Friday, 4 April 2014

So you think you're a leader . . .

I get a lot of my inspirations from others' articles and blogs. Bruce Kasanoff and his article 'How Do YOU Bring Out Talent in Others' on LinkedIn is no exception. After all, one of the greatest pieces of advice I ever received is 'to read'. So when I read this article and Bruce asked his readers how we lead I had to contribute.

For me, leadership is about establishing clear accountabilities, boundaries, and letting them know I am there to care about (protect) them. And doing that as concisely as possible. For me, these are the ABC's of leadership.

The accountability part; I think that's the obvious part - I hope so anyway. Just in case I need to clarify; my expectation is always for people to make commitments and then adhere to them. Yes, this must be done in a way that is commensurate to the level of maturity and skills of each individual. And yes, people either know or learn that if they don't hold themselves accountable, I will. To clarify perhaps a bit further, two of the US Marines mottos are also two of my favorites. 'Semper fi', short for semper fidelis, latin for 'always faithful. And 'Adapt - Improvise - Overcome'. Life whether in business or elsewhere will introduce hurdles we'd rather not have to deal with. Omission to make a decision (or commitment) is still a decision.

Boundaries - for me it's never ever okay for anyone to deflect responsibility for their own decisions onto others people, or hold onto critical information that impacts other people and their commitments. You know something is up and coming that other people will care about? Figure out who those people are and get that information to them ASAP in a clear and concise way. Part two of that, only make decisions within your realm of authority and responsibility. An in-the-weeds individual contributor should never presume to know more about the business than a Director or VP on the leadership team.

Protection - I expect everyone to 'man/woman up' when they screw up; admit you messed up, honestly apologize to those you impacted, make a commitment to not repeat the behavior, and then move on. If someone wants to lord over you that error; that's when the very pointed, gorilla-in-the-closet, in-your-face me comes out towards that person. In short, don't mess with my team; period. I will eat you alive. 

That's the launch pad. 

The execution is for me to be consistent with myself and everyone else in applying that. 

Accountability -- something I've noticed a lot of over the years is that a lot of very smart people are very dumb when it comes to the cost of doing certain things. I'll offer a couple of examples because this is so important. 

1)     Everyone at the company where you work is there because someone higher up in the chain of command (relative to you) believes the role is needed and that person has the skills needed for that role. I've witnessed people who regularly step on the proverbial toes of others and then loudly complain (sometimes back stab) when others do the same to them. I always set expectations right out of the Ontario Labour Code and a lot of very good books to minimize the occurrences of this happening -- i.e.:
a.     speak to the other person(s) about the concern; and do it respectfully because sometimes some people just didn't realize what they were doing,
b.     if you are not comfortable doing that on your own for some reason; come see me and I will assist you, and finally 
c.      if you've already tried a) and b) more than once and it is still happening, we will all sit down together -- NOTE: this does not mean I will carry your burden (see more below).

2)     I've seen groups of 8 people spend 2 weeks developing huge, detailed, documented plans that other than them, no one will ever look at. And think themselves oh so wonderful for doing it. The cost: $40,000. Now, if you were writing the cheque for that document, would you think it's worth $40k? We all need to be good stewards of not only our own wallets but of our company's wallets too. That is, If we really want the company to be successful.

Boundaries -- in the high tech realms, thinking outside the box in a lot of cases is a really good idea. There is rarely if ever the case when only one right way exists to do a task. That said, if it's not part of your role, collaborate with someone you trust whose responsibility it is to do that. If there is no one who does that (and you've actually checked to confirm) and you're not putting your own job on the proverbial back burner to do that task it may just be a good idea to proceed.

Protection -- I will protect you in public but I will also punish you in private. Sadly in my travels I have encountered some people who define integrity as "it's okay if we can get away with it" and "lying is a valid negotiation tactic". To me, outright lying is just plain disrespectful, and will hasten the severity of that punishment. If Harry or Sally keeps repeating the behavior they've been told to stop, it'll become public when they are no longer present. NOTE: we will go straight to DEFCON 1 in instances where the law has been broken -- e.g.: workplace harassment or bullying.

The results: the teams I mange are filled with a lot of highly motivated people that do a lot of very good and productive work. And yes, over the years, I've also had to fire some people and ignore others. I've also had many different people I haven't worked with in years stop me in the street and in stores to say hello.

Everything else is filling in the cracks; the details that pop up here and there that are just parts of reality because you're dealing with people - not machines. Remember two things -- 1) "because I said so" is always the weakest form of leadership (even if it is sometimes necessary -- usually only in a crisis), and 2) you can't be a leader if no one is willing to follow you. They may follow you because they have to, but that's a boss; a manager, and always temporary.