On Leadership…

I recently passed the two year mark in my first major/official role as a “manager” of anything.  I’ve been the lead of a team which now consists of 7 souls and I’ve learned (i.e. screwed up repeatedly and had the idea pounded into me) a few things along the way about what it means to “lead… a team”.

It’s a departure from my normal technical-oriented posts, but I’m having a hard time with motivation to post those right now so I have to blog where the mood strikes me. Right now I have an itch to scratch about leadership and learning how to be in “charge” of something.

Deflect the Praise to Those Who Earned It

I try to remember this whenever I receive any praise for any of the work related to the work that the team may have done. Even if I myself had achieved something individually, it would only have been possible on the steps and rungs laid by the team. In just about every circumstance, however, it’s something they achieved. This is my favorite quote in this regard (I cannot find the citation anywhere! I lost it! Can someone help me identify this paraphrased quote?):

Regarding praise, a leader deflects it to his team. Regarding derision, a leader intercepts it from his team.  If it was done well, they did it. If it was done OK, we did it. If it was done poorly, I did it.

Get Out of Their Way

A good leader leads best by pointing the team in the right direction and getting out of the way. This simple concept is quite possibly the hardest (for me, at least) to learn. My instinct is to control, guide, and move the process along, handing out tasks like a task master. However, this usually makes things go much slower and I become a bottleneck and a vice upon the imagination and ingenuity of the team.  The team is a team because multiple heads thinking on a problem is always better than one. If I get in the way, I become a limiting factor and limit things to my imagination and the team and project suffer greatly.

I’m reminded of this “Mantovational” poster by one of my favorite blogs: Art of Manliness.  It focuses on various motivational quotes by (in this instance) George S. Patton:



I need to get this thing tattooed onto the back of my eyelids, seriously.


Principles and Direction

Another key thing about being a leader is to have a set of operating principles that you follow consistently and clearly and set the direction of the team based on those principles.  They can execute you just need to point them in the right direction and get out of the way!

This concepts flows from another quote from Patton from that same link above:

A leader is a man who can adapt principles to circumstances


The Problem of saying “We should”

Or maybe this section should be titled: “The Royal Worthless We”

Only just recently Gary Sherman made me aware of this leadership-fail phenomenon which is so prevalent in our society.  To my shock and horror, ever since I became aware of it, I found myself doing it often. TOO often. What is it?

Ever have someone come up to you with a good idea, but something you didn’t want to, or didn’t think you could deal with it right now and so you said, “Yes, that’s a good idea, we should definitely do that?”  Now consider how many times whatever that idea was actually got done.  In my observation, those “we should do that” ideas usually end up in the scrap pile of forgotten ideas.

As a leader, your response should be “Yes, do it” or “Yes, great idea, <so and so> can you do this right now?”  or “Yes, I will do it right now or right after my current task”.  At the very least, you should schedule it to be done, assign the task to someone for the future, or put it into the queue of things that will *actually* get done.  Either do it or don’t do it. *Never* say “we should…” because that just means it’ll never get done.

You’ll hate me and Gary now for this because you will start seeing and hearing it everywhere. It’s systemic in our leader-weak society. Don’t believe me? Check this video out:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
An Energy-Independent Future
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Direct link to video

About Chad Myers

Chad Myers is the Director of Development for Dovetail Software, in Austin, TX, where he leads a premiere software team building complex enterprise software products. Chad is a .NET software developer specializing in enterprise software designs and architectures. He has over 12 years of software development experience and a proven track record of Agile, test-driven project leadership using both Microsoft and open source tools. He is a community leader who speaks at the Austin .NET User's Group, the ADNUG Code Camp, and participates in various development communities and open source projects.
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  • bob

    What do you do when you don’t tell how just what and the end result ends up being terrible?

  • great post, chad. glad to see you talking about your role as a team lead. i’d really like to hear more about your trials, trouble, and successes as a lead.

    i think the quote your looking for comes from Good To Great, page 35:

    “Level 5 leaders look out the window to apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well (and if they cannot find a specific person or event to give credit to, they credit good luck). At the same time, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility, never blaming bad luck when things go poorly.”

  • @bob: That points to a problem further upstream. If you can’t trust your people to get it done, you have the wrong people or they’re not equipped properly.

    @derick: Thanks! As the mood strikes me I’ll try a few more of these I think.

    Unfortunately that’s not the quote I was thinking of. I distinctly remember it having the part about “they did it”, “we did it”, “I did it”. Oh well, I like your quote, too. It hits on the same point!