Leading by an Idea
Back in the days of the “wild wild west tech”, companies were built on a simple idea, how do we make money?! Who cares, we’ll figure that out soon enough. In the meantime, .com and ship!!
I was a UI Engineer in that era. An age of fierce browser wars between Netscape and Internet Explorer. Those browser wars were crazy! I managed to keep my sanity (sort of) in a time when the norm for a .dotcom was to order dinner online, eat at work, and sleep under your desk just to one day come to the office and be told the company folded. Chaos was the new norm. Those were not the good ol’ days. In those times the motivations were mainly about money. Everyone wanted to be part of the modern “gold rush” at all costs. Soon enough chaos and collapse was not just a reflection of work life, but life in general for most of us in tech.
Leading by a plan
Planning for small increments was the Aha! moment that changed the motivation of the masses. Soon viable ideas were the s***. “MVP” and a million acronyms appeared to make everyone feel like we were agreeing on something concrete. And the race begins…again. Aah, but ideas can be copied and made better. Nothing feels worse than to see a competitor zoom by while a team has been grinding for a while on a “MVP”.
Now everyone started realizing that it’s not just the MVP but the execution of the idea that creates the magic. Process discussions started to focus on small highly collaborative teams. Why? Because, it’s the team that iterates on a plan (until Agile robots get here). The process is simply a collaboration and planning tool for teams to agree on terms of engagement and a million other benefits — just ask the internet. Where am I going with this?
Leading by motivating
Humans are still the number one reason for success of leaders, and companies are just a collection of leaders driving success. If we are not careful, we might fool ourselves into being too task-focused and miss the forest for the trees. Humanizing the leadership goals is a path in ensuring the focus is centered on people over process. Process is an important organizational tool that is dependent on incorporating the motivational (human) aspect to keep it running smoothly. Think of it like this. If the process is the how you organize the gears, motivation is what keeps it well oiled.
In this day and age, leaders need to have a experience-driven approach to succeed. Any company can earn revenue or build a product, but great teams are harder to build. (Which is why the Lakers hired a Warriors coach, go Lakers!). Companies with tons of money to burn can decide to turnover people and treat them only as “resources.” I never want to work for a company that makes this an operational strategy. My boss mentioned two great measurements for a leader:
- Are you making good calls?
- Are you driving change?
I thought of a third one…
3. Are you motivating your team?
The code of leadership
My past experience as a developer and transition to a designer has exposed me to different mindsets. That change has helped me to think of certain subjects from both sides. The designer is very much invested in the quality of the experience, while the developer is very invested in the quality of the function. That’s not to say either side ignores the other, but it’s mainly an area of focus.
How does this relate to leadership? Design and development mindsets are complementary to good leadership. Leading effectively can be seen as a series of IF/Else statements, with a series of functions that are measured through the experience delivered. What would it look like if we could code leadership? Sometimes it seems that the softer skills are harder to understand for heavy delivery and task minded managers. Yet if we think of it in terms of code, it is possible to think of leadership as hard skills in a series of logical steps that can be improved through trial and error.
It’s ok to try something new that might make us better leaders, then adjust according to the results. A bigger mistake is to let the fear keep us locked in to our own way of thinking. Instead of paragraphs of theory on leadership I attempted to code it :). The code above is pretending that “human leadership” can be written in a programable language. A language that reflects a development mindset that might help managers that might want a more logical format to the softer side of management.
Feel free to hack away. I would love to hear your opinion.