11 Leadership Principles – Part II
This is a continuation post from last week where we covered the first six leadership principles from the perspective of a technology leader. In this post we’ll cover the remaining five principles.
7) Keep your soldiers informed – In the military the headquarter staff makes an overall plan for a mission, presents the plan to subordinate units, and lets them plan the details of how to execute. This planning hierarch can occur across many levels such as starting from the Division HQ, then to the Brigade HQ, then to the Battalion HQ, then to the Company, the Platoon, and finally to the Squad. All this planning takes time but each subordinate plan requires information from the higher plan. You can imagine that with all this planning you could quickly run out of time to actually perform the mission, assuming it is time sensitive, which most things in life and business are. The rule of thumb that we used as a staff in the military was to take 1/3 of the remaining time to put your plan together and leave 2/3 for your subordinates. If we the Division staff had 1 week prior to the mission they would take 2.3 days to develop their plan, leaving 4.7 days remaining. The Brigade would use 1.5 days, leaving 3.2 days. The Battalion would use 1 day, leaving 3.1. The Company would use 0.7 days, leaving 2.1, the Platoon 0.5 day, leaving 1.4, the Squad 0.3 day, leaving 0.9. This same concept should apply to your teams. Don’t sit on ideas, contracts, or problems for 3/4 of the time before it is due and make your team scramble. Give your teams the majority of the time to plan and execute. Reiterating from principle #3, make sound and timely decisions. Taking up all the time so that you get 95% of the information before you make a decision is being a whimp. Gather the most pertinent data, make the best decision and make sure your team gets as much time to react as possible.
8) Develop a sense of responsibility in your subordinates – This principle is a combination of #2 “Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions” and #4 “Set the Example”. If you seek responsibility for your actions and set the example for your team, they will follow and behave the same way. For a technology leader, this might manifest itself in a situation where you expect your subordinates to admit when they changed the production environment without approval resulting in an incident. You should expect and demand this behavior from your team but you first must ensure that you are’re taking responsibility for your own actions. Instill in your team a sense of ownership over the site. In order to do so you need to set the example of owning the business. Blaming the business leaders for poor decisions and expecting your team to take responsibility for the technology will never work. Create a culture where people want to own their areas and do so by owning yours.
9) Ensure that the task is understood, supervised and accomplished – There is a big difference between micromanaging and providing adequate guidance on a project. Per principle #2 “Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions”, you can’t delegate your responsibility only your authority. Miscommunication is probably the single biggest cause of rework. Clear, concise, articulate criteria are the way to ensure tasks are started properly and accomplished. If you assign an unclear task without a deadline and without guidance on resources you can expect it to come in over budget, after the deadline, and not accurately completed. Communication of the task is your responsibility. In military aircraft we used a three-way positive transfer of control. This meant that if I were flying and I wanted by co-pilot to fly I would say “you have the controls”, they would respond with “I have the controls”, and I would reiterate “you have the controls.” This way there was very little chance of no one actually flying the aircraft…which in tandem seat aircraft you’d be surprised how easy that can occur.
10) Build the team – As a leader you must be constantly building the team. This doesn’t always mean hiring more engineers. Building the team can take the shape of improving their skill sets or replacing underperforming individuals. We’ve written before about seed-feed-weed-succeed. This simple garden analogy means that you need to hire (seed) the team with great players, grow (feed) them through challenging projects, greater responsibility, and training, get rid of (weed) underperformers once they’ve had a chance to improve, and by doing these three things well you and your teams will succeed.
11) Employ your unit in accordance with its capabilities – This last principle requires that you first follow principle #5 “know your soldiers and look out for their welfare.” In order to deploy or ask your team to take on certain projects, you need to first know what their capabilities are as a team and as individuals. If your team is newly formed, you probably don’t want to take on critical projects for major customers. If you don’t have anyone who knows databases you don’t want to architect a DB heavy application. Setting your team up for failure is not what leaders do but you won’t know if you’re doing that unless you know your team and the team members.