Captain Obvious Reporting for Duty

All I really need to do is show you this picture and you already know what this post is going to say.

falcon

It’s obvious because Elon is famous for his vision and ability to execute.

What’s not so obvious is that most any of us could have this kind of vision and execution. We don’t for lots of reasons. We get in our own way, give in to our fears, doubts, limited views of our jobs as leaders in tech, or maybe you have a broad-based limited view of what’s possible in the world based on the other leaders you see, and on and on and on.

Some will read this post and disagree, which tells you a lot more about them than it does about me. I’m writing as someone who’s been right there with you, steeped in doubt and insecurity.

The weekend before yesterday’s Falcon Heavy flight, I was running in my little beach community in Los Angeles, just a few miles from where SpaceX’s mission control is located. It was warm. People had their windows open. I could hear bits of conversations as I ran (ok, it’s more of a jog, but anyway….).

In one window, a young woman, probably in her early 20s, was talking to her friend and she said, “you know, I’m starting to like Trump. I mean how can you get ahead in this world by being a nice guy?”

It’s so disappointing that this is the model of leadership we have. How are we going to progress when we live in an “us versus them,” zero sum world where the best we can hope for is to get a bigger share of a shrinking pie.

We get compelling visions from inspirational leaders because they see our capabilities as unbounded. They see the pie as growing and unlimited. To them  unlimited possibility exists in our personal lives, families, work, communities, nation, and world.

This is all obvious and common knowledge, but common knowledge is rarely common practice. Still, there’s this guy named Elon….

Before you start thinking this is a political post, it’s not. I had precisely the same complaint about Obama and W. They all seemed to convey dark, myopic visions of our world and we’re still suffering from decades of that handicapped form of leadership.

That rocket launch… that’s the kind of dreaming and aspiring and reaching and attaining we used to do as a nation. Let’s get back to it and do more of it, and you and I can start with our roles as tech leads.

What choice will you make when you end up on the double black diamond?

In our lives and careers as tech leads, most of us ski blue runs. We’re beyond the greens. Yet as much as we dream of the blacks or even diamond runs, we generally stick with the blues.

In skiing, like life, we try to navigate between fear and excitement. The blues usually give us a landscape letting us accomplish both, even if we know the real rewards lie elsewhere on the trail map.

So what would happen if you got off the gondola and, oh crap, you took the wrong lift and now you’re staring down the near vertical drop off of a double black diamond? It’s a run where there are very real consequences if you make mistakes.

You could choose to focus on safety or you could choose to focus on carving the mountain. I’m not suggesting you’re necessarily going to be succesful if you take the latter choice, but I think you understand the point.

In our day to day careers as tech leads, we face these moments from time to time. The choices we make shape not only our career but also our lives.

Where our focus goes, energy flows.

By the way, I got this from a recent Tony Robbins podcast. I thought it was an awesome analogy that most of us could related to.

Photo by asoggetti on Unsplash

You Don’t Have to be an “Alpha” to be the Tech Lead

If you’ve never worked closely with me, I bet you’d be surprised to learn that I write and think a lot about leadership, especially in the (unfortunately) testosterone-rich tech business.

I’m never the “alpha” in the room. I’m usually the last to speak. I’m not overflowing with my own opinions on things, and when I do I’m usually the last to offer them. I’m succint.

A few weeks ago I was at a meeting of managers where, for the most part, competition for The Alpha designation felt palpable, if unspoken, which is fairly common in Corporate America. There were about seventy of us arranged around round tables of seven to ten each.  At one point we were in the middle of a break out session after having just gone through a lecture on the value of being the last to speak.

The break out question was something like “what do you think the value of being the last to speak is?”

My table launched into their point of view immediately, with the most senior manager taking first. After everyone had their say, they looked at me and said, “you haven’t said anything about this.”

“I’m being the last to speak,” I said with a smile.

It was only then that the irony appeared. I deeply enjoyed the moment (maybe a bit too passive aggressively).

I think of myself as every much a leader as I assume they do. I’m not arguing here that I’m more effective just because I’m the last to speak, but I am arguing I don’t have to have an alpha style to be a leader. Neither do you. I have a different style, and I’m ok with that; if you’re not an alpha, you should be too.

I suspect (without evidence) that alphas are drawn to leadership because they see many models of “alpha style” leadership. You proably see a lot more of the alpha style than any other as well. Unfortunately, I suspect further that this discourages people who don’t have an alpha style or alpha instincts from stepping up to lead roles.

Don’t let it discourage you if you have a different style. You don’t have to be an alpha to lead. If you’re reading this blog, you have the most important prerequisite: a desire to lead.

Indeed, it would be great if we added a lot more diversity to leadership styles in your company and our society overall. If you’re unsure of yourself, reach out to me! I’ll try to help!!

Photo by Frida Bredesen on Unsplash

You have five days left to submit a talk to Lead Dev Austin 2018

Hey American Tech Leads,

Screen Shot 2017-11-09 at 3.18.00 PMThe Lead Dev conference is coming to America in 2018 — Austin (and New York). And the call for speakers is still open until November 14 at 9:00 a.m. Pacific time.

If selected they pay travel, hotel, and even give you $450 in fees and expenses.

If you pitch something, let me know and we’ll track it here. Obviously I’m putting together a few talks myself. Hope we can present together!!

Here’s the link to submit your talk.

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

“Sorry, but the post is awful.”

I’m in my early 40s, but this morning I got momentarily pulled kicking and screaming back into a shy little kid. And it sucked. Let me explain.

I have an old blog where I used to focus on technical topics. In one of my most popular posts I try to explain how OSGi works without relying on the extra tooling that OSGi usually needs, just as a teaching exercise. I’ve gotten some great feedback on it.

This morning while I’m making coffee, a WordPress alert popped up from “vasya” saying, “Sorry, but the post is awful,” along with some technical arguments.

Discussion’s great, but this kind is not.

For some reason, as an industry, too many of us (still) freely intermix technical opinions with subjective judgments on people’s work products (as happened in my case) and sometimes on people themselves (Vasya didn’t go that far here). This is industry where there no absolute standards; mostly we’re just advocating our opinions on what’s technically good and what’s not. Too many of us take that subjectiveness far beyond technical facts, however, which means many of us will be reluctant to be our most creative selves and put ourselves out there to try to solve problems.

It’s not just blogs, I bet it’s happening in your company right now. How are your code reviews, for example?

This lack of professionalism and collegiality deeply damages our effectivness as individuals, as teams, and as an industry. You can write it off as Vasya’s immaturity or lack of professionalism, but there’s a lot of these folks — not just out here in the wild but inside our corporate walls too. You probably know a few of a few personal examples.

When we talk about safety and empathy, this is an example of it. I’ve been involved in litigation, and it’s generally more professional, collegial, and curteous than this industry is. It’s time to mature.

This was just a minor comment. I’ve been around long enough to have developed thick enough skin that Vasya’s comment gave me a good chuckle once I had a few sips of my coffee. But it reminded me how damaging this crap was to me personally and continues to be for our industry.

As a tech lead, I’m putting it on you and me to fix it.

As for Vasya’s comment, I approved it because he’s got interesting technical points but also to respond to him on this point (and to offer him some free tech lead coaching). (And yes, I know my subject line perpetuates the very thing…!!!!)

Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash

 

Action, Results, Belief, Potential, REPEAT

Monday’s, huh? Sometimes you own them. Sometimes they own you. Am I right?

Before this Monday’s over, here’s a quick tidbit for you.

Tony Robbins has this great model he calls the “success cycle.” It’s a pretty powerful thing that can work for you or against you.

The idea is that you’re only going to invest your energy into something you actually believe is going to produce a result. The catch is that beliefs come from past experiences and past actions. So the past could be benefitting you or hurting you (and your team in the process)

Screen Shot 2017-11-06 at 6.54.30 PMA way to improve is to jump into the cycle — anywhere. For instance, if you’re facing a challenging sprint planning session and you suspend your belief that it’s going to end badly (because it always seems to) and take some massive new action toward making it better, you’re going to get some new results. They may not be perfect, but you did something to break and improve the cycle.

 

The success cycle (in three quick sentences) works as follows: greater actions produce greater results. Results from your actions produce belief in yourself. And when you have belief, you have more potential to take action.

Get it?

Just a quick post tonight (Mondays). Hit me up on the comments and we can talk more about it!!