zondag 16 augustus 2015

Leading in a do-oacracy ... afterthoughts

There's nothing like arriving in Las Vegas and Chris Nickerson roping you into a panel at BSides titled "Leading in a Do-ocracy". The panel was posted in the "I am the cavalry" track and the abstract of this panel looked like this:

What is a "do"-ocracy, and what does it take to lead one? While some people stand back and gawk at problems, others jump in to do something about what they see. Explore some common traits of do-ocracies, why they inspire others, and how leaders emerge. Learn from the successes and the failures of our panelists, and hopefully spark ideas within yourself that you can bring to a do-ocracy of your choosing or making.
Moderated by Tim Krabec, the panelists were Tod Beardsley, Beau Woods, Chris Nickerson, and myself. Nothing is better for a panel than an audience with an opinion and I can say I was happy that Keren Elazari decided to "give it to us" and become our fifth panelist. You can watch the panel here :

Now, being on a panel about leadership feels strange to me. I don't think I'm particularly knowledgeable on the subject and I don't see myself as a leader. Then again, we live in a world where everybody and their mom are keynote speakers on "leadership", "how to lead millenials to success", and other very interesting subjects. The funny part is that it is always very hard to track back any form of leadership experience in those peoples resume. Furthermore, most recently we have seen the advent of courses with super-awesome titles like "How to evolve from a middle manager to a middle leader". I kid you not, I wish I was though.

Let me be very clear, and this is my (very strong) personal conviction, some aspects of leadership can be adopted, maybe even faked, but leadership is not something that can be taught or learned.

Now, I do understand that some people might see me as a leader of some sort (Chris, I'm looking at you!) and I can't deny that I've been studying leadership in various forms since I was very young. I've also discussed the subject with people that, at some point in my life, were mentors to me. So here are the things I consider to be true about leadership.

Be the servant leader

Nothing makes a leader like quoting from some old book that most of the audience members have never read or, better, heard about. When it comes to servant leadership the Tao Te Ching gives a fairly good description :

The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware.
Next comes one whom they love and praise.
Next comes one whom they fear.
Next comes one whom they despise and defy. 
When you are lacking in faith,
Others will be unfaithful to you.
The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words. 
When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, All the people say, ‘We ourselves have achieved it!’

A leader rarely leads from the front. He's among the people doing the same work and at the disposal of the people, serving by the grace of the people. I guess what I'm trying to say is that leading in a do-ocracy is not about choosing the topics and gathering people around you to do them. It is about finding the topics that are important to the people and become part of the group, working in the trenches with them while not holding back on sharing knowledge, cycles, and sweat.

Understand your level

I've only recently become aware of the "5 levels of leadership" and it kinda hits home. Now, you have to understand that it takes all kinds of leaders to achieve success. A level 1 leader is not necessarily a bad leader, a level 5 leader might not be what you need in some circumstances. We, humans, like to think that we have to achieve the highest level and try to be who we are not to get there. For me, understanding your level of leadership is an important step of understanding where you can be most effective in helping to achieve goals. Here's those 5 levels:

1. Position - People follow because they have to.

2. Permission - People follow because they want to.

3. Production - People follow because of what you have done for the organization.

4. Person Development - People follow because of what you have done for them personally.

5. Pinnacle - People follow because of who you are and what you represent.

You can easily apply these levels to the people around you. You will quickly come to the conclusion that most people fall somewhere between level 2 and 4. You'll also realize that, as I said before, you know very few people that have evolved more than 1 level in their leadership abilities. That is what I mean when I say leadership can not be learned or taught.

Kaizen and continuous improvement

something, something, Six Sigma, black belt, Deming, Toyota.

I've read countless blogs and books on the Kaizen methodology. Moreover, I studied Kaizen before DevOps people started using Kanban boards to divorce yourself from responsible design and formal architecture. You can do that too and I'll not go into detail about what Kaizen means here.

I guess that the key take-away from Kaizen is that success is measured by the quality of your output. To me, it means these things:

  • You can not do ALL THE THINGS. You might want to do them but you can't do all of them WELL. Pick the things wisely and apply maximum effort. There is only one speed : Go!
  • Don't be a pussy and accept criticism. This is a big one! When you're doing stuff, people will come out of the woodworks and criticize you. It's cool and don't qualify them as detractors because they're saying something you don't like. All feedback is GOOD. Feedback shows that people care. Feedback allows you to steer where you are going (or not). The moment people stop giving feedback is not the moment where you're doing the right thing. It is probably the moment where you should consider abandoning your efforts because the people no longer care and you're merely doing this for yourself. 
  • Focus on your outputs and ensure that they are of the highest quality possible. Quality is not measured in the number of retweets and likes, those are dumb metrics. Quality is measured in how people apply your outputs to do other awesome things. It is measured in how people appropriate your shit and make it even better or apply it to do something completely different.
I'm sorry that this has become such a long post. I hope it is helpful to some of you. We all have a limited time out here and we can't all make a dent in the universe. We can do our best to leave this world better than we entered it. The badges and accolades we can receive are nice, but they mean nothing when the worms are nibbling on our toes. 

Do right, do with empathy, and do selflessly, but most importantly DO! 
Or don't, but then please get out of my way.

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