Holiday Special – The Best Posts Of 2014

Another year of writing this blog. I’m now at 100+ articles and I’m sitting here and thinking about what to write about as the year is coming to an end. And the same as last year the answer is right here. How to celebrate better than by looking back and remembering some of the key articles that appeared on this blog. So allow me to present what I consider the best posts dealing with various aspects of leadership and life itself.

Communication

7 Reasons To Pick Up The Phone – Always think twice before sending yet another email whether it wouldn’t be better to be brave and just pick up a phone and call.

Communication Shouldn’t Be Efficient – Forget efficiency when communicating important information. Go for effectiveness.

No Surprises Please! – A good manager should never get surprised by anything as it points to a failure of understanding risks, miscommunication or broken trust.

Recruitment

Hire For Strengths, Not Lack Of Weaknesses – Next time you talk to a candidate don’t forget to identify his key strengths and values he would bring to the organization. If you cannot find any and find yourself talking to a mediocre robot you may want to continue your search.

Effort And Attitude Beats Talent And Knowledge – The focused effort and can-do attitude of determined underdog beats a raw talent and theoretical knowledge of complacent rival hands down most of the time.

Leadership

Good And Bad Software Engineering Manager – What does it take to be a successful manager in a progressive software development company? What are the traits you need to have to build solid software development teams and ship great products?

5L Principle Of Leadership: Live, Love, Laugh, Learn, and Lead – A talk about what you can do, and what mindset you need to learn to be able to cope with stress and downsides in life.

You Manage Things, You Lead People – Management is a science. Leadership is an art.

Real Leaders Are Vulnerable – No one will eagerly follow a robot. If you lead others you need to show your human face and heartfelt convictions.

Real Leaders Own Their Mistakes – Did you make a mistake? Admit it, apologize for it, fix it and prevent similar mistakes from happening in the future.

Find The Best Leader For A Given Situation – You don’t need to be constantly in charge. Just find the right situation to put other passionate people in the lead.

Productivity

What Is Possible Is Not Always Right – How often do you decide to do something only because “you can”? When you really think about it you may realize that it is way too often.

Getting Stuff Done: The Right Attitude – No pain, no gain. Working smart is a good start but you cannot take shortcuts. You have to put in the hours of hard work if you want to succeed.

Life

7 Ways How Leaders Lie To Themselves – We lie to ourselves. And as strange as it may seems that is the worst thing we can do as it is constantly holding us back and prevents us from reaching a true success and happiness. Just read through some of the most common lies and if you recognize yourself find a way how to break the loop and stop this lie.

The Pitfalls Of Living As Expat – Living abroad is one of the most intense experiences you can have. And if you move to a country that is at the other side of the world you must expect that things will be really different.

Life Is About Communication And Attitude – Life is about the way you influence others and are being influenced. It is about the way you see the world around you and the people living in it. Each and every one of us creates our own version of reality formed by our beliefs and our approach to life.

Your Heart Is Not In It Anymore – You have a great job, excellent team around you, you do what you love, but still something feels wrong…

Introverts: How To Be Happy – To live a happy life make sure that what you do aligns with your core values, dreams and mission of your life.

Surprising Thoughts On What Makes Us Unhappy – Constant learning and exploration gets you into a vicious cycle of unfulfilled dreams… unless you find solace in the journey itself.

 

What are your favorite thought leaders and articles of this year?

The Pitfalls Of Living As Expat

Living abroad is one of the most intense experiences you can have. And if you move to a country that is at the other side of the world you must expect that things will be really different. And let’s face it, you will have to adapt if you want to get most of that opportunity.

I’m originally from the heart of Europe (Czech Republic). I travel quite a bit and visited pretty much all the continents (not counting Antarctica) so I would say that I’m pretty adaptable and not easily surprised. I also spent six months in Australia couple of years ago and recently twelve months in the Philippines. So if you are considering to try a life of an expat let me point out couple of things to keep in mind.

Fresh start

Why do you want to live in a foreign country? In my case it was easy as I was sent by the company to build a new office in Manila. But when this opportunity came up I also planned to use it and do some changes in my life. You are already changing location, social circle, potentially job, so why not to change also some of your habits. Well, as it turns out we are who we are regardless of location. In fact, changing everything around you most likely puts pressure on keeping at least some things familiar.

So if you are thinking about fresh start, getting rid of bad habits, or dream of a better life I would strongly encourage you to first change the way you think and your attitudes and only then move. You should make sure you have the right answers to questions like “Why do I want to move?” “Am I trying to run from problems or do I march towards opportunities?”

I love the quote by Lance Miller (champion of public speaking in 2005) from his winning speech The Ultimate Question “I had changed everything in my life, but nothing had changed.”

Culture

Different environment and cultural background breed different habits, ways of thinking and value systems. Moving to a new country means you need to be willing to listen, watch, adapt, and enjoy it. You don’t need to completely throw away your heritage (in fact you probably shouldn’t) but the flexibility and willingness to embrace new way of thinking will be a key to whether you will enjoy the experience or suffer.

So if you plan on keep doing things the way you have always done them and complain that the others around you don’t know how things are supposed to be done you probably shouldn’t even attempt to move.

Work

If you are moving to a new country without a promise of a job you need to expect that you will struggle at the beginning. You should always consider “What is my competitive advantage / disadvantage” on the local job market? Chances are that there will be tons of disadvantages coming from the fact that you don’t know the culture, you don’t know the language, you don’t know anyone. If you are in a position I was, being sent by your company, then your life is thousands times easier. The drawback in that case is that you need to work from day one and that leaves a little room for adapting and you essentially learn by making mistakes as you go.

Health

You are moving to new environment and it can have rather radical impact on your health. If you live your whole life in cold or moderate weather and suddenly move to tropical climate it will take toll on your body. Make sure you account for that when planning the move. If you have any medical conditions you should carefully consider the health system in the target country and whether it will provide you with what you need.

Routine

Routine helps to deal with stress. Moving to a new environment is pretty stressful. You don’t really know how things work, you don’t really know anyone to ask for help, and in case you don’t speak the language you are really lost.

Setting up some solid routine can help you to get through the days and limit some of the decisions you need to be making. Adding regular exercise and good eating habits will give you energy to deal with all the unknowns.

Network

We all need help. You cannot really survive in today’s world alone. When I showed up at the Manila airport I was alone and needed to quickly build a circle of people who I could ask for help, who would share pieces of wisdom and who would help me to keep sane.

The good news is that most people understand that you are in a difficult position and they really try to help you so building a network of people you can turn to is actually not that difficult. Specifically, if you are a professional you can turn to LinkedIn or similar service to quickly find couple of names that might be relevant and reach out to them. What always works is to plug into the local expat community as these guys know exactly how you feel, they still remember how difficult the start can be and will help you out. Just make sure you don’t rely on expats too much. If you want to blend in and understand the culture, you need to spend most of your time with the locals to see their way of life, feel their values, and build a really strong relationships. You don’t want to live a gilded cage, do you?

Social circle

And that leads me to the most important part. When you are moving to a new country you are leaving behind your social circle, your security net. If things go wrong you don’t have anyone to offer a shoulder to cry on. And yes, in the world of internet it is easy to talk to someone back home but since they don’t really understand what you are getting through and have no knowledge of your new environment they won’t be of much help.

You need to quickly find some new friends. If you are extroverted globetrotter it won’t be much of a problem. If you are more introverted like myself, you will need to use some tricks. I mentioned plugging into the expat community is a good start. Assuming you have a job then bonding with your colleagues is another source of contacts you could turn to (though you probably want to be careful which topics to discuss). You may also find some local community around one of your hobbies (if you do some sports or play music it should be relatively easy). In my case the first thing I did was to join a local Toastmasters club. Since this is a global non-profit organization that is open to anyone and since it is all about communication, it helped me quickly make some friends with similar interests yet with different backgrounds.

People you left behind

And last but not least you should think about people you left back home. Especially in case of family you need to understand that your departure will have impact on their lives. So before you leave, make sure that not just you, but also they are ready.

The life of an expat is a great experience and wonderful opportunity to expand your view of the universe. It will help you to understand other cultures, it will make you more resilient to stress, more adaptable to change, more open to new ideas, and most likely more curious and humble.

What are your experiences or worries when it comes to live of an expat?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

The Case Of Loyalty

If you are in a leadership position you may encounter every now and then situation that forces you to think about loyalty. What does loyalty really mean? Should you be loyal to your company, to your employees, to yourself, to your values? How does it exhibit to the outside? What if the needs of the team are at odds with your needs? How does it impact our lives and does it have a place in today’s workplace?

What is the definition of loyalty?

Merriam Webster defines “loyal” as “having or showing complete and constant support for someone or something. It can be a government, private person, cause, ideal, custom, institution, or product.”

To translate this to corporate environment my definition of loyalty may sound like this: “A loyal employee is someone who cares and supports the company and the management in both good and bad times. It is someone who will voice her concerns directly with her manager and after decision is made will support it wholeheartedly whether she agrees with it or not. And it is someone who will discuss her concerns in private and will project a positive attitude in public.”

How does it impact your professional life?

I feel that this definition works nicely as long as you and the company have the same goals. This is important prerequisite. If the alignment is not there you cannot expect also trust and loyalty. In most cases with a good communication strategy and worthwhile mission of the company it should be manageable to accomplish. The only exception is when the goal of the team and mission of the company are at odds with core values of the employee. In that case the best both can do is to separate and go their own ways.

Do you want to be loyal?

I see myself as extremely loyal person. I always try to see the best in others and I strive to be reliable. This then automatically leads to loyalty being one of my traits. Is it always for the best? Probably no. Sometimes it stands in the way of making difficult decisions and sometimes it allows others to abuse this loyalty. So how do you ensure that you are loyal but at the same time don’t allow others to take advantage of you? In short how do you stay loyal to yourself and your values while being loyal to company and team needs?

Hurt me once shame on you

… hurt me twice shame on me. As a leader you need to trust others pretty much by definition. Your team doesn’t need to win your trust and your loyalty, they must have it from the beginning. The moment someone breaks the trust once you need to make it very clear to them that this is what is happening and you won’t tolerate repeated breaks abuse of your trust. For ideas how to address the situation check How To Deal With Broken Promises. And from the other side you need to be very self-conscious and watch yourself to be fair towards every member of the team. No favoritism, no bullying, no hiding away from issues. All these leave to broken trust and lost loyalty.

How to get it when leading people and how to lose it?

Even though your team needs to have your loyalty from the day one the same doesn’t go in the other direction. You as a leader need to show that you deserve loyalty of others. Loyalty is tightly linked to trust. And as I wrote in How can you motivate others? You can’t! trust is something that a leader needs to earn. One of the easiest ways how to earn the trust of your team is to trust them first. Aside of that it is the usually mix of characteristics you need to display as a good leader to gather your followers like consistency, transparency, ability to provide feedback and listen to it, authenticity, and genuine care about your team. This is not a rocket science but in reality it is something really difficult to exhibit these traits every single day. Breaking the trust happens really easily. Go back on your word two or three times, ignore what your team is saying, punish someone unjustly only because you are in a bad mood… and trust is gone. Loyalty will last longer since it has a strong emotional aspect and many people will find ways how to forgive your behavior in their minds. They will not trust you implicitly but they will stay loyal up to a point. However, at some stage it will break and suddenly you wake up one morning and discover that you don’t have a functional team anymore and in fact you may not have a team at all but just a bunch of people reporting to you.

How to get it back again?

Apologize. It is almost as simple as that. When you break the trust of your team, when they are not loyal to you anymore you can really do only one thing. Get the team together and apologize from the bottom of your heart. Admit your mistakes and weaknesses, let the team know how you would like to fix it and ask for their help. It is not easy, it is not something that many people can do as you are showing vulnerability but it is the only thing that can give you a fresh start. Once you apologize, and the team believes you mean it, you can start from the beginning and build a new foundation. You shouldn’t make any assumptions and you should act like you have a new team that needs to get to know you again.

 

What does loyalty mean for you? Are you loyal to your company and your bosses? Is your team loyal to you? How do you build loyalty?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Good And Bad Software Engineering Manager

What does it take to be a successful manager in a progressive software development company? What are the traits you need to have to build solid software development teams and ship great products? I have recently read a great book The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz and in one of the chapters he is pointing out something he wrote years ago when building his product management team: Good Product Manager / Bad Product Manager. This made me think about what does it take to be successful as software development manager and this is what I came up with…

Good engineering managers understand the development process, constantly strive to improve it and make sure team follows what was agreed. They understand the key priorities for the team and are able to make difficult decisions when the team is being forced to handle more than possible. Good engineering managers take it on their shoulders to have the tough discussions with other stakeholders. They challenge the team’s estimates and push for as realistic view of the work as possible.

Bad engineering managers push the team to follow the process mindlessly without understanding that the process is just the means to some end and not the end by itself. They are afraid to make difficult decisions. They would rather push the team to provide unrealistic estimates than face the other stakeholders and tell them that the requirements are not doable.

Good engineering managers know the industry and what is the standard. They are constantly in touch with Product Managers, Sales and Technical Support to know what the market looks like, what the product strategy is and why there are certain priorities in the product. Bad engineering managers wait for product management to tell the team what to do and are not able to provide the engineering team the big picture.

Good engineering managers focus on creating value for customers. They drive the team to focus on reducing issues related to installation, upgrade, integration, supportability and maintainability. They negotiate hard with product management to limit the amount of technical debt. Bad engineering managers just stay away from any engineering related decisions on the product.

Good engineering managers understand the content of the release, what is behind every single feature and are able to explain the current status even when woken up in the middle of the night. Good engineering managers know what is the product team working on every single day, they are actively identifying issues and risks and drive them to resolution.

Bad engineering managers are just proxies. They rely on information fed them by the team leads. They bring no real values neither to the project, nor to the team. Bad engineering managers communicate poorly outside of engineering, and frequently hide the issues in the hopes that it will get somehow resolved. When being asked for the status, content of the release or biggest risks they have to go back to the team and ask.

Good engineering managers provide feedback, raise risks and issues and make sure these are discussed and resolved. Good engineering managers ensures that the teams follow the best engineering practices and that these are shared between the teams. Bad engineering managers don’t even know what their product does, they treat people as numbers and have no idea who the best and worst performers on their teams are. They take no interest in understanding the technologies and people. They are essentially just administrators who shuffle paperwork around.

Good engineering managers own the escalated issues from Sales and Support and ensure their prompt resolution. In urgent or sensitive cases they are willing to jump on a call with a customer to explain the situation and discuss the steps to resolution. Bad engineering managers hide from responsibility and hope that someone else will have the difficult conversations when dealing with customer issues. They always point to problems somewhere else rather than fixing real (or perceived) issues within their teams.

Good engineering managers regularly communicate with all stakeholders and build good relationship with them in the times of peace so when there is a hot issue to be resolved they can tap into the pool of goodwill and resolve it promptly and to everyone’s satisfaction. Bad engineering managers just sit back and talk to other stakeholders only when being triggered by them. They don’t care about relationship building and then they are unable to resolve issues without escalating to higher management.

Good engineering managers understand business priorities and are willing to shift resources around as needed. They leverage teams around the globe and are willing to help other products outside their own sphere of responsibility. Bad engineering managers are unwilling to release their people to other more important products being afraid of losing power. They are always looking for excuses why their product is more important and don’t keep the business needs in mind.

Good engineering managers are heavily involved in recruitment understanding that only by getting the right people on-board they can build first class products. They develop their people and provide opportunities. Good engineering managers understand that only by building a strong team under them they can get to the next level themselves. They take no short cuts and know that developing people takes time and effort. They know that one of the key tasks of successful leader is to inspire the team, set clear expectations and provide feedback. With this in mind they are actively participating in on-boarding of new team members and ensure that every person on the team know what is the expected behavior, what makes this company successful and what will make him successful as well.

Bad engineering managers focus so much on politics and numbers that they forget about the people who do the work. They don’t provide feedback, and don’t talk to their teams. Bad engineering managers spend the time only with team leads and delegate any interaction with the rest of the team to his team lead. Bad engineering managers are so busy dealing with current issues that they are not able to build scalable team that would eventually prevent the issues in the first place.

Good engineering managers are able to use money wisely and train the team to do the same. They understand that only because there is a budget for something it doesn’t need to be spent if there is more cost effective way to solve the problem. Bad engineering managers constantly complain that there is not enough budget for all the things they would like to do without trying to work around it and come up with less expensive options.

 

What is your recipe for a great manager responsible for software development? What are the skills and behaviors you are looking for?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.