Category Archives: Psychology
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.
Psychological safety is a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. It can be defined as “being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career” (Kahn 1990, p. 708). In psychologically safe teams, team members feel accepted and respected. It is also the most studied enabling condition in group dynamics and team learning research.
Google researched what made teams successful and Code-named Project Aristotle. Psychological safety was at the top off the list. Vulnerability is a key component not something you hear often from from a bro culture.
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
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
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
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, silos. 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
- Remind the people who report to you, how they can communicate with you e.g. Walk up to me, use Slack, Email me, here is my mobile number, etc
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
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
Here is a presentation that I presented to some of my colleagues at Enova about what it was like to move to the USA.
The Journey of an immigrant from UK, via Canada to US
- Why am I talking about this?
- How did I get a job at Enova?
- Why did I come to work for Enova?
- Cultural adjustment/shock
- Eric arriving in the US
- American/Chicago Culture
- Making friends with Americans
- Working With Americans
- Leading/Working with first job immigrants – What can you do?
- Why employ someone diverse?
- Who is Eric as a person?
- Making Eric stronger/Surviving Immigration
You can look at the Slide and Speaker notes on slideshare here
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?
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.