Principles I Try to Operate On

Leadership is found in anyone with influence, regardless of their position. All of these principles apply to being a leader at any level of an organization.

Successful leaders are rooted in truth. Influence is based on making the truth clear.

Realizing potential is based on conviction. Stay grateful, but never satisfied.

Effective Decision Making

It’s a waste of time to make the best decision on everything.

Leaders make decisions with the right amount of information and focus their time on the few critical ones. Collecting all available information for every decision drains resources, project momentum, and team morale.

Leaders empower their teammates to make decisions for the team, and delegate most decisions to them.

A leader’s greatest influence on teammate decisions is the culture they build. Culture is the great multiplier. A leader’s values and philosophies emanate beyond their individual teammate interactions.

Winning Culture

Culture is primarily based on what is done, not what is said. Actions always speak louder than words.

Excessive procedure and rules hurt culture. People put their hearts into their work when their behavior is motivated by their aspirations, not from following rules. The more a team can accomplish through personal interactions and team synergy, the less reliant on procedures and tools the team will be.

Evidence beats theory. “If a picture is worth 1000 words, a prototype is worth 1000 meetings.” – David and Tom Kelley, Founder and Partner of IDEO

Innovation is based on merit, not hierarchy. Be humble and stay flat, because ego and command-and-control management hurt innovation.

User-centered organizations are the most meritocratic. Involve teammates in user research. Orient everything your team does around the details of the users’ feelings, thoughts, needs, and wants.

Doing things right is more important than getting things done. It’s always better to take care of a four-day task now than to set your team up for four weeks of rework (and lost morale) later.

Getting things right requires frequent, controlled failure. Mistakes are always paid for with a premium. To de-risk the big tasks, you must take many small risks. Fail small, fail quickly, fail often. If a team doesn’t support its teammates to take risks, the team as a whole will fail.

Simple solutions are the best. Since time estimates are almost always too optimistic, it’s best to maximize the amount of work not done (without cutting corners). Being judicious about what needs to be done is a value to uphold.

Building Teammates

Leadership is about activating the whole of an individual. “A sign of a good leader is not how many followers you have but how many leaders you create.” - Mahatma Gandhi

Pay it forward. The less expectation of a return, the better. Give credit openly and generously to people where it’s due. Set people up for success however you can, bring others fully up to speed when you deliver them a dependency their work relies on, do what you can for teammates to be able attend a family reunion stress-free, etc.

Process and output improvements can be discussed openly, but personal improvements are handled privately. This means helping them fill knowledge gaps when you see them, framing everything within a sincere desire for their success, and reminding them why their contributions are appreciated.

The goose takes precedence over the eggs. Completing objectives almost always takes longer and is more complicated than how we initially imagine them to, so don’t wear out the goose to get more eggs. Sacrificing the goose for the eggs is to get neither.

Leaders grow from turbulence and help their teammates to as well.

Building a Team

High-performing teams are made up of change agents. Change agents aren’t susceptible to group think because they think critically and have conviction. Laszlo Bock, Head of People Operations at Google, said, “What we’ve seen is that the people who are the most successful here, who we want to hire, will have a fierce position. They’ll argue like hell. They’ll be zealots about their point of view. But then you say, ‘Here’s a new fact,’ and they’ll go, ‘Oh, well, that changes things; you’re right.’”

Team performance matters more than individual performance. While 10% of individuals contribute half the output (Price’s Law), top tenth percentile teams accomplish at least an order of magnitude more.

Skilled individuals that ruin culture take away more than they contribute. The best individual contributors might outperform five average contributors, but top-performing teams outperform more.

Don’t celebrate the wrong things. Cutting corners and “getting it done” with a spirit of self-aggrandizement introduces competitive work culture that detracts from the team-performance mindset that product teams thrive in. Pulling office all-nighters or coming in on weekends unnecessarily, for example, detract from work satisfaction and sustainable development. Celebrating the wrong things leads to a toxic work culture where people can’t be genuine.

Camaraderie is the most organic way to break down silos. Knowledge disseminates naturally when people like each other. Teammates continually look out for ways to set others up for success when the same is being done for them. “Everything is awesome. Everything is cool when you’re part of a team.” - LEGO Movie.

Success breeds success. Capture the winning moments - especially others’ - because success is contagious.

Greatness requires working on things beyond immediate tasks. Improving the way you do things is more important than delivering improved outputs. Improve your culture, teammates, collaboration methods, processes, and reusable product components all along the way. Well-facilitated retrospectives can be the perfect outlet for teammates to have their concerns heard, resentment diffused, and improvements planned.

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