My Leadership Approach

cliff hanger obstacle at Tough Mudder Tri-State 2010
“Cliff Hanger obstacle at Tough Mudder Tri-State 2010” by Dmitry Gudkov is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Becoming a better leader has become a lifelong journey and passion for me. Regardless of what my official role description or title says, I’ve realized being a leader is what my real job is. Leadership is an awesome privilege and responsibility so I want to be the best leader I can. I’ve also realized I’m far from perfect as a leader (just ask my team). But I’m a better leader now than I was last year and hopefully I’ll be a better leader next year than I am now. For me, getting better starts with getting clear on what I’m all about. And getting clear starts with writing stuff down, so here you are.

1. I have a personal vision statement.
Some of you just rolled your eyes. I get it. Vision statements have a notoriously bad reputation, and rightfully so. Most of them are meaningless strings of words that don’t inspire real action. For a vision statement to be valuable, it has to guide thoughts, words, and deeds. Mine does that for me.

“I will create opportunities for others to be fulfilled, using the power of technology to impact people’s lives and calling people to high achievement with integrity and love.”

There are some especially meaningful words and phrases in this statement for me.

  • Opportunities. Not gifts. Not final results. Someone still has to take advantage of the opportunities.
  • Others. It’s not about me or what I get. I’m doing something for someone else that they may not be able to do for themselves.
  • Fulfilled. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary has a good definition of this word. The connotation is deeper than “happy” or “content”.
  • Power of technology. Technology is my domain. I’m passionate about it. But it’s not about the new “bright shiny” (not anymore, anyway). It’s about what technology can do that inspires me.
  • Impact people’s lives. The most noble cause there is. Many things are temporary. The difference you make in someone’s life is not one of those things. People matter.
  • High achievement. Being mediocre isn’t inspiring or special. Staying in your comfort zone doesn’t produce growth. I want to maximize potential and help people achieve things they didn’t believe they could achieve.
  • Integrity. This is an important value to me. I try to do the Right Thing as best I can. I say what I mean and mean what I say.
  • Love. I consider the needs of others in addition to my own. I’m kind (which is different than nice). I care.

So, yeah. I’ve given some thought to my personal vision statement.

2. I have a simple (not easy) job.
First, I provide context for my team. That context could be in the form of vision, priorities, goals, constraints, available resources, performance feedback (reinforcement and constructive), or data. Second, I remove obstacles getting in the way of my team. I don’t tell my team what to do or how to do it — although I might provide some suggestions if asked.

3. I make sure the team is doing the right work.
The right work lives at the intersection of what our business needs, what others are asking of us, and what fulfills us. That’s the sweet spot. We don’t have the luxury of living there all the time. As one person on my team says, “Sometimes you still have to take out the trash.” With that said, the more of the team’s work that lives in the sweet spot, the better off we all are — individually and collectively.

4. I provide clarity on decision-making.
I’ve found the Seven Levels of Authority from Jurgen Appelo and the Ladder of Leadership from David Marquet to be powerful tools for creating clarity on decision-making. Once the team and I are clear about what decisions to make and where they live, then we can work together to push more decisions down to them.

5. I want my team to feel a certain way.
How I interact with my team and the results of those interactions are important. I wrote about this in another post.

6. I grow more leaders.
This may be the most important thing I do as a leader. I identify potential leaders. I create opportunities for them to lead (there’s that vision statement again). I help them get better and be successful. They win because they’re more fulfilled. I win because I live out my personal vision. Our business wins because we have more capable leaders.

Each of these points is probably a post on its own (just like #5), but this is a start. If you want to get better at something, like leadership, consider getting clear on what you’re all about.

P.S. Another great leadership resource is the transformational leadership model included in the 2017 State of DevOps Report. Read that whole section in the report, as well as the Rafferty and Griffin paper referenced. Spoiler alert: the right kind of leadership makes a difference.

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