In November of 2015, HBR published an article entitled, "We Like Leaders Who Underrate Themselves". The authors describe an extensive study based on 69,000 managers, 750,000 respondents and hundreds of companies where through an analysis of 360-degree feedback data, they found that leaders who rate themselves poorly compared to how their subordinates rate them are not only seen more favorably by their employees, but actually have more engaged employees.
Bottom line to the article:
"The more people overrated themselves, the higher the probability that they have fatal flaws and the lower the probability they have any strengths. The more people underrate themselves, however, the higher the probability they have strengths and the lower the probability they have fatal flaws."
A hat tip to Tyler Jennings for the title of this post. He and I were in a meeting some time ago, along with a lot of other interesting people from Groupon Engineering. We were sharing our thoughts on team leadership and the role of managers. There was talk about how decisions need to be made close to the work and how managers need to not just seek advice, but actually provide others the opportunity to make decisions.
Some time in mid-January, I was thinking about various organizational patterns and how companies run. I was thinking, in particular, about the idea of a "leadership team". I tweeted that leadership teams may be an indication of dysfunction.
I got a few different responses, all of which amounted to "please say more about this."
I think I saw Daniel Pink's TED Talk on "The Puzzle of Motivation" for the first time in 2011. I'd been reading some about leadership, management, and organizational psychology up to that point, but Pink's talk and his distillation of these complex concepts into a simple framework (Autonomy, Connection, and Excellence) inspired me to read more on the topics. Over the course of the next couple of years, I consumed a decent amount of material. You can view my Goodreads account to see what books I was reading. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to share all of the scientific articles and other sources I also consumed.
It is not only the things we reward that shape culture, but the things we allow. Perhaps the easiest way to shape a culture is to do nothing at all.
When a rockstar employee yells at, denigrates, or refuses to help teammates and you let it slide because the rockstar is valuable, you are shaping a culture. When a teammate tells a racist or sexist joke and you say nothing because nobody present is a member of the target group, you are shaping a culture. When an executive abuses power, when a coworker engages in gossip, when a team cuts corners to make deadlines and you decide it isn't your problem, you are shaping a culture.
We have an application internal to Groupon called the "Love Monster". It was written, in large part by Devin Breen. There are other contributors, but Devin is the one that made it happen. He didn't do it because it was on a roadmap or because it's part of our quarterly objectives. He did it because he and others wanted something like this to exist. So he willed it into existence.
I've worked for essentially two types of companies - those that have clearly defined job ladders and those that don't.
A clearly defined job ladder provides people a clear picture of what they need to accomplish and what skills they need to display in order to move into a new role. A clearly defined job ladder provides a baseline for performance appraisals. Everyone in the organization knows what is expected of people in each role. Are you displaying these attributes with a level of proficiency requisite for the role, or are you not? Job ladders make the expectations of progress and the opportunity for advancement clear and consistent.
In some manner or another, I've served in roles frequently referred to as "boss" for over 20 years. In a few cases, I owned the company, in whole or in part. In many more instances, I held some rank that granted me authority over the work-lives of others. I've learned a great deal over the years. And I am definitely still learning.
If you'll indulge me, I'd like to share what little I have learned about being a boss.
I think there is great value in reading books on business management. That is, there is great value in reading them with intent, considering their points, thinking through the details, doing some research, assimilating, and drawing your own conclusions.
But there is another approach I see taken far too often.
About 15 years ago, I started a simple practice with my fellow co-workers and employees. Every so often, we'd meet to discuss stuff and things. Nothing too formal, just a touch-point to make sure we were staying connected. I called the sessions "touch-point meetings". Over time, I made adjustments to the format of the meeting as various structures proved more or less valuable.
Want to really set yourself apart as a leader? Try telling your employees, "Don't bring me problems, bring me solutions." This phrase will absolutely set you apart as a leader; apart from your people, apart from communication, apart from real issues, and apart from collaborative solutions.
In the epilogue to the book, Sutton talks about Steve Jobs and differing perspectives on what contributed to his success; creativity, assholery, or some magic combination of both. Pondering this made me think of a story from my own life.
Earlier this week, Bob Marshall (@flowchainsensei) retweeted an article by Dan McCarthy on The Meaning of Respect, where he discussed respect as a value. I then saw a blog post from Seth Godin entitled "Seven Questions for Leaders" where he asks if you would walk away from a client or employee whose values don't match yours. This weekend, at Agile and Beyond, I got into a conversation with several others about company values and walking away from clients when there is a mis-match. At LeanDog, we proudly display our company values and we often refer to the XP values of Simplicity, Communication, Feedback, Respect, and Courage.
Practice what you preach is a variation of Practice yourself what you preach. I think we are all familiar with the phrase. I suspect most of us understand the basic sentiment upon first read.
This phrase addresses hypocrisy. It originally spoke to those who demanded others be pious while themselves partaking in sinful activities. It certainly applies to anyone whose personal life is lived in a manner incongruent with the values and behaviors they publicly espouse.
It is nearing the end of the year and we at LeanDog are wrapping up our fiscal year. We're looking at the potential tax benefits of spending some of our reserve and we're mulling over other ideas related to the spend of money. We are not, however, discussing our bonus objectives. We aren't discussing them because we don't have them. I, for one, am happy that we don't.
Plenty of companies have bonus objectives. Many of those companies are spending a great deal of time (and money) trying to make sure that those objectives are met (or at least appear to be met). To some, this sounds like a good idea. To me, it sounds like rampant dysfunction.
In 1992, I started a custom software development company out of my basement. I started it because I was angry. At a relatively young age, I was already keenly aware of the gross dysfunction that existed in most organizations. I didn't want to be a part of that. I wanted to be a part of something different; something better. I had no plan, but I had an abundance of temerity.
I read a post recently from teknophyl entitled "Motivating the Unmotivated". He asked me to read it and give him some feedback. I started a reply in the comments and realized this one was going to take some time.
I encourage you to read his blog entry. I am willing to bet it will resonate with most of you, either as a participant in a similar series of events, or at least as a witness.
I recently read a post wherein the author was condoning the hire of excellent programmers with abrasive personalities over bad programmers with cordial personalities. Superficially, I agree with this advice as it is ultimately better to have an individual who does their job well and delivers over an individual who you get along with very well, but who cannot produce.
A false dichotomy
The notion that you must choose between great developers with bad personalities or bad developers with great personalities is just plain false. The dynamics involved are far more complex than that, but let's assume for a brief moment, that there are only two criteria any company hires on; raw skill and congeniality.
Our Values... ... are the foundation for all decisions. They serve as the compass that guides us through our personal and professional lives. All action; all thought; in every way we represent ourselves; we must represent our values.