It will come as no surprise to anyone that knows me that books have played an incredibly important role in my leadership growth. The only thing that I can think of that has had as much an impact has been finding opportunities to be on both sides of mentorships, but books have been the most consistent throughline on my journey. <shameless plug> If you’re so inclined, you can listen to Dawn and I talk about leadership books, even.</shameless plug>
Even as much as I love books and learning, I freely confess that “self help” books—especially those devoted to professional development or leadership skills—are a mixed bag, and that mixture is not weighted toward quality. The field is rife with trite, repackaged ideas; facile derivations of more established works (do we need more Zen and the Art of Leadership or The Art of War for Managers?); incredibly vague pap; or dangerously misguided approaches. However, there are gems out there.
It was while sifting through some of that morass to recommend such gems to a colleague that I had an idea: putting together a “bookshelf” of sorts for the new leader. My goals are simple: a manageable number of books that would guide a leader from “I am pretty sure I want to lead” through “oh shit, I have a team now what” without being overwhelming or excessively jargon-y or attempting to be overtly clever—oh, and without breaking the bank.
This is the result. A dozen books that divided themselves naturally into three discrete phases of becoming a leader that, if you bought them all at once, would set you back roughly $200. The intention is that these books can be read in order at a comfortable pace—usually around one every month or two—and that their lessons can be put into practice by leaders and aspiring leaders alike.
Continue reading The New Leader’s Bookshelf
Several weeks ago, Dawn and I discussed several of the traits that are often found in strong leaders. Among them, there was one that is so overlooked that it is the first thing people ask me about my list: the power of observation.
Observation is key to so many aspects of leadership, but everybody that asks me about it meets it with a similarly dismissive attitude.
“Everyone knows how to look,” they deride, “it’s obvious.”
Observation is more than merely looking, it’s looking with intent! Being properly observant requires actively paying attention to your surroundings (and yourself) with the goal of taking action on the information that you find. it’s not merely being aware of the things around you, but earnestly absorbing them and processing what you find. It requires diving deeper than the surface; there are numerous levels of observation, and each layer deeper you manage to go is an additional degree of insight (and action) afforded you.
At its most basic, a leader should be in the habit of observing the general attitude of the team. How does the team seem when working? When not working? Interacting with you? When you’re not obviously around? With each individual member? With people outside of the team? When things are stressful?
The answers to questions like these paint a picture of the health of your team that you will never get by simply asking—the team might not even realize, for example, that they’re combative to “outsiders” but through careful observation you might note the signs. You might observe tension between teammates before it becomes notable to those involved, even.
Remember, though, that observation implies a willingness for action. When you observe behaviors that betray underlying “illness”, it is incumbent upon you to act. It’s the combination of careful observation and resulting action that will really elevate your ability to lead your team.
I say it frequently—but it bears repeating—I am so unbelievably lucky to have repeatedly found myself leading fantastic teams of hard-working people.
Consistently, these teams are willing to experiment and try new things; sometimes skeptically at first, but they always come around. They might worry about outcomes, but without fail they act from a willingness to take risks and see what happens.
Trust is a difficult thing in the workplace, and I’ve been profoundly fortunate to have always had teams that took those scary first steps to place their trust in me. They’ve given me room to work for them, and have given me room to fail and try again. That trust has consistently translated into being understanding when I fail or come up short, and a willingness to give me another chance to make good.
Because of all of these things and many more, my teams have reliably made me look good. That’s certainly not the point, but it is a nice side effect.
There’s no real point to this post…no lesson to be learned…just, be as lucky as I’ve been, I guess.
Want to know if your team understands something? Ask them to give you the elevator pitch. If they can’t summarize the objectives and high-level milestones in a few quick sentences, it’s unlikely that they understand it very well.
Take a step back, can you give an elevator pitch? If not, take the time to make sure that you truly have a grasp on the plan, then take that newfound proficiency to get your team on board as well.
You’ll be surprised at how much traction simply having a firmer grasp on the subject will help your team gain!
A few weeks ago, Dawn and I were participating in a leadership conversation in a slack that we both frequent when the idea of us doing a leadership podcast was brought up.
Neither of us have ever waited to be asked twice to throw ourselves out there publicly, so we hastily pulled together a concept, some material, recording equipment, and set to work making a thing.
Yesterday, we posted the first episode of that thing!
Continue reading Leading Questions (a Podcast)
The lede of an interview in which I was recently featured ended up being the notion of not being precious with your ideas—as a result, that concept has been the topic of conversation quite a bit over the last few weeks. As often happens, the most common question to arise also happened to be the most obvious one:
How do you avoid being precious with your ideas?
Continue reading Leading Without Ego
Susan Cain posits in her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” that there is no correlation between people who speak well and people who have the best ideas. In my experience that has been proven true repeatedly. The ideas of the more reserved members of the team are every bit as important as those from the more outspoken members.
Continue reading Giving Voices to the Quiet
This is a placeholder for an article about me that was posted on a different site. If you want to read the article, you’ll have to click through! Please try to ignore the ginormous picture of me at the top. Please try to ignore the use of the word “Pro” in the title. Creative liberties were taken!
Unlike being a lawyer or a doctor, IT has a number of entry points. Some go to school. Some convert their passion from childhood into a career. And some, like software professional Jer Lance, initially get their training and expertise through military service. We spoke with Lance about his roles spanning education, management and software development and what he’s learned over that time.
Q: How did you start your career? And how important do you think education and certifications were for you?
I started a new job about a month ago, so I am right on schedule for my typical visit from the Imposter Syndrome fairy. It’s as regular as clockwork: suddenly immersed in a place where everyone in the building has infinitely more knowledge than I—everything from the business domain to work procedures to where to find the bloody conference rooms1—so I have to fight the feelings that I’ve finally taken on too much until I start to get my feet beneath me on something that feels like solid ground.2
It’s simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting.
Continue reading Slow Path to Leadership
In a post several months ago, Seth Godin asks organizations that speak untruths to customers “what else will you lie about?”
The question of organizational integrity is one that I wrestle with frequently. I’ve written about it directly or indirectly several times already, and I’m sure I’ll write about it considerably more.
In the same way that Seth describes the slippery slope of institutional lying to its customers and to the public, managers must be wary of choosing to start glibly lying to his or her charges.
And it’s terribly easy to start lying.
Continue reading Managing Honesty
This post is a placeholder to an article that I wrote for another site, if you want to read the article, you’ll have to follow the link…
It’s 10am and I am sitting in my home office corresponding with a broad network of contacts and contacts of contacts, and it occurs to me that for a hopeless introvert, the last 24 hours amounts to more “being on” than I typically muster in even a busy week.
And I haven’t even started trying to find a job for me yet!
“When will it be released?”
In the pantheon of my least favorite software questions, this ranks near the top.
“When it is done.”
This response has to rank near the top of management’s least favorite answers.
Continue reading Committing to Estimates