One of my favorite conferences to speak at is Calibrate. It’ll take me a few days to make a proper blog post, but in the meantime, here are my slides from the talk:
If you’re interested in a class on engineering leadership, click here!
As a leader, you’ll be both hosting and going to a lots of meetings. If it’s something you get great at, it will have a huge impact on both your happiness, and the happiness of those you work with.
Here’s what I’m going to be covering in this blog post:
- plan for success
- create psychological safety
- ask for feedback on facilitation
I’ve run across this situation with startup CxO coaching clients three times in the past week, so it felt like a good time to write about it…
Here is the scenario: You realize that you need to hire a more experienced leader for an existing team, and there is lots of resistance to making the hire: the team doesn’t see the value in bringing on someone more senior, they think it will ruin their existing freewheeling culture, or they are confused that you want to replace a leader who is well-liked (but not performing well).
Here is the deal: they often don’t know what a great leader would look, sound, or feel like, or what they would contribute to the team. Early hires tolerate uncertainty & chaos well, and value a lack of structure. To them, you are “ruining” a great thing. They have heard (or lived) the horror stories of bad managers, so they value strong individual contributors who can organize people around them reasonably well, and who primarily represent the core values & beliefs of the team. You, on the other hand, are looking for a solid people manager who will provide some more structure, accountability, & mentoring, who will contribute to a broader strategy and to the exec team, can act more autonomously, and who will balance the demands of the business with the needs of the team.
You’ve announced that the hire is underway, you’ve written a job description, and you’re bringing in candidates. The team interviews possible leaders, and because they can’t actually envision what a more skilled/senior leader would look like, they screen for what they would look for in a peer (ability to do the hands-on job of senior individual contributor is usually what they look for), and overlook the qualities that would make them a great leader: people skills, ability to lead a team in making a decision, planning, accountability, and collaboration with peers to solve complex company-wide problems. The post-interview meetings devolve into arguments about what you’re looking for, and you start questioning your sanity, especially if you haven’t hired for this role before. You feel like you’re totally wasting your time talking to the team that’s arguing about this, and you wonder if the drama will ever end…
The assumption that most drives people nuts about this one is that they dearly want it to be a collaborative process; they value getting the input & buy-in from those around them, and they can’t understand why the team won’t fall in line and help with the hire.
I can think of at least two paths to follow, both with pros and cons…
“Values are the foot you leave on the floor when you pivot.” – Eric Ries
This was Eric Ries’ response earlier this month, when I asked him if he had any thoughts about company values. I love the mental picture this creates; of a team with one foot planted so solidly in their values that they can use that as an anchor when making a decision about where to go next when they realize that customers don’t love their product, or when their business model isn’t working.
We don’t usually blog about movies, but wanted to recommend The Happy Movie (playing in San Francisco at the Roxie theater through the end of next week, free screening tomorrow night). We met Academy Award nominated director Roko Belic, who spent five years journeying around the world researching the question “what makes people happy?”
The movie looks in on people around the world (Calcutta, Okinawa, Lousiana, Bhutan, and more!), and demonstrates by example and through research that the people who are the happiest are not the people who are focused on external motivations (money, fame & social status), but rather internal motivations (relationships, community, helping others). The movie did an especially good job of highlighting how powerful it is to have a tight-knit family or group of friends.
It also points out that the happiest people are the highest functioning. In other words, make sure you’re happy to make sure you’re performing at your best.
Startup founders who are able to continue putting value on intrinsic motivations (relationships, community, and helping others) are more able to weather the fickle storms of fame and fortune, and remain happy throughout the process, regardless of whether their company somedays files for an IPO, closes its doors, or anywhere in between.
The movie is worth seeing; hope you like it, and would love to hear your thoughts!
The idea of Quantified Self is that you take ongoing measurements about things that you’re interested in knowing more about, and changing, like sleep, diet, exercise, and mood (aka self-tracking). Software developers are notoriously interested in improving and optimizing things (not just code!), and many QS’ers seem to have a background in computing.
I’ve spoken before (at SxSW 2011 with Dinah Sanders) about Agile Self Development. We’re excited about repurposing the vast, rich body of tools and methods called Agile Software Development, and using it to help people improve themselves. At SxSW, we had a lively chat with a few hundred attendees about how to get the most out of the conference. Out of that experience, Scott Pierce (who attended the talk), started an Agile Self Development group in Birmingham that hosts a daily standup, and has made tremendous progress in moving toward goals.
Recently we attended Eric Ries’ second Startup Lessons Learned Conference, which focuses on the concept of the Lean Startup. A Lean Startup is an organization that is optimized for creating the most validated customer learning in the shortest amount of time. It’s a new-ish concept, only a few years old, but it’s gathering steam quickly in the startup world. They use the mandate: “Build, Measure, Learn”. They start by assuming that you don’t know anything until you get out of the building and come into contact with real customers, and the most learning comes when you put product in their hands. Releasing an early beta in weeks is better than building a product in “stealth mode” for years before unleashing a well-polished, ready-to-scale flop.
We are hoping that the QS community will find the tools in Agile Software Development and Lean Startup communities to be useful in conducting experiments and creating change; we think that it’s a great place to borrow from. Some useful concepts from this body of knowledge are:
- minimum viable product
- doing experiments as a series of sprints
- daily standups
- pair programming
- information radiators
- retrospective meetings
Postscript: looks like Thomas Christiansen is using Agile and QS on a project related to allergies; more info at <a href="MyMee.
Agile Self-Development is a lightweight methodology for personal development that is a reaction against all-or-nothing goals and resolutions. It lets geeks repurpose Agile tools and methodologies with which they may already be familiar.
Dinah Sanders wrote a lovely Agile Self-Development Manifesto that really resonates with me:
- Increasing individual flow using whatever works over adherence to a system
- Quality of life over quantity of achievement
- Simplicity over complexity
- Responding to change over following a script
BSP: Dinah Sanders and I are hosting a core conversation about Agile Self Development at SXSW, on Saturday, March 12th, at 11am in room Rio Grande B at the Marriott Courtyard, 300 East 4th Street (half a block from the northwest door to the convention center).
When I start working with a new coaching client, they often arrive with a massive list of everything that they want to accomplish in their work and their life. Desires are limitless! This situation reminds me of a CEO who is hungry for every single feature in a software product to be implemented immediately. So how to begin? Here is what we do next: