Category Archives: Values
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 headed to Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada to spend the weekend at a HackingHealth weekend. It was an amazing weekend because of the people, the event was interesting but the people I travelled with, those who I met from the Yukon and the health professionals who shared their lives were awesome. This will not be the last time I spend time in the Yukon 🙂
Most of the event was tracked pretty well on twitter #hhnorth14
Alex Greenhill asked if I would be interested and if I could get 6 other developers, the event would cover the hotel and flights. I advertised on all my social media and the ruby meetup group, django meetup group, Node.JS meetup group. Meetup.com only allows you send messages on 3 separate groups per day, new learning. On a side note it was interesting to see how each meetup group had their pages setup, some had admin needed to forward email, some had a group email and some had a separate discussion groups, with threads.
Anyways during the course of a day I had 40 people respond and another 20 over the weekend. First come, first served, and only those with full web stack and/or Android/IOS skills.
There was a Sparkboard platform which was a great introduction to ideas (Built by Matt Huebert in Node.JS). Here is this events collection.
Vancouver Team is set
Friday – Meeting the team
We were a real mix of personalities and backgrounds. Amazing bunch of people.
The Yukon hospitality really was evident from the beginning, we were picked up from the airport shown and around and dropped off at the Hotel. It was hot here, I needed my shorts and suntan lotion!
The Venue – Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre
It was an awesome venue, big place, big kitchen and you step outside and it was so peaceful.
The teams and ideas
All the ideas were given 60 seconds to pitch their idea. And then everyone talked to people, to discover which team to work with.
I had some great conversations with doctors, nurses, social workers and other technologists. I learned so much about Health in Canada but also about health in the Yukon. And it did not stop there I learned a lot from a social worker there about the local issues, culture and their specific problems.
Brooklyn and I noticed that health discovery was mentioned in a number of projects, so we felt that if we abstracted this problems we could in theory support all three of those projects. We decided from the gecko our purpose, we wanted to build something that help others build out their software quicker. Hopefully allowing participants at Hacking Health to build something greater.
So a lot of the food was made in the next door kitchen by volunteers. It was a good variety of health food and there was often vegetables and fruit available through out the day. Some of the food was made by the Alpine Bakery, yum, yum..
Whitehorse, I like it..
You know I love small towns, where people will look you in the eye and smile. When conversations are easy to start and continue. I suppose its the county in me, people that just enjoys people, and when we don’t we loose ourselves in nature.
Like seriously where else would you be invited to paragliding for day, join a family for dinner, go to a wedding, asked you want to go fishing, bought a couple rounds for drinks, get a bunch of invites to cabins to drink, where you would get a free guide to show you around — at Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada
Saturday – Day of coding and interviews
A lot of the day was spent coding, with breaks to interview different health professionals as they came in, about the health care system and the Yukon.
Interviews – Physician , Nurse, Patients and social workers
Turnover is higher in remote areas, as people come for their “Northern Experience” and return. The work is very varied and you have less choice to specialize or not to do, work you do not like. The work can be “brutal” and its likely most of your work will be related to alcohol or drug addiction. Everyone knows everyone so people notice if you go to a sexual clinic. People are not aware of what programs are available and awareness of new people takes times. Most doctors are self employed and are paid for “fee for service” i.e. paid for appointments, that doctors are not paid for preventive care, thus they reword the appointments to get the patient what they need. The Canada Health Act responded to doctors not taking enough appointments, but has created a situation where preventive is not valued and that doctors do not get paid for going to community meetings. Building trust takes time with remote communities, turnover hurts more than in the cities. People are often confused which service they should access. A number of people stated they were often confused by language used by Doctors and what was on the websites. It was mentioned a bunch of times it was not clear what services could actually offer.
Learning about life in the Yukon
Most business is done by phone not by email. Here there is no phone signal between towns. Most have blackberries if they have phones at all. WIFI is uncommon. There is no Rogers/Fido up here. There are a lot of cabins, with no power, or running water. Most cabins need wood stove to survive the winter.
During the day there was a fair with a helicopter ride. It was a lot of fun.
Sunday – building the pitch
Health Geo was our pitch. Saturday Brooklyn and I coded a lot. Sunday was split with me building a pitch and Brooklyn finishing off the basic funcationality. By the end we had a working project which would allow you put in locations add information for each of those locations e.g. abilities, symptoms. It took us longer then we suspected it would. But we both know a lot more about location services now! It was not pretty but with just a team of two it worked.
There eight pitches left out of thirty ideas. We each got three minutes of pitch and two minutes of Q & A.
David Saint-Jacques (@Astro_DavidS) spoke of his journey to almost become an astronaut and training he went through. I really enjoyed it and he came over with confidence and humality. He later came out for food and drinks. A good guy.
Awards were given out to six of the eight pitches. You can see their spark board summaries here.
With a double award (Popular vote and Health Tech consultation award) going to voicemail for the homeless, using Twilio as their base technology – ReachMe led by Leigh Ayton, social worker .
- “Yukon Baby” for winning the Design Consultation award, led by Chris Nayor MD
- “COPD Action Plan” for winning the Bonnie Walker commercialization & consultation award, led by Bethan Davies, health professional
- “RelievR” for winning the Outside the Cube consultation award, led by Jonah Marek MD
- “3D-printed finger splint” for winning the Technology Services award led by Sam Fleming
Dinner and Drinks
After the work it was time for some fun. We got a space at the Klondike Rib & Salmon Barbecue, the food was great and the waitresses were sassy, one even took a sip of my drink to make sure it was ok 🙂 After we headed to join the organizers, volunteers and an astronaut to drink further.
Heading out of town we went to Andrew and Alyissa’s cabin for drinks and a campfire. It never seems to get completely dark here. Thanks to Sam for driving us out and Jayden on the way back
The Whitehorse team and community
I feel incredible grateful to had the opportunity to be a part of this. This event felt like no other Startup Weekend/Hackathon I had ever being to. It was clear people had put a lot on hold to get this event up and stay running. There were many stories of things falling through yet Ben Sanders and the team, kept it on track. Ben, Andrew, Alyissia, Aarti, Shreya, Tina, Sam and all the others behind the scenes – Thank you 🙂 I wish had worked less and got to know the rest of the volunteers more.
I think Whitehorse would be a great place, where people come up for a couple months, working on their own a software project, maybe they could get a reduction on rent and food for working on local community projects.
Suggestions for Hacking Health:
The event was fantastic, here are some ideas to build on the great work you are already doing.
- There should be a pre briefing about the local health/social issues. This could be a Youtube video or it could be the first session where all can get involved. Either way this should be pre pitch.
- Judging panel should have one developer on it, this is a combination of technology and health after all.
- Create a list of all ideas at HackingHealth events and a list of all pitches given. Sometimes ideas help others develop better ideas. Also people with similar interests may find each other and starting building together outside of the actual events.
- It would also be great to have a quick reference guide to all the privacy limitations specific to the Province / Nation as Hacking Health is international (Seth)
- Health like Education has the great potential to build lego blocks that other teams in the future could use. Encourage people to share and build for future hackathons. Most projects are too big to build alone. As developers we are often abstracting the problem, as we see common problems in different places, we are not limited by departments or silos, we look for the common problems and then common solutions. Most of the code used in one hackathon could help other hackatons build more, or even just copy and thus build complete solutions. Encourage this behaviour and bigger things will happen.
- Jesshan and Matt you should tell your story on the About section of Hacking Health.
Monday – Getting out of Whitehorse and into the Yukon
Some of us stayed to enjoy more. We took a short trip out of town to see mountains, desert and grizzlies. Thanks to Corin for the tour and Chris for driving..
Some places touch the heart, this is my attempt to describe it.
A moment in time, stillness
The sun down beat and I could hear the water
A bird called out and there was only the wind in trees
The view reminds you, of smallness of you
I turned around and there the humans be
Friendly, sassy and unafraid
They will look you in the eye and walk into your life
You walk into a bar and sit and you do not have to be alone long
Its not all pretty, you have to think ahead else nature will take you
There are few of the those fancy things that make you lazy
You trust in your people, your truck and dog
but that cellphone no work much
Whilst there is much light, the future is uncertain
There are many opinions of the road ahead
They agree, that there mountain be grey
But whether civilization should come on down, there are differences
This is a place to be close to nature, with light feet
A place to get shit done, to take a moment and reflect on the past and ahead
A place of good people, the practical, escapists and survivors
A place closer to the heart and a drink or few
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 recently someone I respect has being promoted to become a leader of an organization. I want them to be successful, so I thought long and hard if I had some good advice that I could share. Was there a good book I could recommend? Or a video?
I own about 60 books on leadership excluding the MBA stuff. There was one that I kept coming back to me, it was a book I first read when I had just being elected to office and became the cabinet member for Cornwall County Council (UK) as Community & Culture “Minister”. This role was a real step up for me in terms of budget (71 million) and staff (over 440 spread out over many locations), where there was often upto 4 leaders between me and the frontline staff.
A good book for those who wish to improve their workplace. Provides a lot of evidence e.g. psychology studies and crafts them into a compelling narrative. The actions at the end of each chapter are a usefu summaryl.
A lot to learn here for all leaders and those who wish to be leaders. And maybe even for progressive trade unionists. And of course for people who would rather improve their workplace, rather than complain about it!
This book not only had a lot of wisdom in it, that we often take for granted and thus forget. I think the best kind of leadership book is one you walk away from and think/feel I want to be led by this person. And to make it even better I know now how I can ‘upgrade’ myself to replicate this over time.
“The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them”
In the end the leaders behaviour will create a culture, so the book and video I recommended were as much about context (i.e. of this new leaders organisation, and its culture).
Another choice was the video by Simon Sinek, Start with the Why
This video ties into the need to inspire and effective leadership is about inspiration not overt control.
The book The Power of Why by Amanda Lang, had a number of factors I needed, it is written by a women who is also Canadian and the stories come from other industry sectors. Context is everything.
“Permission to dream is also permission to fail”
A book I found useful early in my career was The New Leaders by Daniel Goleman (he also wrote Emotional Intelligence). It was this book that showed me on reflection, the different leadership styles you will apply e.g. command and control has its place, depending on the context. It was also the book that helped to delegate with trust when moving into middle management.
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..
There is a great TED video -> As work gets more complex, 6 rules to simplify by Yves Morieux
Suddenly it becomes in my interest to be transparent on my real weaknesses, my real forecast, because I know I will not be blamed if I fail, but if I fail to help or ask for help.
The last book is produced by CEO of the company with probably the best customer service on the planet. Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh journeys through time and a mans’ growth in understanding importance of leadership behaviours and their impact on the staff and thus the organisations’ culture.
Be Adventurous, Creative and Open-Minded
My last couple thoughts come from experience:
- That leadership is as much about vulnerability, as it is about confidence – see Brené Browns TED Video
- That followers choose who inspires and leads them rather then manages and controls them
- That women leaders are often better coaches then males, but the often to do not “give” territory for their coachees to succeed in.
- That “rebels” can often be bright people who are bored, give them something to do, they could become your greatest innovators
Finally leadership is a skill that you will never master, so expect to fail, maybe even plan for it, that said we often “love” rather than just respect the leaders more who have failed and have come back to succeed.
This is pretty much one of my strongest beliefs. For me it applies in terms of other peoples’ beliefs, mindsets and even genetics. We never know what we might need to survive. Of course this does not relate to just humans, but also to animals, plants, fish – the organic world – or even inorganic things.
You could say I am trying to keep my options open, not for me, but the human race. It could be the reason why I am politically liberal. It is why I am respectful (to a point*) of all religions, philosophic beliefs, value sets, and political beliefs. Respectful does not mean I will also agree or that I will live my life in a similar fashion.
“As you think, so shall you become” Master Bruce Lee
The *”to a point” then becomes my filter: there are counter balances to my core belief (infinite diversity can lead to infinite possibility). Here are some of them:
Respect for life
This may sound obvious, but I don’t mean just human, but also animals, plants and the planet we live on. It does not follow from this that I am anti-war – avoid it yes- but at all costs, no. I personally would not tolerate Hitler or Sadam Hussain. If that meant I would have to serve, I would.
“We must be the change we wish to see in the world” Mahatma Gandhi
Equality of opportunity
I do believe in social justice, which for me means not to tolerate sexism, racism, or homophobia. It also means that we should have an excellent education and health system. Through this I would not want to wipe out the differences, for example between male and female gender, I love that we are different (and of course find myself occasionally frustrated by it!) Our differences in all forms allow us to develop different art forms, innovate new solutions and discover something never personally felt. I believe effective education is the key to achieving ‘Equality of opportunity’ and it is also a key part of us all being personally accountable.
“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.” Ronald E. Osborn
A balance between the community’s needs and the individual’s needs
I think the Libertian approach where people can do anything they want is not in the best interest for the human race or our planet. I also think that Communism will fail unless you find a way for individuals to succeed and excel, whilst countering greed. I also think Capitalism has many weaknesses. In terms of the divide between rich and poor, the wider it becomes the more likely there will be a revolution. I believe their has to be a tax system that allows for a redistribution of wealth, allowing us to have ‘safety net’ to protect the poor and vulnerable. This safety net should always where possible, encourage further growth and where possible not allow dependency. I do not believe that laziness should be rewarded. That said for those who are successful should be rewarded for their efforts. Whilst capitalism does this through money, I wonder if there are other models that might work.
“New ideas come from differences. They come from having different perspectives and juxtaposing different theories.” Nicholas Negroponte
Clash of Cultures..
I love diversity. I will not tolerate sexisim, racisim or homophobia. That said each characteristic e.g. gender or sex gives us each a different foundation to build upon, i.e. we are not all the same. This I like 🙂
I think immigration when not abused is a good thing. Its like having a good team: they are often comprised of very different personalities and approaches, when brought together well they will outstrip a team of clones. Immigration in my head is just a macro version of this. Most first world countries depend on immigrates to keep their economies competitive, maintain the skills/knowledge advantage and to do the jobs that first worlders no longer want to do. On a different but related note Immigrants have started nearly half of America’s 50 top venture-funded companies.
Whilst I would love for us all to one day to have a common language I would not want us to only speak one language. I speak bad English and even worse Spanish and both languages allow me to express myself in different ways. In a past life I was the Chair of the Cornish Language partnership as I held the belief, that the more languages a young child can learn, will give them extra ways express and create in, giving them more options in all things.
I worry when minority groups became overly defensive (i.e. adopt a siege mentaility) and exclusive (to themselves) rather then inclusive, as I see this can led to the inevitable decline of that ‘culture’. I will have to think more on this…
Respect for the ecology
No planet: no human race. I believe in the principles of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. I don’t own a car or a bike, I use my legs and public transport.
“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” Michelangelo
Think to the future
I am a strong believer that governments should think to the future. This highlights one of the problems with democracy. The election cycle often demands more short term gains by the voters and thus the politicians. Innovation and taking some the risk out of innovation should be part of a government’s role. How? Now that is a debate I would love to have.. In the end if we are to survive as a human race I am sure that many of the petty differences that we currently view as so important will disappear once we come together as one human race. To do that we will have to tackle poverty worldwide, find solutions to shortages of food, water, power and education/health AND ‘get over’ nations. We after all live on one planet.. and eventually it will not be able to provide for us all, so we will have to expand beyond it and into space.
“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been” Wayne Getzky
Great advisers (that are different to their leaders) make great leaders
I believe the best leaders have great advisers (with different perspectives) who never get shot down for giving advice, the leader still chooses what to do. Its no different for good people they are often surrounded with many friends who have different opinions who can always give advice to their friend.
“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” Sir Winston Churchill
Every week of my life has changed me.. my views will evolve as my understanding of others evolves. I often debate or have great dialogue with those who once I disagreed with and occasionally my view will change and occasionally their view will change. Together as human race this is one journey of discovery and I am not sure we will ever find ‘perfect truths’ or principles that help us in every situation.
“Problems cannot be solved by thinking within the framework in which they were created.” Albert Einstein