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Archive for the ‘People Problems’ Category

Lessons Learned in Leadership – You shouldn’t treat everyone the same

Posted by Steve on September 16, 2008

So I am on a ‘write about my leadership experiences’ kick lately! I have had these thougths/ideas floating around in my head for a while and its definitely due time for them to get written down.

This edition is based on the observation that you cannot treat every person you manage the same. For some reason I feel this to be counter intuitive, I think to myself that you would want to treat everyone the same, it is fair that way… right? Not so much.

The ‘issue’ is that everyone: works differently, has different goals, is motivated in different ways essentially everyone needs something else from a manager. I found that when I was first in the leadership role, I tended to treat my team as I would want to be treated by a leader, basically I would give general instructions, lay out my expectations, and then leave them to my own devices (it should be clear that I am not a proponent of micromanaging!). Now this leadership approach would work well with me, that does not mean it would work well with everyone, and I learned this through experience. One of my team members needed (and not necessarily in a bad way) a little more guidance and a little bit more micromanaging, so I had to modify my leadership style to accomodate for that. It was a very interesting revelation for me.

The main point of this post is to illustrate that everyone is different (this is extremely important to not only realize but really understand), and if you look at it that way, its not surprising that everyone needs something different from a leader. So here’s the question… are you a uniform leader or do you modify your style to better suit your various team members?

–Steve

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Lessons Learned in Leadership – A leaders vocabulary and opinions matter!

Posted by Steve on September 16, 2008

In my last position I was the team lead for a release cycle of a product at PlateSpin, Forge (a web based disaster recovery application). The experience was very interesting, challenging and often entertaining, in short it was an incredible experience. I learned quite a bit form it, and from the conversations I had about the postion with my mananger Adam White. What follows are just a few of the things that I have learned

Be Careful of Your Vocabulary
This comes from a conversation I had with Adam. Many times in meetings with my team members (who I was managing) I would say that we ‘should’ do something, for example I said that we ‘should’ do 3 sessions per day (session based testing is a method of testing, one which I am definitely a supporter of, for more info, look at anything James Bach has written). The issue here is my choice of words, I said ‘should’. This comes from my past experiences of interacting mainly with peers. In the peer situation, I would use the word should because we were equals and everything was up for discussion. When you are in a leadership position you must be authoritative in situations where you want things to happen. Continuing with my above example, instead of using the word ‘should’ I began to use the words ‘we will be…’ ‘we have to’, ‘we must’ and so on. Previously I never realized how important the vocabularly I used was

Be Careful of Your Opinions
How many times have you heard the phrase “I know it sucks to have to this, but we have to ok.”? I am guessing its at least once, and even if it is only once, it is too many times! Your attitude towards the things that you HAVE to do (even if you do not like doing them) is incredibly important. If you are negative towards these tasks, your team will pick up on that and they will therefore (in general) also have a negative opinion on these tasks therefore if you want people to do the things that are, at times, annoying to do, you have to have a positive opinion on them, at least on the outside!
So those are just two of the lessons I learned in leadership, there were obviously many more, and some of them I’ll be sharing!

–Steve

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A Personal Experience on the Difficulties of Giving and Accepting Advice

Posted by Steve on July 14, 2008

So it has been a little since I posted a good ‘thinker’ of a post but luckily for those of you have been just dying to read one, here we go. This post has actually been with me for a few weeks now, it is a continuation, in the form of a personal example, of why it is SO difficult to give advice. I am going to layout the events of what happened, then I will go into what I was thinking and feeling during the conversation in the following paragraph.

I was at the gym doing dead lifts, possibly one of the more difficult exercises to self monitor as far as form goes. I guess when I was doing the exercise my form was a little off, and with the amount of weight I was doing, it could have possibly gone poorly. So this was when one of the personal trainers who works at the gym comes up to me and says something to the effect of “Hey man, now I don’t mean to intrude or anything, but I think you need to focus a little more on your form.” I tell him that I was unaware that my form was off, he goes on to explain how I should be doing (like I don’t know), he also acknowledges that I am pushing a lot of weight, and that he does not want to diminish that fact. I simply say yes thank you, I will keep closer look in the future. He must have picked up on the fact that I wasn’t listening that closely because he kept going on about the dangers of not doing the exercise properly, and that if I focused on form, I would get the same benefits with less weight. I concluded the conversation by saying thank you and that I would make sure to try that next time.

So during this whole conversation, I was very very defensive, I acknowledged the fact that I probably did have bad form for the last few reps, and then thats all I wanted to hear. I stopped listening about 5 seconds into the conversation, and kept getting more and more agitated as he kept pushing at it; I was even aware that I was doing it, but that didnt matter! The most interesting thing is that I felt that way despite the fact that he did almost everything right:

He apologized for interrupting me,
He was in a position to know better (he is a personal trainer)
He tried to stroke the ego by mentioning the weight I was pushing
He provided reasoning behind why I should focus on form and how it wouldn’t effect my workout

He did almost everything right, yet I was still not receptive to anything he really had to say. This to me was very interesting, especially since I was aware of what was happening when he was telling me this. I then did some introspection, and I did find what it was that I took exception to, and it did have nothing to do with the personal trainer guy, it had to do with me, I don’t like to be wrong, even if I may be aware of it. I was proud of the weight I was doing, and then he came that I was doing it wrong, I was the wrong and in a public setting to boot. If this had been a private one on one training sessions and he had said I needed a little correction that would have been fine, but he pointed out that I was wrong in front of many people.

This was an interesting experience for me, because it demonstrated that there are times when you can do everything “right” but still not get the result you desire, even if you have the best intentions. The trainer guy just wanted to help me out, but I was having none of it, despite the fact he approached the situation almost perfectly. I would love to here other personal examples of when you got defensive when receiving advice or you noticed someone that was being difficult when you were giving advice because I find this topic very interesting, and every bit of experiential information helps to put this, sorry for the lame analogy, puzzle together.

–Steve

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What to do with a useless teammate?

Posted by Steve on May 20, 2008

I ran into a dilemma recently, and that dilemma is how to deal with a practically useless team member. This post is not to complain or vent about the fact that our project suffered because of said teammate but more to analyze the experience, and see if better actions could have been taken.

The project was for a design course, a real full course that would reflect the amount of work a normal engineering course would have. We did however get to pick our teammates; there was three of us at the beginning, and we needed a fourth; a member of our class that I had never worked with asked to be in our group, I was a little hesitant, but out of a slight feeling of social obligations, I did agreed to him joining the group but I was uneasy about it from the beginning.

Here is a short description of the project process
– Come up with project idea, the requirement is that it must be something patentable (2 weeks)
– Write a Requirements and Specifications report ~20pgs, (1 week, 20% of course grade)
– Design a prototype, and make a presentation and poster for it (9 weeks, 40% of course grade)
– Write a final report ~30pgs, (1 week, 40% of course grade)

Here are some of the issues that came up with him over the term:

– When coming up with ideas for the project, he did not contribute anything useful and would not do the research into topics that he said he would.
– He would say he would do something, or get something done, and then it wouldnt not get done (this happened various times)
– Quality of work was very poor
– Poor focus at group meetings, often would be surfing web sites during the meeting
– Not a self starter, therefore if he was given an area to try to work on, practically nothing would get done (this led to him doing practically nothing for the prototype)

So as you can see there were quite a few issues, and it essentially made a four person project into a three person project. The question here is, what do you do in this situation?

In a work situation, I would trust that if someone isnt pulling their weight, it will be noticed, and they will suffer the consequences. It may result in you having to do more work temporarily, but that should also get noticed, and you will have the benefits of being a hard worker. So in the work place, a non productive team member seems to be something that is easier to manage, at least to a certain degree. Feel free to correct me if you feel differently.

With this school project, we were stuck, with this group member, there was no getting around that. Also everyone receives the same grade on the project, therefore there is no specific benefit to individual team members (over the rest of the team, grades wise) to doing more work, but the work has to get done nonetheless.

Our solution for the reports was to try to assign him very straightforward and simple work, to try and lighten the load on the three of us. This only sort of worked. The simple work that we assigned him would get done, but not nearly to the desired quality, so we would end up having to re-write a large portion of it, eventually leading to an all nighter in the attempt to get the work done. In the end the quality was still not as desired, but that was mainly because of the difficulty of doing 4 peoples worth of work with only 3 people.

The work on the prototype was also a major issue; the main problem, we would give him a broad area to investigate, but he would not get anything substantial done. This was where I felt we could have really done something differently. It was identified at an early stage that this team member would be less productive then the rest, and most likely needed more guidance, but this guidance was never really given. Since we were all ‘equal’ team members, it was difficult for someone to step up to be in the leader role, especially since we ALL had a lot of work to do, and stepping up to the leader role would just be MORE work; so no one did take on the role, no one coached him, and thus the three of us ended up doing all of the work.

It was an interesting experience, and taught me some good lessons on how to handle this kind of situation when it happens again, because I am guessing that it, unfortunately, is a situation that will come up again in the future.

–Steve

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