan for growing their capabilities.
- Create psychological safety. Have you ever been in a room of leaders where no one speaks up? This is usually a sign of lack of psychological safety. A lack of psychological safety (e.g. when a director is judgmental) limits the risk-taking of managers in suggesting creative or innovative solutions, or in raising real concerns. This can stunt their leadership growth.
- High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here’s How to Create It
- How To Build Psychological Safety On Your Team
- Take regular surveys on Psychological safety
- Do not make them guess, if you have an opinion or made a decision, tell them, own it. Explain the Why. The worse leaders I have served have all done this e.g. made me guess, hint, telepathy, etc.
Good books/reports on leadership:
- The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell
- The New Leaders: Transforming The Art Of Leadership Into The Science Of Results
- Principles: Life and Work
- Building the Leadership Skills that Matter
- Strengths Finder 2.0
- Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self Interest
- The Essential Drucker: The Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker’s Essential Writings on Management
- Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager
- Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win
- Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity
Why am I talking about this?
“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away”
My own experience so far includes leading teams (24 in total), departments and organizations. Here one post about leading software engineers. In each I have had successes and failures, and both have provided valuable lessons. I have also been in a leader in multiple countries, and had to evolve and learn multiple national cultures, here is what I learned moving to the US.
My first “department” was running a kitchen (I was the Head Chef). I have since led an organization of 330 staff, then multiple departments with 600 people, and later several departments with 21,000 people total. My experience is a mixture of Government, Political, Non Profits, and Private sectors.
You can see my full career history on Linkedin.
I will break up the rest of my thoughts into four more posts. Below is a summary of what I will cover in each post:
“Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions.”
Harold S. Geneen
Your behaviors are contagious
- Build trust, with those you manage/reports through being authentic, clear in communication and consistent
- Stay empathetic and thoughtful whilst remaining proactive and decisive
- Always be learning and stay open to new possibilities
- Keep your empathy and humility while you evolve through this journey
- Be a boss that reports(those you manage) want to work for
- Manage your Ego
- Admit your failures and help people learn from failures and grow from them
- Advocate for your people and their needs
- Advocate for your Brand and Business
2) Create strategy. Build an environment for execution. Adapt.
“After a business implements a strategy, competitors will react, and the firm’s strategy will need to adapt to meet the new challenges. There is no stopping point and no final battle. The competitive cycle continues on perpetually. Produce and compete or perish”
Thomas Timings Holme
- Understand the business
- Align with business goals
- Have a plan and deliver it
- Balance the needs of stakeholders and those of your team
- Measure improvements and failure, but do not let metrics define you
- Be good at change management through early involvement
- Advocate for your department
- Make decisions, be decisive without being judgmental
- Be consistent in reporting
- Pay Attention to the real world customers and to competitors
3) Grow others & always be learning
“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”
- Catalyze the growth of others by facilitating opportunities for achievement, leadership and learning
- Encourage creativity and evolve it to Innovation
- Be great at coaching and feedback
- Grow Leaders and find the right career path
- Spend time growing your team as a team
- Have a framework for Team performance
- Encourage Diversity, manage the growth it takes to be diverse
- Be great at handovers, make change easier with involvement and prep
- Build out training for each career path that is important to you
- Build momentum through on-boarding in a well thought out way
4) Understand and evolve the culture
“Our number one priority is company culture. Our whole belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand will just happen naturally on its own.”
Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos
How we do things around here
- Strive to build a positive, transparent and constructive culture
- Understand and define cultural principles, together
- Build Psychological safety/Trust across your team
- Understand failure, how to manage your emotions and make it part of evolution
- Appreciate Structure and how it creates barriers, silos and stupid behaviors
- How does your physical environment affect people’s work
- Authentic recruitment – Culture fit vs Culture Add
- Celebrate and learn when people leave
- Encourage everyone to own appreciation and celebration
- Empathy vs rational decision making
- Understand when you are overwhelmed
5) Get Results
“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results”
Sir Winston Churchill
- Through all the above, produce results for the business and for customers
Within each post I will ask questions and recommend books and posts that I have found helpful
Over my career as a software something, I have had a bunch of technical interviews. Some I have done well in and some I have not.
The first part of this journey was understand something for myself. For the interviews I performed poorly in, about 50% of them I actually knew the answer, but could not get it out. Why was this?
The second part was as I led teams, I wanted to find an accurate way of assessment where a person was in their journey, whether they would stick with it, and whether they are a good fit for the rest of the team.
Here is the presentation I did to a lunch and learn group at CodeCore:
I feel many Technical Interviews fail to do their job properly. Whether the process is not well enough thought out, the people involved are not trained, whether interviewers are evaluated higher for their technical skills but not their people skills, or they really just trying to get extra “clones” of themselves. But without a doubt the worst is, there is a lack of reflection and accountability for the actual success of their chosen candidates.
Still too many questions are on topics or specifics that the interviewee will never do in their actual day to day work.
So many people conducting technical interviews fail to imagine that this is a two way process. That the “employer” is actually showing the future “employee” how they work with people.
All of that said, some are getting right and it is not from the traditional “hazing” approach, but a more collaborative approach, where the potential “employee” show a project they have worked on, where the interviews feel like a great passionate conversation..
A friend (non technical) recently asked me how I lead my dev team, he had led product and marketing before, so I have attempted to focus on the differences, that said good team leadership has commonality with all disciplines.
I currently have three software engineers, one IT/Dev OPs and one product designer (3 female and 3 male). In the past I have led 23 teams. I will use this blog for my team to hold me to account 🙂
Being accountable for “no surprises” is the core. Where ever possible you should be accountable for all of the people that you work with, people should not be surprised by what you say, because you have already asked their opinion, maybe even evolved your thinking and they can see the process by which you went through to reach a decision.
It means more communication and more interaction with your people. It means you can be vulnerable. It means stepping outside of your “assigned” responsibility and forming relationships with all parts of your organization, and other organizations. Its about being connected, its about being a leader and a follower. It shows that people understand you and your core principles. That you can be consistent and when you adapt they can see that to.
There are not things left unsaid, you are not passive aggressive or have control issues.
Being a Leader of context
The role you take on should change depending on the context. Sometimes you are the coach, sometimes the mentor, sometimes the friend, sometimes a psychologist, sometimes the engineer, sometimes the product owner, sometimes the user advocate, sometimes the engineer advocate, sometimes the leadership context, sometimes the inspirer, sometimes the critic.. There are different leadership styles and yours should adapt. In 2003, prior to my MBA this book really helped me step up my game The New Leaders: Transforming The Art Of Leadership Into The Science Of Results
You are the right person at the right time
Different places/ways to work
People are generally smarter/productive longer, when they can have different types of environments to work in and have multiple ways to express themselves. Have multiple places that engineer can work in. When I recruited my current team, I got the organization on board with the following:
- Give the engineer a laptop
- Have somewhere comfortable to work e.g. sofa, kitchen
- Have somewhere serious/quiet with extra screen
- Have somewhere they can stand up and code
- Have somewhere outside if possible, natural light/fresh air is a great refresher
- Make it possible to work remotely
- That there are white boards for people to express, figure out a problem.
This is a good book if you want to really consider your culture and the way you work. The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace. Without doubt you should ask each team member what helps them concentrate, what distracts them, what they need to stay in the zone. The obvious big one for many is a good set of headphones. Do not underestimate the quality of a good display also, anything at the quality of a Retina can reduce eye tiredness.
Different physical environments can refresh you, help you think bigger or focus. Be flexible.
Leave chunks of time to code
Engineers are generally more efficient if given chunks of time to code. Thus have your meetings meetings near mornings or lunchtime. To give several hours of interrupted research/code time.
- Get engineers to block out their time on their calendars, so product/founders can book time when needed
- Use an IM system to ask questions such as Slack or Skype during those chunks of time and do not expect a quick response
Developers need chunks of time to be left alone to get on and focus
Being a good human being
This means understanding each others needs and wants. Expectations both from the lead and engineer should not be hidden, things should not be left unsaid. Sometimes we need processing time, to check in destructive emotion, but you should still tell that person how they made you feel. You should also be kind but not nice.
Both people should be able to be vulnerable with each other and trust each other. You both need to avoid surprises. This is done through good communication, which is not common and takes effort. This needs time together.
- Feedback in the moment, always ask permission before giving feedback and make it about the behaviour you saw. Do not assume intent, in fact assume positive intent. Give positive and negative feedback. Understand how each member likes to receive feedback. This is my slide deck from teaching my teams about feedback.
- Weekly One to One checkins 10-30 mins, any fire issues? any smoking issues?
- Monthly sit down at least one hour. I have a list of questions to always go through, which we agree when we start together.
- Allow others to lead, giving opportunities to members of your team to lead on a project/task whatever you do not need to be the boss of everything.
Question set for monthlyFirst conversation should be to agree the questions, here is a starting set. They should based around the culture we wish to create and how we want to treat our people
- How are you feeling? Any hot issues we should talk about?
- How are you contributing to the company and your team?
- Are you a Team player? How are you involving others in your process?
- How are you growing/learning? Are we are helping your reach potential? Do you have mastery?
- What are your Technical Capabilities here? Where do you feel competent?
- How are you helping the company grow and evolve?
- Are you Hungry? How productive are you? Are you taking inspired action?
- Do you have a friend here?
- Do you have a mentor or coach in the company? Are you coaching others?
- Do you want stay with the team and the company?
- What can can we do better as an employer/me as your leader/CEO?
- Do you feel you have Autonomy? Are there things stopping you doing your job?
- Do you feel you have Purpose? Do you understand what we are building and why?
- Are you contributing to the wider community? What can we do to help?
One to one, face to face is the highest bandwidth of communication
Your processes and system should evolve.
The way you do things should be Agile (as originally intended i.e. flexible and evolve NOT rules). Agree a workflow together from product to engineer. It should change and evolve to be right for the context.
- When starting with a team, I will audit all current systems and ask for each members views privately on each tool/system/process, to ensure the less confident or shy people get their say
- I will then have a team meeting to review what we need and what we like
- Any team wide system change should involve all parties
- Deadlines should have engineer involvement and not be dictated downwards
For example in my latest team we discussed the tools we wanted and we decided to use
- Slack for IM
- BaseCamp for idealization and research
- Github for product/features/user stories and code/issue management – The way we used tags evolved several times.
Freedom to solve the actual problem
Sometimes Product/founders/Engineering leads may try to solve the problem in their way i.e. micromanage. Giving the engineer the “code monkey” role of just coding to a very prescribed way i.e. an exacting feature. Giving no space, to actually problem solve can be very limiting and create an environment where creativity and innovation are stifled i.e. the evil called micromanagement. Most humans do not like their freedom taken from them. So find the the right balance between the organizations’ needs and the employees. That said some people like more structure, context matters.
- Give space for engineers to solve the problem in their way. If you are already using Agile then you may evolve the story a couple times as users respond to the work.
- Within the user stories/feature requirements do not limit. Ensure you actual describe the problem you want solve, suggestion ideas/solutions but where possible do not dictate
- Involve the team in talking about the features and discussing possible approaches, but the actual engineer who takes the feature gets to decide
- Engineers should have some understanding of the customers. Ensure your engineers meet customers, and spend time with your Customer success/relations people.
- Keep the engineer accountable for the response by users. Thus have good monitoring software and have a culture when engineer go back to check the real world implications of their work.
Micro Management is the evil of leadership, it kills creativity, innovation, trust, and growth. It can appear both in a manager and in the processes you impose on your people
A culture of science
Scientists experiment many times and fail many times and one day they get it right. Encourage a culture of learning from mistakes not teasing/persecution which means encouraging experimentation and forgiveness.
- Discussion should be based on logic in reference to code
- Create an environment where people can I say “I do not know.. but here is an idea/feeling/instinct”
- Call people out if they tease others about their failures or use it to argue they case in a discussion
- Careful to not let irrelevant aspects enter into the discussion such as gender, race, age or sexuality. I say careful because humour can involve these but they should not sway discussions and the receiving of the humour should not be hurt.
Experimentation and failure should be Ok, team members should not “haze” each other. Leadership need to be able to move on
To build a team well, needs reflection and the teams involvement
The team needs time to connect as a team and evolve together as a team. We have a book club where we talk about the teams performance in terms not related to code. How good are we at communicating:
- Giving/receiving feedback
- How do we react to others ideas?
- Who do we go to help us through problems?
- Who pair code with more often
- How much do we know about each others strengths and weaknesses?
- How vulnerable can we be with each other?
We used The Five Dysfunctions of a Team to kick start this conversation. Every couple months we take time to talk about how a team we are in terms of communication. You need to invest in the actually team to have a team..
You need time for the team to talk about the team, spot weaknesses and evolve
Ask your people how you are doing
“How am I doing?” should not be a hard question for you. Ask it informally in your one to one monthlies and formally at least every 3 months. The no surprise rule should be for all. It should be 360 your leaders, peers and your people. Find out if people get what they want and what they need from you, in terms of communication, conflict/challenge, advice and performance.
You learn faster by other people telling you what you are doing right and wrong
Collaborating with your leader
Hopefully you chose your boss carefully when you were recruited into the organization.. but things evolve, so maybe that perfect person you went to work for, moved on. I have found the best leaders are those who keeping growing i.e. they read about how to be a better leader, they can be vulnerable with you and you can talk openly. When you make mistake your instinct is to tell your boss, when one of your team performs really well you never feel the need to take credit and generally you have no fear of your boss talking to your team. If you do find the above hard, understand why.
- Never underestimate the amount of time you will need for your leader
- Know each others strengths, weaknesses and blind spots
- Find those things you really enjoy about each other
- Find those things that you find difficult and talk about them
- Build strong relationships throughout the organization, ensure all find you approachable
Success in any organization is about working together and helping each other evolve
Adding to the team
Whilst you as the lead will drive this process, you should involve the team in the process. You should ensure everyone is trained and good at the interview process. This may mean mock interviews, where your team interview you. Its worth noting that you do not want more clones, you need different types of people, skillsets, who sometimes will clash, but have the communication skills and reasoning capacity to grow from each other.
- Be clear what the team is missing and what you need
- Agree on what you are looking for both terms of technical and personality
- Ensure the all those that are interviewing try out their questions, again no surprises
- Have space for something social
- The best interviews are like a great chat amongst friends about something technical
- Personally I hire on communications skills, problem solving skills, learning capability and then current technical skills
- I often look for potential as much as current craft capabilities
- I do not hire more of me, I want diversity
- If employing someone with less experience, be clear what the areas are and put in place a training program to fill those gaps.
I look for growth potential, hunger, curiosity, pro-active, problem solving capability, how they will add value to the team and how they will help the team evolve. Then I start start to consider technical experience.
Software engineers are great problem solvers
Sometimes we box people into a role. Humans are so much more than their job title and job description. Most people are capable of applying their skills in other domains. You have a problem, why not ask a software engineer?
I will keep adding to this blog as I learn.
Ageism is often used in reference to what some people think about older people. I have seen ageism used to undermine the opinions and thoughts of younger people.
I think what I have learned is that perception of someones age has some strong prejudice and assumptions that come with it. That these undermine people when they need not. That by treating someone with more or less respect due to their age can often blind you.
My friend circle varies massively in age range with my oldest friend being 35 years older then me and my youngest 23 years younger. Interestingly I find younger people more prejudice than older for relationships. Personally I like a good mix of friends who we can have fun, conversation and trust. Having friends from very different backgrounds, helps me to have greater perspective of the actual world.
Dating sites encourage age discrimination, with Tinder/POF/okCupid (not eHarmony) having it as priority information. Age seems an easy category to filter on, but like looks it’s not a good predictor of chemistry or how you feel with someone. What little I know of relationships is you need to be a partners (that control and guidance should be shared by both), grow together and respect each other. Also I have found that some people are more concerned how others think i.e. he looks too old for her or vice versa than anything inside the actual relationship. We are sometimes concerned with one taking advantage of the other. The question really is what is equal? No doubt a journey travelled together is more powerful and sharing the different perspectives of your different experiences is more powerful.
Being younger in work
My experience in my twenties was there was a lot of assumption by older people about what I did and did not know. I found myself looking older to be heard. I had a goatee for a long time to and dressed to look older, it made a huge difference in the reception of my thoughts. I also found that adults/leaders/managers would not include the why when they were doing something and just tell us what and sometimes how. I felt like a child and I did not like it, in fact it made me more rebellious. And in part I gave up sharing my best ideas. The best leaders who would explain the why would get best of me.
Our Life Stage can sometimes be mistaken for ageism, for example couples tend to hang with couples, couples with kids hang with couples with kids. Whilst this is not always true, there is something in it. One potential employer asked me because you have a child will you be able to truly commit to this job. I just left the interview, and I don’t have a child!
Being Older in work
Now as an older person occasionally I have been asked if I have too much responsibility or have the energy to really commit to a job i.e. stay late on a regualry basis. The energy one is something I have seen both to me and others (if you know me you know I have more energy then the average 16 year old). In fact it has increased the older I get (hangovers however last longer then they should)! Medical science is also improving the quality of our lives, which is good because most of us will not be able to afford to actually retire. One employer asked me because I was older would I be able to keep up with the younger employers? I asked him what he actually meant, he said are you hungry enough to work long hours? It felt like he liked to take advantage of people. I have always worked long hours. Six months ago I worked for two years seven days a week.. My age had nothing to do with it.
It’s assumed that if you’ve made it to a certain level, you must be over a certain age and have advanced credentials (Eg. A master’s degree). Assumption makes an arse out of me and you.
Startup and Techs
When I go to startup pitches I find the Angels (Investors) tend to favour young men. There is a combination of sexism and ageism going on here. And there is a mythology that all successful startups are built by young people, which is not supported by any science but appears to be the “view”. This article digs into this.
Mark Zuckerberg apparently said that people under 30 are smarter. Another article explored The Brutal Ageism of Tech. One practice of hiding jobs behind Recent Graduates is explored here. There appears to be a view that people over 50 should not be in leadership jobs.
Rising above ageism
I want to be better than my past experience, I want to evolve not enforce a stupid prejudice. So here are my suggestions to myself:
Never ask someone their age
Do not judge someone by their age. It is lazy, get to know them first. Attitude may be effected by your age but is not dictated by it. Just because you started with same (or opposite) political view as your parents does not mean you keep them. Its experiences not age that will determine what they become.
Talk to all like an adult
Take the time to explain why, treat all like equals and invest in a person. Treat others as you wish to be treated.
Ideas should be valued regardless of age
A great idea can come from experience but also from lack of experience. Understanding the idea is more important than making assumptions of what I perceive it to be or who delivers it. Ideas are always fragile, so grow it see where it takes you before dismissing it.
Actual experiences is more important than age
Wisdom I feel comes from experience more the bad ones than the good ones. Own your experiences, they maybe apply to others. That said, experiences can also limit us, sometimes you need to prove there is more to explore.
Age does not relate to capability
There are now more ways to learn, than ever before. And its not just knowledge, There is more shared wisdom in the world. Take this article on reaching 40 and what you realize. Just look at TED.COM or the number of self help books. Money does not always determine access to knowledge. And teaching has become better so we can all learn faster. In fact I would say that two things can show this how well read a person or how many “good” videos (ted.com) or video subscriptions a person follows e.g. RubyTapas. All of that said getting fit right is often more important than current capability.
Age does effect health but not energy or drive
That said, it can be severally muted with a good diet and exercise. When I was younger I took my health for granted. As I got older I appreciated my body more, learned more and in some ways I am fitter now than at any other time of my life.
What thoughts or experiences do you have?
A person, company, organization community can be judged on its actions and behaviours not its intents. Especially when the shit hits the fan. Its easy to be nice when the world is all good. Behaviours, the culture under stress shows the real capacity of the leadership.
So I looked for a tech cofounder and infact found almost three. Then a friend who was a developer said they would be happy to “play” and see what comes of it, if we paired (pair programming) as it would be fun, and if he was going to use his non-work time he wanted it to be fun. I agreed this was a better approach, building alone is hard (Thanks Phil)
A bit of context
My father was a computer engineer i.e. he fixed mainframes for Digital, DEC and than Apple II upwards. My first computer i.e. my dads was Sinclair ZX81 it had 1k of memory and used a tape cassette for storage. I learnt BASIC. My second computer (this time mine!) was a BBC Micro 32k of RAM. My first serious application was again written in a different form of BASIC and allowed you to paint and draw. My childhood was very unstable and I went to a number of foster homes and many schools (I was little too curious). Anyways eventually I got to college (16 yrs old) and did a (BTEC) Diploma in Computer Science.
It felt too easy for me and I was more curious about humans so dropped the course (even though I was one of the top performers) and took a bunch of A Levels in Psychology, Sociology, Communications and Human Biology. At this point I learnt , I was a really bad at written english (it took several years before I found out I was dyslexic). I dropped the courses and went to Northern Ireland for a year or so. I came back and tried again in one year intensive courses. Someone close to me died and I screwed up my exams.
I got enough to get into the Higher National Diploma for Computer Science at the University of Hertfordshire, UK. In the first year I was in the top 10% of my class and got moved up to a Degree program and graduated in 1996. And than than did not code again until 2013.
Becoming a coder, again..
[update] in hindsight these courses gave me confidence, but did not relate to the reality of what it is like to be a developer in a full-time job.
I wanted to learn Ruby and Rails, all along because I want to build prototypes for my startup (Professional You). Yet there were no local courses. I prefer learning with others, its good to have a peer group. So in Jan 2013, I booked myself on RailsConf 2013 and gave myself a deadline to read and complete Learn Web Development with Rails prior to the conference. I was introduced to a start-up (Thanks Jessie) and started working with them two days a week as a junior rails dev. I learned a couple things about myself, I was not good at asking questions from the lead software developer as I was worried about taking them away from their tasks (as they were under a lot of pressure from their boss) and we worked remotely, which is not ideal for a junior. I also found testing before coding was very difficult, in part because thought I needed to know rails better first. Additional good Rails book that helped in my journey were Rails 4 in action Rails Anti patterns, Peepcodes Videos on RSpec and rails casts. railscast are brilliant for an immediate problem to solve but is very out of date, Code School as a selection of rails videos as does GoRails. That said I do not find that anything I learn online or via video sticks, I seem to forget it quickly..
If I was to do it again:
- Learn Web Development with Rails there is just no better
- Build several Web Apps for yourself e.g. store all your boardgames/books, role up characters for RPG, whatever feeds into your hobbies and use rails casts to add features
- Read Rails Anti patterns
It becomes clear that Rails does so much and its BIG, but the better your Ruby knowledge, the easier working with Rails, no shit. There are times you have to build your own model without Active Record and connect to APIs. Everything becomes a little easier, your code gets tighter.
I tried the Well Grounded Rubyist book, whilst I understood all the concepts it was too much without having not built Ruby Apps first. Most of the online Ruby course were interesting such as Code Academy, but they failed to stick in my head, one exception was a course on Lynda called Ruby Essentials, which frankly was brilliant (Teaches the basics and the gets you to apply them in a Ruby App). After that I tried the Ruby Koans. The hard part about coding is trying to remember it all, understanding I think is easy but holding it all in your head is hard. One senior developer said to me you do not need to remember everything just remember you can, then Google it. The more times you use it the easier it will be to remember. His other tip was to store all of his projects on Google Drive, so he could use it has augmented memory.
Training that actual gets you to build an application, I found to be more useful and gave me extra value, rather then little bits of code. Looking at how other developers tackle the same problem is also incredibly useful. Peepcode did a bunch of Play by Play videos, which taught me a lot about how they solved the problem and I also learnt how to use different tools.
The other thing you should do is work out how to connect to your local community:
- Ruby Rogues podcast is awesome and their discussion site is worth the $10 per year
- Find the local Ruby meetup group
- Find a peer/mentor who will review your non work code
If I was to start again:
- The best beginner book for Ruby was The Book of Ruby: A Hands-On Guide for the Adventurous
- Add RubyTapas videocasts
- Then follow up with the Well Grounded Rubyist book
- Read Metaprogramming Ruby 2
Learning about software engineering/development..
There are a bunch of tools and “behaviours” (ways of working) that you have to learn, some of this comes from you just coding, but some you need to spend a bit of time working on i.e. Git (or other version control)
- BASH – Re-learning Unix i.e. Terminal on the Mac, SSH
- Text Editors – Trying out different text editors, BBEDIT, RubyMine, Sublime and finally Atom
- Version Control – Getting comfortable with version handling i.e Git, how to use GitHub, decided to use command line to embed it in my head
- Package Management – so home-brew is better than Mac Ports
- Debugging – Where to find the bugs for debugging, using irb, rails console, understanding the logs and the stack trace
- Object Orientation learn and understand all the meta language. I have yet to find a good book on this.
- Data Structures – I am comfortable with, but I have yet to find a good learning option for this
- Algorithms – The best option I found was Grokking Algorithms
- Where to find the information that will help i.e. online manual, google, stack overflow, google groups
- How to tackle the actual problem, when to step away and take a moment
- Where to ask a senior and not annoy them (still working on this one)
You are never ready, its just a matter of choosing the time, finding the courage to be vulnerable and going for it.
Its seems surprising that some of the best times in my life are when its has gone so wrong, you really discover the other people around you in that moment the good and bad. You could wait to be that perfection and never make a move. I knew that two days a week of coding after working the other five was tiring me out, but I also knew I liked to code, I love problem solving. That said I had yet to build my GitHub profile, most of my work was private, most of my student work was very specific, so not a complete web application but do this on this page. Whatever, It was time to go full-time. Lets see what happens..
The best way to get what you want is to simply ask
Just before christmas 2013, I sent out an email to the Ruby meetup group in Vancouver, BC. The discussion space often has recruiters looking for rails developers, why not flip this and advertise me! I did not expect much of a response..
Subject: Looking for a Junior Ruby on Rails job
I hope you are having a great day and not too bored..
I have computer science degree and most of an MBA. I have played and succeeded in many other careers like communications and being a politician. And I have learnt that I love to create. So I went back to school (BCIT) to refresh my computer skills and learn web applications, after two years I have done a bunch of evening courses with an average grade of 93%. For the last 6 months I have being learning/coding Rails/Ruby on my weekends for a local startup. I have also attended a bunch of Rails/Ruby conferences in the US on my own dime.
Full-time I have being working for Apple as a Genius/IST Support. I know crazy right working 7 days a week for two years.. I am now looking for a full-time software development role with an emphasis on Rails.
You will find all the good stuff in my linkedin profile -> ca.linkedin.com/in/ericbrooke/
Continue having a great day 🙂
In all I got 80 responses, over a four week period (40 within 48 hours). There were 42 real jobs going, 20 were long term contract, 8 short term contract. 10 were you are the first developer, no not good, go employ a intermediate or senior developer! Leaving me with just 17 companies to talk to, after researching each of the companies, I spoke/emailed to them and then did 14 actual interviews. After which I cut it down to five after second interviews I cut it down to two..
Finding the right team to join..
You are the apprentice and you are looking for master/mentor/teacher/coach/facilitor not a boss, not the brilliant programmer whose ego is big enough for you both.
A couple principles for me:
- Those that asked for me to do code test prior to having a first human to human conversation, I did not continue.. I am not your code bitch.. or your slave, talk to the human in me first
- How much they truly bothered to explain who they are as a company and their intended culture, mattered to me.
- You need patient senior developers who are willing to coach and that their bosses will give them the time/leeway to coach
- That you will learn a lot from developers who have different styles and roots, prefer different languages and frameworks
- I need to grow and learn fast, how are you going to help me get to intermediate?
- Seniors that have being teachers or parents tend to be better at explanation. Just a theory at the moment.
I want to work with awesome people.
Be they smart, emotional intelligent, creative or just different. The most laughter at work I have had are with teams of such diversity, with so many forms of intelligence, not just the academic kind. I am going to be spend a lot of time together, consider it a road trip, we will get angry, sad and laugh together. The culture, the people that I work with is important to us all. For these people I will have lasting loyalty, forgive and move on, push the boundaries to ensure there is a future and learn every fricking thing I need to learn, take time out of the rest of my life to make my colleagues life easier. So if you send me a coding test before, we know, we like each you can frankly go @@@@ yourself.
A good interview is a collaboration of us exploring each other.
[updated] Questions to ask –
- Have you ever had any juniors before?
- How do you review code?
- What is your test Coverage? What are you not testing?
- Do you have Introspectives? What do you do to help developers learn?
- Do you use pull requests?How do you use them?
- Do you state why the code is wrong in the pull requests?
- How will help me growth fast, so I am no longer a junior?
- Is there flexibility on which projects/teams I work?
Understanding your capability is hard and is often judged on so many irrelevant things
There are few jobs where you are ask prove you can actually do the job before you actually do it. Some tech interviews felt like you were expected to put out on the first date.
The best I had were conversations and tested practical experience, not theoretical mathematics. The actually best asked we to describe what I know and then sat me down at a computer asked me my favourite coding tool loaded up an example application. They asked where would I find a routes file, explain these routes, where do they take me, asked me to follow the whole path what was load etc. After if I want to add this to the app what would you do? “feel free you access the internet”, explain what you are thinking? The sneaking bastards even had a couple “bad” things in the code to see if I would notice. So I did not mention them until I was about to leave 😉 That was my first job offer
The worst started with theoretic problems to write pseudo code on the board… Funnily enough they started questioning my pseudo code. Some people see an interview as a way to prove their intellect not understand yours.. Have you forget who is interviewing here, you, er no both of us.
For people who did their computer science degree a long time ago or learnt on your own path; I recommend this book Think like a Programmer by V. Anton Spraul. The most stupid, abstract, non-relevant questions I have every being asked in any interview were all in technical interviews. And folks I was an elected politician.
Testing the “interviewers”
I have learnt more from people, when I have failed or needed help.
So every job interview I find something to fail at and see how the interviewer copes. I will also ask my interviewers how they will cope with my failure and how they cope with theirs. I will always ask at the end of the interview what do you like and not like about me. I learn so much from their response.
The type of organization to work for..
If I am going to work on something, I need to care..
Go for an one domain company, startup or for an agency style..
Domain companies tend to give you a position and you have to earn your right to grow, the structure tends to be more rigid, yep be a junior for three years. You get small parts of a big cog. But you would learn about scale to a higher degree. And maybe they may have systems/coaching/mentors/learning plans in place to accelerate growth of juniors. That would make sense would it not?! not one on my list.
Startup, happy to take the risk but you have to love it and I did not love any of the startup offers. Also they tend to lack the numbers of senior developers you can learn from.
I went agency i.e. build prototypes, because I wanted to work on a lot of different products in different domains, I felt I would learn more faster, and so far that is true comparing my growth to my friends. With prototypes you have to do the beginning a lot and then you finish, and then you do it again, there is opportunities to grow in each project.
The job I took
It felt like a conversation between curious people.
It started on the phone, progressed to face 2 face and then there was a take-home coding test. They were good questions that I had to think about. The whole process felt open, unstressful, they trusted me and I trusted them.
I asked my boss what does he look for?
“People with a wide life experience who can clearly show they can learn”
So far it is pretty awesome I get to work with three seniors who have different approaches and the diversity is already teaching me a lot.
So after two and half months I got laid off. They removed the Junior developer position (it affected two positions), and I was the least experienced, through out the company). Two weeks later 11 more people got laid off, then another bunch a couple weeks later.
It was also reminder whilst you can test the people you get to work with. But their bosses can(may have to) change their mind (and in fairness it may be outside of their control). So in future I will look at the leadership and their track records.
I would still make the same choices, and worked there. I learned an incredible amount and worked on 4 projects.
All of that said, I ended up in another startup mybesthelper where my first job was to get our tests over 85% and upgrade their Web App to Rails 4.1, fun 🙂
I am a workaholic (I never feel I work hard enough), there used to be a few things that make me pause and force me to reflect such as illness, love, friends, mentors, etc. Sometimes these “interruptions” are random and infrequent and may not occur for several years.
Life has taught me to occasionally pause and consider who and where I am.
Every year now I review my life, I considering all aspects and what I need to change or not. At work they would call this a performance review.
You in the end, are the only person you have to live with throughout your life, you need to stay in touch and avoid too much drift. A little drift is good because it can allow you to reflect and consider new paths.
I use the following categories to help me breakdown what is important.
These are my personal ones that have change throughout my life, you may have different ones, over time you will find that they will evolve.
Is there enough love my life in terms of relationships, friends and family? Are there people in my life that cost more then they give/gave? Am I giving enough to them? Do I Love myself? Does your “friend” spend more time talking about themselves then asking you how you are? Who helps you out when your are sick? Who calls you out on your stupidity? Of course these questions are reversible? e.g. are you a good friend to them?
Am I working or playing towards something? Am I just floating? Am I happy with my level of progress?
Am I giving back? Am I mentoring, teaching or helping others grow. Am I paying attention to politics and the communities needs?
Am I still the same person or have I evolved? Am I growing and learning? Am I pushing the boundaries of my personality, my knowledge, and my skills. Is there enough challenge in my life?
Do I have muses? Do I have people? Books? Music? Arts? Games? Food? Is there something refreshing my soul? Do I have moments to explore or simply rest?
Am I healthy? Do have the body that I want? Can it do the things I want? Do I eat as I should? Do I sleep as I should? Are you snappy with friends? Do you need time off?
Do I enjoy it? Do I have a leader who inspires me? Does the organization value me? Am I able to use my core capabilities? Is the cost of working for them matched by the value I receive? Yes I give my work a performance review – are they what I need?
Do I have enough? Do I have plans for when things go wrong? Do I have saving goals/purposes.
9. My Drivers
Over time you will start to see patterns in your behaviours, things or people you prefer to be around. It has helped me understand that I have certain drivers (some good and some not) for example I am incredibly curious, I want to know why, but do I spend too much time exploring/discovering and not acting? There are things that I sometimes find difficult to manage e.g. being a workaholic do I make sure that I have enough rest and/or vacation, is my health good?; we are all better people to others when we are refreshed.
Making it real
Often I will draw a mind map for each (1-8) and then give it an overall score between 1 and 10. If it is lower then 5 I start to consider how to improve it, by adding things that could improve the score on my mind map on the edges. I build an action plan for the next year e.g. If I do not have enough Love, should I meet new people, do I deepen the my relationships that are good for me, or do I remove people from my life. After completing all the mind maps I consider the bigger picture and the inter relationships between each mind map, e.g. could I kill two birds with one stone? Or is one so high and at the cost of others e.g. Work is at 9 but Love is at 2.
Then I will consider my drivers. Some of these drivers will clash with others, how are you managing that balance? I draw an illustration for each of my drivers and consider both the good and bad of each.
Then I again I will look at the connections between all (1-9).
This is the way I consider my life on an annual basis, you may have different things that matter, different drivers that push you. I urge you to discover who and where you are and how to make sure you are in control of your life, not too much control, but enough to be heading in the direction that you wish.
The reality for most people is you will have many jobs and careers.
My journey so far would appear to be all over the map. I started as apprentice potter, a newspaper delivery boy, a general dogsbody in a kitchen, a cook, a chef, a computer scientist, a student politician, a trainer, a charity campaigner, a political campaigner, a english teacher, a dive instructor, a politician, a cabinet member, a marketing VP, consultant, startup founder, a college professor, a tech support, and a developer.
Every job and career can teach you many things (if you are paying attention), changing either, will give you a faster track to understand the similarities and difference in different sectors and jobs. In the end by having different of jobs/careers you will see connections, innovations that others who are stuck in one role and career will rarely see.. For me I connect so many disparate things, see opportunities where others are blind and I am constantly readdressing what others see as the “truth”, common sense or the obvious. All because they are coming from one angle or a limited few angles and I am not.
Hint when you have lost your keys stand on a chair it will allow you to see the room from a different angle that you are unfamiliar with and you will pay more attention because it is new.. I am suggesting the same thing about your career..
A job and career should fit to your needs and desires at the time.. sometimes that will be simply to pay the rent, other times it should be explore another part of you. Choose a pathway of jobs and careers that will make you happy and that will teach you the things you need and desire, to help you with the next step.. consider it a pathway or a tree with many opportunities..
Plan your professional life.
So if you change your job career regularly what about loyalty to orgainsations and businesses, fair question:
- Public companies are often more loyal to their shareholders and the organisations survival then you, yes even if you are the founder or CEO.
- Private companies loyalties are determined by the power structure or family relationships or funders.
- Governments are loyal to the last electorate vote, who often vote on the last bad thing the government did, whole programs and departments are wiped out as governments change.
- Non-Profits immediate future are determined on the economic cycle
Ok a touch cynical I appreciate, but the reality is organisations are always changing even if a bit slowly. And so should you!
Here is a couple things that helped me and things I continue grow:
1. Importance of self awareness
The more context and angles you see yourself in, the more constructive feedback you get, the more you will truly understand yourself. As you experience different organisation cultures you will build an understanding in what you like and dislike. You will need to book sometime for yourself to reflect, process and understand.
Most people are not truly aware of what their dream job is, they even think they do, just do not know until you have tried it. Maybe you have be driven to this point because it was what was expected of you by your family or friends or teachers. Chill, I personally do not think you have to have a job or career for life, you are not a penguin you are a human you have choices. Sometimes having choice is part of the problem..
In my experience, there is something more powerful then the right job, its working with an awesome team. When this happens the role seems less important as long as you are contributing to the team. Being good in your role and being proactive in learning becomes natural.
Trying out a few personalities tests will also give you some slivers off your personality, remember most of this are very superficial and a snapshot in a time and a place.
2. Fear should become your friend
We all need become unafraid of changing both careers and jobs or at least manage the fear so it becomes your adrenaline, your extra boost, a source of strength, not weakness.
You can reduce fear by planning for the change, e.g. taking evening courses, internship, work seven days a week (5 in one job, 2 in the new role), get a mentor in the role you want to be in. Take a vacation and go to a conference that concentrates on that role, check out if these people are the ones you want to be surrounded by.
It is not easy to learn new skills for which you are being paid for. You will often feel “stupid” and fustrated at yourself. Understand the basics of anger management, because your mistakes will make you angry at yourself more! Ask your partner(s), friend(s) or family(s) to keep an eye on you and help you adjust, reflect and process.
3. Choose your boss carefully
It does not matter how good you are, if your boss does not like you, the rest is irrelevent. You must choose a boss who can be both your coach and mentor. You are recruiting for you. You are looking for the best match for you. Let them worry about if you are good match for them. Your interviews should be 50/50 in terms of questions, yes you asking 50%.
Questions to ask:
- How many of your staff have you coached and mentored?
- Describe to me your coaching style?
- Can you give me examples of your staff that have outgrown their roles?
- Have any of your staff ended up in senior positions to you?
- If I fail project how will you react to your colleagues and me?
4. Understand how to build a new network
You will not be here for ever, find out who the good people are. You have a strong advantage over those who stay in one job or company, your network will grow faster, this gives you more opportunities for new roles. Again match people on your personality, not power/influence. Look for the people you want to work with again. Also look for the people who are really good at, what you are not.
5. Understand how to learn and grow your skills fast
This is very important. Get to really know how you learn best and expand your learn capabilities. You should not, use one learning model to understand this, you use many models (they all see different things). It may require an investment on your part, in the end understanding this will determine in part your success in each job and career. Accept that your will occasionally make a mistake or even fail.
Here are some learning style models:
- Honey & Mumford Learning Styles Questionnaire (Activist, Reflector, Theorist and Pragmatist)
- David Kolb’s model (Accommodating, Converging, Diverging and Assimilating)
- Neil Fleming’s VAK/VARK model (visual learners, auditory learners and kinesthetic learners)
- Grasha-Reichmann Learning Style Scale (avoidant, competitive, collaborative, dependent, independent and participative)
6. Grow both your leadership and followship abilities
Whilst we have media mythology that states that leaders are more important.
Leaders only exist if they have followers.
If an organisation expects you to serve as a slave for five years before you can have some leadership responsibilities move on, go work for a smaller growing organization, who offers opportunities.That said it is also important to occasionally work for larger organisations to understand how to work in one e.g. how bureaucratic systems work, how the culture of having several tiers of management, effects innovation and the impact policy decisions from on-high effect the person on the ground floor or customer facing.
In my career I have chosen to work in leadership and then not. It has accelerated my abilities in both. But it is not easy. It has taught me humility, patience, the ability to coach upwards and let others fail if need be. Sometimes you need to reinforce your roots, other times explore a branch. Growing upwards is not always the best choice.
7. Do not burn bridges
A lesson I learned from politics. You will fail, what people really respect is how you do it with humility and style and then come back and show people why you are good. You also never know who will be your allies in the future, occasionally you will have to forgive others and move on. Sometimes you will work out in hindsight it was you creating the problems.
8. You own your future
Plan your professional life. Work out where you think may want to be. Look at the skills, knowledge and experience you will need to acquire, to achieve each step. This plan should and will change as opportunities pop up. Reflect on each job, what did you like about it and what did you not. Reflect on your bosses, what was good and not, how will this improve both your leadership and followship abilities. How specifically are you going to grow, what books, courses, conferences will you attend? Which personality tests will you pay for.
Make a plan, but stay on your toes and change as you learn.
Do not let your manager or HR “talent manage” you. They care about their needs or the organizations needs not yours. Of course listen to their advice, but check in with their motivation. Yes ask them!
Most talent management and skills databases systems are simply shit. They are limited by traditional concepts of the education you have received and the job titles you have had. They are predicting your future by looking at your past. Idiots. Just imagine if we limited the human races future on the past, so why do we do it for every individual. Your past could be a reflection of your parents, the financial place you have come from, if you were teased at school, things that as an adult you can choose to move on from.
Even currently online resumes miss the point, how limited in expression and in understanding the professional needs of a human, even from an organisation perspective they are limited in use.
This simply waste of human potential, angers me so much, it is in part why I founded Professional You and why in time I will blow this shit into the past.
This has become my flame, the thing I will build all the skills I need towards, the types of people I will hunt for to help me with this mission. And if I fail it would be for a cause I believe in.
My path is clear, I understand the full grown tree that I need to grow, in myself. This clarity took many roles, many careers, many failures and success.
I hope this post helps you find some of your tree, or helps you on your journey. Please share your learnings, so I can learn from you 🙂