So leadership happens to be one of the things I think about, you know, just for fun. I’ve been working for quite some time now and I’ve had my fair share of leaders — some by title and some for real. Now, I don’t want to dive deep into my memory banks so I just thought of two leaders I’ve had the good fortune of working with recently. One is my former manager, Eric, and the other is my current project’s product owner, Maneesh. I posed the question: What about them makes it feel like it’s worth it to follow them?
They aspire for great things. They have an idea of what they want (or at least they seem to). You know they already have a picture of what they want to achieve or some sort of a plan in their heads (or at least it feels like it) so it doesn’t feel like they’re waiting on you to hand them the answer on a silver platter. More importantly, they are able to communicate their views clearly enough to get the team’s buy-in.
What you say matters
When they ask for your inputs, it doesn’t feel like they’re just asking out of courtesy (well, they could’ve been but you couldn’t tell). When you raise a concern, it doesn’t feel like it went in one ear and out the other. You go out of the discussion feeling like you’ve been heard.
Ego is thrown out of the door
They don’t insist on being right all the time. So if you happen to have conflicting ideas, they’re willing to hear you out and they’re also willing to explain where they’re coming from. The focus is on the problem that needs to be solved. So it doesn’t matter if you’ve disagreed on some points midway — what matters is you agree on a solution in the end.
When something needs to get done and they’re the one who needs to do it, they act on it right away. Of course, you understand that they’re busy with a lot of other stuff but you can still count on them to follow through — without the need for multiple follow-ups from you.
Clarity, transparency and integrity
It’s hard to pinpoint if one is just the effect of the other. Or if they should be separate points instead of bundled as one. Either way, these three make it easier for us to understand the reason behind certain decisions or actions. Things don’t come in as a surprise (or a shock) because they’re communicated clearly, discussed openly or aligned with some bigger plan or purpose. What’s been done is congruent to what’s been said. There’s little to no room for second guessing or thinking “Oh, he probably means well…”
Your success in mind
Maybe it’s just me, but I think to have your success in mind is a basic expectation from your managers. Of course, I also expect that people help themselves but managers have the role of removing impediments on your way and setting you up for success. I don’t want to work for someone who just passes the buck (delegation doesn’t always equate to “empowerment”) or throws you out to the wolves.
As for our product owner, I expected that his focus would only be on the product that we’re working on. But for him to express interest in our career progression or on us maturing in our practice, that was something. I do understand that if we do improve ourselves, in turn we’ll provide better service to him. But what I like is that he considers wins for both sides — ours and not only his.
Coincidentally, there’s a buzz in the team on the “growth mindset” — the thinking that you just have to work at something hard enough in order to succeed. But while I understand that it is hugely up to the individual to drive his own success, you can’t discount how it’s also a matter of a bunch of other things including leaders who truly empower and enable you. I guess the paragraph below from this post states it much better:
“Ultimately, I’m convinced that there’s great power in starting from a place of believing that all people can improve themselves if the conditions are right, and I think that’s what Kohn is getting at when he worries about the growth mindset ideology being co-opted by personal responsibility advocates. Human beings are not vacuums. We rely on family, teachers, economics, societal expectations, and a range of other factors beyond ourselves to contribute to our success. The notion that personal responsibility is the only condition that matters for success, or the most important one, is just plain false.”
That’s about it
So those are just the stuff that’s on the top of my head. Ultimately (I just had to use “ultimately” myself), I think the best relationships are the ones that don’t feel forced, and that also goes for you and your leader. I guess one last thing I can add to the list is how they didn’t just ask for my respect — they earned it.