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Leadership: What Does It Mean? – Weekly Article Dump

Leadership: What Does It Mean? - Weekly Article Dump

Leadership

Everyone has their own variation of what leadership means. For me, leadership means empowering others to accomplish their goals and providing assistance when they need it. There were a few articles that came up on LinkedIn this week that I wanted to share with everyone and discuss how they fit into my perspective on leadership.

Articles

  • Does Your Team Work With You Or For You?Kwame Manu-Antwi opens up the article in an interesting fashion. When I read the title of the article, I figured this was going to be the typical leadership vs management debate. However, Kwame goes into describing a scenario where he had a humbling experience from one of his team that made some sacrifices for him. This was truly an example of working for him.

    The entire second half of the article shares a bunch of leadership traits that I think are really beneficial.  For example, being transparent and encouraging growth in your team members. I think the point that is being made in this article, although I don’t personally feel like it was made as obvious as it could have been, is that as a leader, if you want to feel like your team is willing to make sacrifices (for you, or for the team) then practicing being an excellent leader is the way to get there. Thus, the tips he provides to do so!I’d say there’s a lot of takeaway in his bulleted leadership points.

    If you’re an experienced leader then it’s probably mostly stuff you’ve heard before. However, it never hurts to be reminded of great leadership responsibilities!

  • How Do I Hire A Good Employee: Insights on Leadership Traits: In this article Kendall Matthews talks about the specific things he looks for when interviewing. It’s not about how picking the smartest person in the world or the most skilled person according to Kendall. It’s all about finding people that have that curious drive that can think on their feet. Have you given into the status quo?

    When it comes to leadership and hiring, your responsible for building out a well rounded team. In my opinion sometimes this will require hiring the smartest or most skilled person, but more often than not, you’re just looking for go getters. People that are curious by nature and always looking to push the boundaries make great candidates for your team because they’re adaptable. This means you don’t need to go finding someone with the perfect skill set because you can hire the person that’s willing to evolve into that person.

    Again, it’s not a blanket rule in my perspective. Sometimes your team will require that super-skilled person to be up and running from day one. Being a good leader in charge of hiring requires you to understand your teams needs though.

  • Can Skipping a Meeting Make You a Better Leader?: I find that Ilya Pozin always has some interesting articles up on LinkedIn. If you don’t follow him yet, I suggest you do! This article is all about shaking things up to align them to your leadership strategy (and not just accepting meeting invites and then not showing up).The first part of the article is really about taking charge of your daily routine. If you get into work and your ready to make a big dent in your todo list, then moving meetings until later in the day might have a huge  benefit. Similarly, it helps you plan out and prioritize the rest of your day. For me, I plan the night before and since I’m still largely a developer, I find that if I have meetings in the middle of the day when I’m in my groove then that’s when I have the biggest problems. Try tweaking when your meetings are to suit your leadership style.

    The second part of this article talks about the idea of a devil’s advocate and is personally my favourite part. I can’t stress enough how important healthy debate is for continuously improving. I had a colleague the other day say that he doesn’t like how often he hears “because it’s always been that way”. I jokingly responded, “because we’ve always said that”! But the point is, he’s not sticking to the status quo and doesn’t want to settle. I had another colleague argue against my perspective even more recently, and it really got me thinking about how our perspectives were different and where we might need to go next. Healthy debate is awesome. Your goal is not to put your “opponent’s” face in the dirt, but to understand their perspective as much as possible and ensure they get your perspective as much as possible.

  • Heisenberg Developers: In his article, Mike Hadlow talks about how a new (what seems to be scrum-based approach?) was introduced to a software development team and how it negatively impacted them. Mike’s argument? The process that was put in place took away autonomy from developers–they should be given free reign to implement a feature as they see fit.

    While the general consensus in the comments on his blog indicates that people agree, I actually don’t. I’m well aligned to the first two sentences in his closing paragraph (autonomy and fine grained management) being important, but I think direction is incredibly important. In an agile shop, often the customer proposes features to go into the product (and when the customer isn’t available, product owners acting on behalf of the customer propose the features) and the developers work to get them done. Maybe this wasn’t the implication of the blog post, but I don’t think it makes sense to just let developers randomly choose which of the features to work on next and decide on their own how to do it.

    What works better, in my opinion? Have product owners provide acceptance criteria for what would make the feature successful. Have software testers and software developers mull over the acceptance criteria and bounce ideas back off of the product owners. Did they think of how that would affect feature B? Do they realize it will be a support or regression testing nightmare unless feature C is in place? What’s my point? Collaboration. The article doesn’t even mention it. It’s only about how process takes away from the artistic nature of programming. I feel like people should stick to hobby programming if it’s art they want to express, but when it comes time to business, it’s about delivering rock solid features that the customer wants.

    Back to estimating and tasking out features. Why break a feature down? What’s good about doing it that way? If you hit road blocks or need to pivot, it’s great to have a part of a feature done and realize that in it’s current state it might be classified as acceptable for a deliverable. Maybe it doesn’t match the original acceptance criteria, but perhaps the pivot involves adjusting that and now it’s acceptable. Task breakdown brings insight to the people working on the feature. What’s involved in making it? How are you going to test it? How are you going to support it?

    Autonomy is important. But I think that there needs to be some level of process in place for leadership in management to have insight as to what’s taking place, and there needs to be enough autonomy for developers and testers to do their job to the best of their ability. Sometimes the time invested in collaborating is one of the best investments in your development team.

  • Why The Golden Rule SucksJoaquin Roca has an awesome article on “The Golden Rule” and why it doesn’t apply in leadership. Joaquin starts by discussing why building a diverse team is incredibly important and why you should take advantage of the tensions it can create. So why does The Golden Rule suck? Well… not everyone is like you and not everyone wants to be engaged the same way you are. Everyone is different and it’s important to adapt your ways to the person you are engaging with–especially when your team is diverse. There’s also a cool leadership quiz that he has posted at the top of the article!
  • Did I Make a Mistake in Promoting This Person?!: This article is about something that happens in the tech world all too often. Caroline Samne talks about how skilled professionals are promoted into leadership in management positions–except they don’t have any expertise in this area. I’m actually a prime example of this. I was hired on as a developer early on at Magnet Forensics, and before expanding the team, I was chosen for a leadership position without any past experience. However, like the article says, I had great mentorship through our HR manager and I was empowered to seek learning opportunities to grow in this space. The moral of the story is, just because someone is skilled at X, it doesn’t mean they’ll turn out to be a great (people) leader in this space. Leadership just doesn’t work magically like that.
  • Corporate Hackathons: Lessons LearntChristophe Spoerry‘s article is all about hackathons. It’s a great way to spur some innovation in your organization if you’re allowing it to happen naturally. He shares his learnings from past experiences such as having leaders with past experience in hackathons present and having teams and/or themes picked out ahead of time. Once the hackathon starts, you don’t want to be wasting time with logistics… You want to be participating! Discuss what the outcome of the hackathon will be. Who’s going to take ownership over what was created? How will the outcomes be shared with the other participants or the rest of the organization? Get hackin’!

Thanks for reading! Follow Dev Leader on social media outlets to get these updates through the week.


Article Dump #24 – Weekly Article Dump

Article Dump #24 - Dev Leader (Image by http://www.sxc.hu)

Article Dump #24

Welcome to the 24th issue of my (nearly) weekly article dumps. I don’t have a theme or an update this week, so it’s kept pretty short. I hope you find the following articles interesting though! Leave me a comment if you have any opinions on these

Articles

  • The 7 Values That Drive IDEO: In this article, the CEO of IDEO Tim Brown talks about the various values that his organization embraces to have a creative culture. Some of the ideas in the slides seem really high level or like generic fluff, but try thinking about what they would mean in your organization. It’s one thing to glance at IDEO’s list and say “Yeah, yeah… That’s nice…” but when you actually think about how that fits in with your organization, you might actually realize you don’t embody those values. Do you learn from failure? Does your organization promote an ask for forgiveness not permission approach? Would this make sense in your organization? Just some food for thought, but I thought a lot of these values were interesting to think about and how embracing them might change the organization I work in.
  • The 15 Most Annoying Coworkers of All Time: Ilya Pozin put together a pretty funny article on different types of coworkers you’ll encounter in your career. I got worried that I might be #13 on the list… The office comedian who isn’t actually funny. Apparently this post got a lot of flack in the comments on LinkedIn. I guess people were expecting a really serious article on how to deal with these different types of problems in the workplace. I didn’t really have expectations when I read it, aside from not wanting to find myself on the list. Maybe the main take away point here is… don’t annoy your colleagues!
  • Companies Frustrate Innovative Employees: Gijs van Wulfen takes a different perspective on innovation. So many people now are writing about embracing failure (so far as you learn from it). I’m actually a big believer in that approach–take controlled risks and learn from things that don’t go as expected. Gijs’ perspective is a little bit different: forget embracing failure; boost the innovation effectiveness rate! Gijs goes through a workflow for trying to improve innovation at various steps in the process. Pretty interesting!
  • Your Boss is Happier Than You (But Shouldn’t Be): Jeff Haden tells us something we probably all (let’s say in the majority of circumstances) know: your boss is happier than you. Big surprise right? They get to make decisions, have fewer bosses than you, and they make more money. Sounds like a good reason to be happier, no? But if your boss is happier than you, those probably aren’t the exact reasons. Your superiors are likely happier than you because of autonomy. They get a bit more freedom to do accomplish goals in their own way. Jeff has a big list of reasons why your boss is probably happier… and none of them are about money.
  • When is it a Good Idea to write Bad Code?: Rejoice in the first programming article for this week! Tech debt. Ever heard of it? If not, it’s not likely that you’ve never encountered it in your programming career. I’d wager at least one of the last handful of big features you implemented in your code base either had to deal with some tech debt or perhaps even introduced some tech debt. Brad Carleton has put together a big list of different types of tech debt and what they mean in your project. I highly suggest you read it if your a programmer. There’s a lot of things to be aware of with tech debt but it’s important to remember that tech debt isn’t always the worst thing that could happen. Sometimes it’s okay to sacrifice a sub-par design now in order to get some software out the door. Your users might try it out and decide they don’t like the functionality anyway, and you’d end up re-writing it again!
  • “Happiness” vs “Meaningfulness” — The Surprising DifferenceAlex Banayan‘s article discusses the difference between happiness and meaningfulness. It appears as though often happiness and meaningfulness are not necessarily aligned. For example, it might be easy to chase a life of happiness that lacks meaning, or dedicate your life to something meaningful but not be very happy while doing it. The real question is, is it possible to achieve a balance where you’re leading a fulfilling life that keeps you happy? Alex talks briefly about five different categories and how each can sway to something more meaningful or something that provides more happiness. Are you living a happy and fulfilling life? Do you have to balance these five categories carefully?

Follow Dev Leader on social media outlets to get these updates through the week. Thanks!


Be a Better Programmer – Weekly Article Dump

Be a Better Programmer - Weekly Article Dump (Image by http://www.sxc.hu/)

Be a Better Programmer

It’s a new year and that means it’s all about resolutions, right? Well, I’m not a huge fan of keeping around a resolution that needs to wait for a new year, but I am a fan of reflecting on your goals and your skills. If you’re a programmer like me, then maybe this will be a great starting point. In my weekly article dumps I usually would just provide a couple of comments on a link like this, but I felt I should dive in a little bit more. You can find the original article by Amy Jollymore over here. Please have a look! I shared it with the whole dev team at Magnet Forensics because I felt there was a little bit of something for everyone.

Number one on this list, and perhaps the one I’d personally like to focus on more out of this list, is checking your code before blaming others. Blaming other people–in general, not just programming–is an easy way out. When a problem occurs, it’s simple to assume that all of your work is right and that it must be someone else’s fault. But if everyone starts thinking like this, it turns into a nasty blame war. So next time the build breaks or your shiny new feature stops working as expected, don’t go blaming other people. Investigate what the problem is. See what your most recent changes were and if they could have caused the problem. As you start to gain confidence that your changes aren’t responsible for the issue, try sitting down with one or two other people you think might have been around the problem area recently–But don’t go accusing them! Putting your heads together to figure out the problem can speed up the process and might even shed some light on some miscommunication over a design or some assumptions in the code that don’t actually hold true. It’s a lot more embarrassing to blame someone when it’s actually your fault compared to putting in the effort and admitting you might have goofed up. Try it out!

Number two is also a great item. You should never put an end to your learning… especially as an individual in a technology space. There are so many great suggestions listed for this point that there’s no point in me repeating them. Just go read them! An interesting point worth mentioning is using podcasts for learning. This is a great option if you find you’re brain is still spinning when you lay down in bed or if you have a long commute to work (or something else you’re involved in). The author also mentions that you don’t need to be learning programming… What about domain expertise? If you’re writing code for banks, lawyers, or digital forensics… Why  not learn about that too?!

The last point I’ll touch on from the article is number three: don’t be afraid to break things. I love this point. If you’re working on a big piece of software, there are almost certainly areas that seem brittle, scary, or just plain incomprehensible. If your project is still small, it very well get to this point. It doesn’t mean that the code is bad or that you’re working with the worst programmers… It’s just something that happens when you’re continuously trying to build on your software. The real problem occurs when nobody is willing to take the time to go change things. If you have big scary brittle parts of code, then set aside some time, take a deep breath, and go refactor it! It might seem like hell at first, but once you get into it (and especially after it’s done) you’ll feel a million times better. Plus, now your code can continue to be built upon without people running in fear when you mention that section of code. Code can get nasty, but consider using a “tech debt” system or regularly set aside time for refactoring parts of your code base.

Again, the original article is located at: 7 Ways to be a Better Programmer in 2014. Check it out!

Articles

  • How to Manage Dynamic Tensions — and Master the Balancing Act: This was an interesting article on some parts of leadership that often oppose each other. Author Chris Cancialosi does an excellent job in discussing balance between internal and external influences as well as leading and managing. A good take away from this article is at least acknowledging that there are certainly some things to balance. You may want to have the most flexible team, but have you considered if there’s a “too flexible”? Just a bit of perspective that this article might bring to light.
  • A Crash Course In Leadership For 20-Something CEOs: Barry Salzberg‘s article is geared toward young CEOs, but I think that means we can apply the lessons to anyone looking to lead! A few of the points I’d like to mention include being tough on problems and not on people. Your people are the one’s who are going to solve problems and bring great ideas to the table. They’ll invest their time into your organization in order to accomplish great things–so don’t be hard on them. Instead, acknowledge that your problems and challenges are the things you want to crush, and work with your team to make sure you conquer every challenge that gets in the way of your goal. Another point is on taking risks. Never taking risks is a great way to stagnate. You need to learn from your failures, but keep pushing the boundaries. Finally, be ready to adapt. As your organization grows or as the market you’re working within evolves, you need to be ready to adapt and change. You might get lucky and things don’t change all that much over a long period of time, but the odds of that are pretty low. Be ready to adapt so when the time comes, you don’t need to worry about everything falling apart.
  • Leading at Scale with Agility: Brad Smith has a few great points on what leading a team should encompass. First, a team should have a goal that it is trying to achieve. If that team is part of a larger organization, the team’s goal should align with the goal of the entire organization. Secondly, decisions for the team should involve those on the team. It’s easy to sit back and speculate what might be best, but why not involve the people directly affected? Of course, this is more difficult for large teams but maybe that’s an indication your teams would be more effective if they were smaller. Next, empower teams to arrive at solutions on their own. If a plan worked out well, try communicating it to others to try out. Conversely, if the plan had some problems, let others on the team (or other teams) know about the hurdles. Finally, Brad has a point on trust. Trust is arguably one of the most important parts of leading a team. Each team member needs to be able to trust the others. There should be an easy assumption that everyone is operating with best intentions.
  • For Leaders, Today is History: In this article by Steven Thompson, he gives a high-level overview of his focus. Specifically, he focuses on the future and not right now. Steven says the teams he is in charge of are often looking at the problems of “right now” and perhaps a little bit in the future. It would be counter productive for him to try and butt-in to try helping with those problems because he’s so far removed from them. Instead, those individuals have been empowered to focus on those problems. Instead, Steven focuses on the future–the direction of the teams. As a leader, it’s important to try and be thinking at least one step ahead.
  • What If You Had to Write a “User Manual” About Your Leadership Style?: After I read Adam Bryant‘s article, I thought the idea of a leadership “user manual” would be pretty cool. Even if there isn’t a single other individual who would benefit from it, at least it would help reveal to myself some of my leadership quirks. That’s useful on it’s own! I’ll be sure to post up my leadership “user manual” when I have it complete… and I imagine I’ll have to keep updating it over time as my style evolves. It’ll be really interesting to see the evolution of my leadership style! Why not consider doing one for yourself?
  • What Bosses Should Never Ask Employees to Do: Jeff Haden‘s article was a little bit controversial in my opinion–and in the opinion of some of the commenters. I think I get the underlying message behind a lot of what Jeff is saying for each of his points, but as one commenter said, it sounds like a bit of a personal complaint the whole way through. Consider the topic of donating to charities at work. The feel I get after reading that segment is that your organization should not attempt to do fundraising through employees. While I don’t actually think that’s what Jeff is saying, that’s how I feel after reading it. I know that we’ve been able to do several charity events at Magnet, and we’ve always said that they are completely voluntary. I think that’s the crucial part. It’s the holiday season and your budget is a bit tight? How could anyone get mad at you for backing out of a completely optional charity donation? Busy with some personal matters or want to focus on finishing up something at work the day we’re doing a charity event? No big deal, it’s optional. Anyway, the point is that perhaps based on the wording in the article, I felt like some of the messaging will be misinterpreted. I think there are some good points buried in there. Check it out and let me know if you agree or not!

Follow Dev Leader on social media outlets to get these updates through the week. Thanks!


Weekly Article Dump

Here’s the collection of articles I’ve shared on social media outlets over the past week:

  • Why Innovation Is So Hard: A few good points on why innovating sometimes feels like it’s a difficult thing to do and what you can do to improve!
  • Present Slides, Distribute Documents: Do your meetings sometimes feel like someone is just reading you a slide show? You can read a slide show yourself, can’t you? Why not distribute the slide show ahead of time?!
  • How to Evaluate Personal Characteristics When Hiring: Being a good fit is incredibly important when hiring someone. How can you improve gauging how good of a fit someone will be with your work culture? This article gives you a few strategies.
  • Look Out! When the Visible Becomes Invisible: Invisible work “clutter” can be holding your efficiency back at work. Check out this article for why ignoring things at work and letting them build up can get dangerous… and of course, how to avoid it 🙂
  • The Single Most Essential Building Block of Success: This article talks discusses how your mindset and perspective on challenges can gear you toward success. Complete with 10 tips for becoming more resilient!
  • Having a Really Lousy Day? Some Ways to Feel Better: We all have bad days. This article has some great practical tips (13 of them!) for you to improve your day. My favourite is number 2: do something nice for someone else. Definitely a great way to make your day better.
  • Are You a Workaholic or an Outlier?: This article discusses what being a workaholic means and the differences between when it may be a good thing versus a bad thing. The real takeaway point is to remember to do what you love.
  • 29 Reasons to Start a Bog Today: Ever considered starting a blog? For me, it kind of happened over night… but I’m betting there are lots of people at least on the fence about it. Why not give it a shot? Check out this article and you might get that little nudge you need to take the plunge!
  • Why I Wake Up Early and 3 Reasons You Should Too: In this article, Julia Boorstin touches on 3 reasons why she’s a morning person. For some people, it’s a matter of playing catch-up with the other side of the world but for others, it’s just a way to become more productive.
  • 5 Ways To Lead No Matter Your Title: Some of the best leaders at a company are home-grown and not brought in from somewhere else just because they were good leaders. In this article, Angie Hicks talks about 5 different ways you can put leadership skills into play even if you don’t have “Leader” in your job title.
  • So You Want To Pick Someone’s Brain? Do It Right: Sometimes I think this kind of stuff is common sense, but I’m definitely being proven wrong on this one! In this article, Linda Coles talks about a handful of things to consider when reaching out to someone to ask them for their opinion on something. Think about it… Why would you do it differently than if you had the opportunity to do it in person?!
  • Be SMARTe: How to Clarify Confusion:  This article focuses on hiring and resumes, but I think the concept applies in the more general sense. Lou Adler puts it well right at the beginning, “if you can’t describe exactly what you want, don’t be surprised if you don’t get it”. Using a simple set of guidelines, you can formulate what you’re looking for in a clear and concise manner that helps reduce assumptions and confusion.
  • To Become An Expert, Do This One Thing: In this article, Whitney Johnson makes a great point: you need to leave your ego at the door if you want to build up your skill set in an area where you’re a beginner. Just because you might be accomplished at some things, you need to get into the beginner mindset.
  • Are You Grounded in Trust?: Stan McChrystal writes about a parallel to trust in your business and team. Trust is incredibly important, especially in small businesses, because it let’s people focus on what they are experts at. In order to keep your team operating efficiently, everyone should feel like they can trust the other team members.
  • How to Focus Innovation: This article identifies the 6 ‘W’s that you need to answer when considering innovation. Gijs van Wulfen describes these steps as the necessary formula for innovation. He then outlines a group of questions that you should ask about your innovation in terms of it’s placement in the market. Certainly a lot of things to consider, but they all seem worthwhile.
  • The Joys Of Screwing Up: Being fearless is neccessary for innovation according to Jeff DeGraff. When we become afraid of taking risks and pushing the boundaries, innovation stagnates. How can you innovate if you’re never willing to take risks?
  • 7 Tips for Surviving Life As a Middle Manager: Nothing I would consider ground breaking here, but Dennis Berman has done an awesome job of summarizing a lot of excellent middle management tips. You may have read about some of these in some of the articles I’ve shared, but it’s certainly a great list to refer to!

Hope you enjoyed! Remember to follow on popular social media outlets to get these updates through the week!

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  • Nick Cosentino

    Nick Cosentino

    I work as a team lead of software engineering at Magnet Forensics (http://www.magnetforensics.com). I'm into powerlifting, bodybuilding, and blogging about leadership/development topics over at http://www.devleader.ca.

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