Where are they right?

In the book Thanks for the Feedback, the authors talk about how most of us receive feedback. 

Someone gives us feedback overtly “You’re giving too many details in the all-hands meetings” or covertly [You interrupt your director and they sigh and cross their arms], and then we filter it for if we agree or disagree with what’s been said. Often we disagree or disagree in part and dismiss the feedback outright. 

A lot of leaders listen to everything this way. 

Do I agree or disagree

  • with that choice
  • with this assessment
  • with this response to a customer
  • with this response to a developer
  • with this feature choice
  • with this order of priorities

The result is often that the leader is always right. And I can assure you it’s not fun to work for a leader who is always right. 

A better way to listen to feedback is to ask:

  • Where are they right? 
  • or
  • What exactly is the feedback I’m getting right now? 
  • or
  • If they want to be good at their work why would they choose or respond like that? 

If you assume benevolence and then seek for the gold you just might find some. 

And if you discover that the feedback is malicious or the choice careless you can always adjust your response as needed.

 

Where do you have leverage? 

This isn’t about manipulating people. It’s about understanding where you have power in the world and in your relationships. 

Leaders tend to think people will agree with them if they’re right, or if they predicted the future the last time, but while this may get compliance it rarely leads to enrollment and enthusiasm. 

You’re much more likely to get people to follow you if you can learn what they care about and speak to that directly. 

 

What’s the difference between an employee and a leader?

What’s the difference between an employee and a leader?

You might say it’s responsibility or scope of work, but very often the biggest difference is mindset. 

An employee thinks about their work as a series of tasks to get done. 

Those tasks are clearly defined and their job is to complete them to the satisfaction of their manager or boss. If something isn’t working they might do their best to fix it, but if it’s outside the scope of their job they might also just tell their boss and wait for a solution to be offered. 

A leader thinks about their work as a vision that needs to get created. 

They think about what they want to happen, they assume it’s possible, and then they work to figure out how to make that happen. They have conversations, invent new ways of doing and thinking, ask tough questions, and overcome obstacles in order to bring their vision into a reality. If something goes wrong they accept and adapt as needed. 

Most of us would prefer to lead teams of leaders. 

And yet so many leaders treat their teams as employees. Leaders want their team to do what they would do. So they direct, control, and limit. Worse still they treat their teams as obstacles that need to get fixed, falling into their own employee mindset. 

The world doesn’t need more workers. We need more leaders. And we need leaders who touch, move, and inspire others to lead. 

 

Leadership Design: How To Design a Better Boss

I’ve had over 30 jobs in my life and that means I’ve had 30+ bosses, leaders, and managers to deal with. I’ve worked for almost every kind of boss you can imagine: the boss who shouts orders, the boss who seems to care but fails to back you up, and the boss who is a genuinely compassionate person. 

Over time I began to realize that all leaders, like apps or buildings, have a certain design. Some of the ones I worked for had a leadership design that made doing work easier and my office life enjoyable. While others had such bad leadership design that not only was it hard to do good work, it made me not want to work at all. 

When I became a coach and started coaching the kind of people I used to work for, I started to wonder what might happen if you applied design principles to leadership. 

Could you design a better boss?

Here’s what I found:

Leadership as a Function of Design

Adobe identifies 4 golden rules of User Design¹:

  1. Place users in control of the interaction
  2. Make it comfortable to interact with 
  3. Reduce excess guessing and thinking
  4. Make the experience consistent

These are all great standards to create a positive user experience. But they are also great standards for good leadership design. 

1. Place users in control of the interactions:

Most founders, CEOs, and Senior managers I coach try to control the people around them. 

They think, “if I can just get them to do what I want them to do then I’m a good leader”. The result is that they end up bullying or pressuring their teams to work as they do. But great leadership isn’t about creating clones, it’s about inspiring people to bring their best selves to work.

If you want to create a good user experience, you must work to let the users have enough control so they can do what they want while also creating the right kind of boundaries so they don’t get lost or confused. This is exactly the same for great leadership.  

If you give your team clear boundaries, goals, and expectations while encouraging them to do their best work, come up with creative solutions, and feel responsible for what they contribute, you’ll have a team that is committed, focused, and inspired. 

2. Make it comfortable to interact with.

If you were scared to use an app, you would never open it, if you were afraid that your coffee maker would kill you, you’d buy a new coffee maker. Good design means a design that is helpful, unobtrusive, and comfortable. 

But most leaders don’t get this. They don’t understand that fear is the #1 motivation that exists in the workplace. They don’t get that people are afraid to be honest because they might get yelled at or fired. They don’t get that people are afraid to take risks because they’re worried their boss won’t have their backs. 

Great leaders understand what’s at stake for their teams and work to make their teams comfortable in working through challenges together. 

They demand respect by setting clear expectations and standards, but they are also open to challenges to their thinking, direct feedback, and radical candor. These leaders understand that if the team trusts their leadership they will work better together especially when hard choices have to be made. 

They don’t let fear go unchecked, instead, they choose to be responsible for the impact of their leadership and they use that responsibility to inspire the team to work together. 

3. Reduce excess guessing and thinking

I’ve worked with leaders that think out loud so often that their teams don’t know what strategy to follow. I’ve also worked with leaders who keep everything so close to the vest their teams are shocked when they suddenly change directions or tell them they’re very disappointed in the work they produced. 

The problem is the same in both cases, the team doesn’t understand what the leader wants. 

Great design might challenge the user to think harder or come up with a creative solution, but they never ask the user to do more guessing or thinking than they need to. 

Great leaders also challenge their teams to come up with creative solutions and do inspiring work. 

4. Make the experience consistent

The last principle of both user design and leadership design is consistency. Great leaders have to ensure that the consistency is both inward and outward. The company culture is being reflected in a way that individuals feel comfortable and at ease (rather than walking on eggshells) and the mission is being consistently utilized.

When leaders are all over the place, it makes for a bumpy ride for the team members. One that prohibits successful work and instead projects the leader’s needs over the company’s.

I’m not saying that the environment has to be cold and heartless, or that the leader should act without emotion. I’m saying that the general goal of both the business and the company culture should be at the forefront of the decision-making and execution within the business.

Conclusion

The goal for leaders today is to get results. However poor leadership design leads to poor morale and experience for the do-ers in the company. As a company continues to grow, the leadership should do so as well. I have no doubt that the design elements listed in this article will continue to play a role in a good leadership design. Placing the user at the front, making it comfortable, reducing guesswork, and being consistent are the ways to design a good boss.

¹https://xd.adobe.com/ideas/process/ui-design/4-golden-rules-ui-design/

 

Leadership: The Secret Existential Crisis Entrepreneurs Never Talk About

At some point in your journey as an entrepreneur, if you’re lucky, you’re going to face an existential crisis. It’s something few of us talk about but many of us have faced. But if you know it’s coming and you’re prepared, you can get through it with as little pain as possible.

You see . . .

When you start a business or side hustle your work is about two things
Doing great work and/or providing a valuable service or product
Finding customers and helping them understand the value of what you have to offer

These two things are not small, easy, or simple to figure out, but they are at least straightforward. Your work needs to be good and you need customers who see that…

But as you grow and get more customers, offer more complex services, and start to hire people to support you or do some of the work for you, your role begins to change.

You go from being a person who does great work to being a person who creates great work.

And this transition is challenging. Doing great work is simple, you sit down and do your best. Creating great work is more complicated, you are planning, leading, and assuring that great work is getting done.

The skills are different, the former is about keeping track and executing. The latter is about defining and communicating what is good, and then making sure “good” is happening.

I remember when I worked as a house manager at a music venue and the boss asked me to come downstairs. “What’s wrong with this picture?” I looked and everything looked fine to me. “It’s too bright in here,” she clapped back in my silence. “Oh?”

“How dark should it be?” She groaned and lowered the lights. “I can’t tell you everything, you’re just going to have to figure it out.”

I felt discouraged. What she was saying was somewhat helpful. Most places lower the lights at a certain time of night. It increases the vibe, encourages people to buy drinks, and makes it feel less harsh when you come in from the night. But it’s not something I had ever thought about before.

It was good she wanted to teach me, but this was the WORST way to do it. Instead of helping me learn and giving me some guidelines, she just got mad at me. What was OBVIOUS to her was NOT obvious to me.

This is essentially a failure in leadership and it’s something I see founders, entrepreneurs, and owners do ALL the time with new team members.

It all starts with What Can’t They Just!

Often when I listen to founders and entrepreneurs complain about their team members at some point they’ll say Why Can’t They Just . . .
Send me the updates I need
Answer this email
Make a decision on their own

The underlying assumption is that other people SHOULD think like you think. They should be capable, they should be leaders, and they should know what you know and act how you act.

But if your team simply duplicates your skill then
You need more skills
You’re not hiring the right people

The best people bring new ideas and talents to the table. The best people approach problems differently. The best people create things but not the way you will.

The hard thing for most leaders is that they don’t understand how to get good work out of people who are different from them.

So they expect what they would produce and then get upset when they don’t get it.

Next Level Leadership

This isn’t really leadership it’s cloning.
So if you want to be a better leader you’re going to have to let go of this strategy.

The question you should ask yourself is how do I get the best work out of the people I have?
NOT how do I get them to think like me?

The reason why this is so hard for most leaders is that it requires a shift in identity.

You start with the identity of I’M GREAT AT DOING THIS
to I MAKE OTHER PEOPLE GREAT AT DOING THIS

And that shift in identity is hard.

It’s why so many founders end up writing code, getting on sales calls, or micro-managing people on their team.

They don’t trust what other people do and they are unwilling to let anyone else be better than they are.

So as you grow your business get ready for this.

At some point, YOU’LL HAVE TO LET GO OF ALMOST EVERYTHING THAT MADE YOU FEEL CONFIDENT IN YOURSELF WHEN YOU GOT STARTED.

It’s a key initiation as a leader. And a threshold you need to cross if you want to truly become a great leader.