Lead People, Manage Expectations

Lead people, Manage expectations

So, we’re going to go on a quick departure from the Book Report post I had put up a few weeks ago in favor of something a little more personal (we’ll include a few obligatory tie-ins, natch).

So, right around the time I had published the last post I was prepping a presentation for a client with two other developers. We had received a fairly open request to help get them up to speed on what basically amounted to “give us the lay of the land regarding web development”. The business relationship manager that initially connected us (the team) with this particular request also hadn’t really provided us with much direction other than “Just answer the questions they put fowrard”.

It was your textbook definition of “consulting” – Little to no direction, big expectations, short timelines. Nothing the group of us couldn’t handle, of course, but as the date drew a bit nearer, people were on edge, content wasn’t ready, and the pressure of the rest of our responsibilities started to creep in.

The evening before we were due to present I was chatting with the guys in the slack channel (if you don’t know what that is … you probably need to – more on that in another post) we created to manage the effort and make sure we were all aligned in terms of what needed doing (with no useless meetings cause #thatshowweroll). Bouncing some ideas back and forth resulted in frustrations getting voiced regarding the aforementioned lack of direction. Blowing off steam is something that we all do from time to time, and one of the guys was exercising his right to do so.

A few messages later and a couple of direct shots directed at me and I realized the conversation wasn’t going to be productive… time to switch mediums. We moved the discussion to an Appear.In chat room and started to hash it out. We took the opportunity to refocus, zoom in on the things that mattered, and put together a plan that allowed everyone to finish up in time keeping the amount of extra curricular effort down to a minimum.

There was a visceral difference in the way he was sitting, holding his posture, and discussing the solution we came up with by the end of the conversation compared to the beginning. We were past it. Moving the convo back to the slack channel we wrapped up the night’s discussion with the following two emotes:

[11:55pm] Team-Guy: is feeling less stressed

[11:55pm] Me: is happy. 

It got me thinking.

It actually pulled me back to the book that was sitting beside me on my computer desk (a.k.a. Teams are Worth It). That discussion, that’s what teamwork is all about. That’s what leadership is all about, really. My job wasn’t to write or deliver the content, it was to make sure everything the team needed was in place so they could do their job effectively. It’s so much like the the six messages Barbara suggested you should communicate to your team on a dialy basis. It also reminded me of an email I had written to my management team over a year ago discussing what real leadership looks like and the 10 items I felt were most important.

It’s basically the guiding set of principles I keep with me and remind myself of as often as I can when running any kind of team or group effort. It was my Leadership Mantra and I figured now was as good a time as any to share it with you all.

My Leadership Mantra (a.k.a. my Leadership Top 10 – but TopX lists are played out)

Leadership Mantra

  1. If you’re not five minutes early, you’re late.
  2. If you need or want something to happen, own that responsibility and make it happen.
  3. Never put yourself in a position to have to take something away from your team. Never ask for something from your team you aren’t prepared to give / do yourself.
  4. Do not be self-deprecating to ease tension. We are here to raise each other up, not pull each other down.
  5. Act in the interest of and with the intent of protecting the team. Remove roadblocks and sources of friction. Advocate for your team.
  6. Really listen. Don’t just wait for your turn to start talking. More often than not there is value in hearing perspectives other than your own.
  7. Be open to new ideas / different opinions. Everyone should have  an opportunity to provide value in their role. Our different experiences all bring different benefits to the team. (i.e. Don’t place too much value in titles and org chart positions)
  8. Empower each team member to be as autonomous as the project / project schedule can allow. Strive to understand individuals’ perspective or motivations will go a long way towards getting buy-in from your team.
  9. Always be looking for growth opportunities for your team members. People should leave better and stronger than when they joined.
  10. Lead People, Manage Expectations

Shout out to all the leaders who have contributed towards my growth and helped me create this list (Major Winters, Brian McKay, Craig Plysiuk, Ria Neuendorff, and my wife Jessica)

Next Level Feedback

In the software world we hear a lot about this idea of software craftsmanship, but really, taking pride in the work we do or the deliverables we provide is something we should all appreciate. With that in mind, lets think about something most of us do on a fairly regular basis: Provide Feedback / Reviews / etc. for our colleagues. With that in mind, lets also think about getting a whole lot better at doing it. In other words, lets stop just writing feedback and start crafting it.

First a little bit of context (more on that later) …

At Online, we have an annual review cycle in place where feedback can be submitted anytime but specifically gets compiled and reviewed annually with your career mentor. Everyone has a different opinion on reviews and review cycles, but for the most part this system works well (especially since you aren’t confined to the cycle – you can provide feedback at anytime). In addition to this review process, everyone also has a Career Mentor (CM), someone to help them navigate the consultant landscape as it were. Your CM reviews your submitted feedback and discussed ways to improve in the coming year in addition to compiling some thoughts around a plan to actually realize those improvements.

Now, back to the topic at hand…

Over the past few years, feedback (and I’m talking about good feedback – not to be confused with positive feedback) has been one of the things I’ve been passionate about. I had an epiphany a couple of years ago when I was working on putting together a review for one of my team members. Going over the feedback submissions he received over the past year, most of them were not very useful at all. One thing I did notice, however, was that a select few of the submissions were good. Very good. The key for me was seeing what exactly was different about those particular submissions and putting together not only the traits that made them amazing, but an approach anyone can use to create awesome feedback every… single … time.

First lets talk about those traits. Most of the feedback I was reading at the time was poor for one, or more, of the following reasons:

It is provided out of context from when it would be most useful

Something you can do to guarantee people respond poorly to your feedback, is to provide it completely out of context.

Pro-tip: if you’re not providing feedback in a timely fashion, or you’re brushing something off face-to-face and then slamming someone in a written report after the fact… you’re doing it wrong. Level yourself up and commit to providing feedback in a timely manner when its both positive or negative.

It lacks any context or rationale providing the recipient with the submitter’s point of view

So-and-so is absolutely TERRIBLE at writing documents.

Straight up … this isn’t feedback.
It’s a statement.


Writing feedback in this way allows a large degree of subjectivity to creep (or maybe dive-bomb is a better word) it’s way in, clouding what you actually meant. The problem with this statement is that it quite literally changes the feedback’s message from what the you think it means to how the recipient interprets it’s meaning.

Your 5-WHY’s (with a splash of don’t use absolutes) typically solve this problem in two shakes.

  1. When did this issue start happening?
  2. Where did it happen?
  3. Why was this happening?
  4. Who was involved?
  5. What actually happened?
  6. Avoid absolutes – don’t say “always” or “never”

With proper context, even if the receiver doesn’t necessarily agree with you, at least they’ll be able to remember what it was that was happening and you’ll have common ground from which you can start some discourse.

The spirit of the feedback focuses on criticism rather than growth

So-and-so really needs to up their game in client meetings.

The saying, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar definitely, rings true here. Focusing on growth helps you to focus on, and provide constructive points of view throughout the entire submission. Best part is, this works even if the write up is regarding something the individual already excels at. For example:

I’ve seen so-and-so manage our meetings expertly and pull together a team even in times of extreme turmoil. What I’d really like to see is a follow up email or plan regarding the next steps we discussed in those meetings.

This is when you should be thinking along the lines of:

you could be even better if…  rather than you didn’t do very well because…

either or

The real win here (for everyone) is that you get buy-in (a.k.a. Trust) from the recipient because they believe you have their best interest at heart. This concept of trust means the recipient will be more willing to not only accept the feedback but also act upon it. When you think about it realistically, this is obviously the only reason to give feedback in the first place (to promote growth through positive change). Feedback for feedback’s sake is total nonsense.

The feedback doesn’t enable the receiver to improve

So-and-so needs to manage their time better when working with multiple clients.

Providing not only the areas for improvement, but also the strategies required for improving, will give the recipient everything they need to be successful on future engagements or projects. A common thread among all feedback books / blogs / etc. is that smart people want better feedback. They want this, of course, because smart people also want to constantly improve themselves. If you tie this back to the third item in our list, the fact that you want growth, then you really should be explaining how to grow.

Focusing on improving these four things in your own feedback can ensure the recipient is:

Understanding (because of timeliness)

Accepting (because of rationale and context)

Trusting (because of your focus on your their growth) and

Acting (because you provided a way forward).