Ben Lobaugh Online

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Motivational Checklist Cup

How to help employees gain confidence in their work

I had recently moved from another organization to serve as the Director of Engineering at a rapidly growing startup. The founders brought me in to rebuild the corporate culture, grow and develop a cohesive team, and implement policies that would help us thrive. No doubt entered my mind as to my ability to craft a powerhouse of a department, I had done it many times before on teams with widely ranging skillsets, but here I was the outsider coming in to be “the boss”. I had to win over the team before anything could be accomplished.

The early days were spent getting to know the team and their current processes, which were loosely defined at best, if not completely absent. As a software engineering team that deals with code responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars, it is imperative that code is of the highest quality and error-free. In my experience, peer-based code reviews win out, hands down, over a single engineer reviewing code. The velocity of team skill growth is explosive!

I pitched my new vision of peer code reviews to the team and it was received favorably. I believe that as a leader I should not ask anything of my team that I would not be willing to do myself, so I rolled up my sleeves and hopped into a project with a few waiting code reviews. A good deal of time was spent modeling what a good code review looks like. I was proud of the example I had set (indeed that is how we review to this day!) and merrily submitted the feedback.

During the project stand up the next morning it seemed as if all hell had broken loose. The dev whos code I had reviewed accused me of micromanaging, and several other things not appropriate in polite company. In the end, he told me, in front of the whole team, that my code review made him feel like a “sh*t coder” and we needed to stop them immediately.

I was flabbergasted. This dev had been with the company for a long time and had a strong influence on the other developers. Without his support, I knew the peer code review process was doomed to failure. I had to get him on my side.

After spending some time in thought I pulled the developer aside privately. After validating his feeling on the matter (always important!) I put on my coaching hat and sought to draw out of him the real cause of the outburst. As it turned out, he had a severe case of imposter syndrome. Common amongst developers, it causes them to overlook how skilled they truly are and not have confidence in their abilities.

This developer needed a confidence boost.

At various points in my career, I have experienced imposter syndrome as well, and I bet you have too. From watching great leaders I put together the following three steps that have never failed to bring up a person’s confidence!

Show them the way

Lack of confidence often comes from a lack of knowledge. Pointing out a person’s lack of knowledge will only cause them to become defensive. You must create a positive environment for them to learn and be shaped in. Spend some time letting them follow you around and see how you do it. Explain how you think through a problem and find a solution. This route safely opens the door to the absolute basics, without the person feeling insecure or inadequate in their existing knowledge.

Help them along the way

After they have followed you around they will be ready to attempt to tackle a problem with you by their side. It is crucial at this stage not to leave them. If you step away not they may feel abandoned or falter. Either scenario has the potential to lock them into a shell that will be difficult to draw them back out from. Be with them during this time as a coach and guide. Allow them to lean on your knowledge and experience while they learn to do it for themselves.

Send them on their way

Once they are able to confidently perform tasks with you by their side they are ready for the next step, which is for you to step away and allow them a free hand solving problems themselves. This does not mean they are abandoned and left entirely to their own devices. You still need to make yourself available for guidance and coaching, however, instead of standing next to them, they will come to you.

Successfully working someone through all three of these phases takes time and dedication. All of the software engineers I have taken through this process are excelling at their jobs. I am very proud to look at members of prior teams and see them leading their own teams based on the principles I imparted to them. I fondly recall one guy who was placed on my team and had imposter syndrome so bad that it took him weeks to speak up in a casual team meeting. Within a year he was spearheading internal initiatives and confidently working cross-team to support our clients. What a change!

Internalize this three-step method to build confidence in any member of your team and watch them grow today!

  • Show them the way
  • Help them along the way
  • Send them on their way

As a 20+ year veteran in the web software development world, I know it can be an intimidating place. I am here for you! If you would like to chat with me, or are interested in mentorship, head on over to my contact form at https://benlobaugh.com/contact and drop me a line.

Photo by Jose Silva from Burst

The top 2 qualities you must have to be promoted to a leadership position

Please note that this post contains affiliate links and any sales made through such links will reward me a small commission – at no extra cost for you.

It is a classic scenario- you want to move into a position of leadership, but your boss has passed you up for a promotion, again. You are frustrated and wondering “Why does this keep happening? Do they even care about me here?” 

Wait! Before you dust off that old resume, let me share with you the top 2 qualities that you must have to be promoted to a leadership position.

Quality #1 – Personal Stability and Growth

I have watched many teams succeed and fail over the last two decades. What stands out to me in particular is the leaders on winning teams had a couple things going for them: personal stability and dedication to personal growth.

What is Personal Stability?

When I speak of Personal Stability, I mean that person had a consistent pattern to their life. They are solid and dependable in all circumstances. It is rare that their friends and family were surprised by their actions, and never is there a concern as to their personal safety or sanity.

In the workplace, I know that I can depend on this sort of person day in and day out, because I have confidence that they will be right there beside me– in good times and in rough times. I never worry that they suddenly would not show up for work, or a client or project would be left hanging due to their actions.

Be a stable person.

What is Personal Growth?

In addition to being stable, good leaders also practice personal growth. In their off work hours they learn how to better themself.

I firmly believe that no person can grow professionally without first growing themself personally. If you do not have a drive to improve yourself at home that will not suddenly change when you are on the clock.

Have a personal growth plan, in action.

A great book to read on personal growth is The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by John C. Maxwell

Quality #2 – Career Roadmap

While it is true that some people have gotten ahead in life without a plan, I generally ascribe that to dumb luck. Right place right time. If you want to move up that corporate ladder, it is crucial to have a plan, a career roadmap if you will.

A career roadmap does not need to be intricately detailed. Start simple. Let’s say you have been a developer for two years and your goal is to become Director of Engineering. A plausible roadmap may look something like:

  • Gain development skills
  • Get hired as a Junior Developer
  • Get promoted to Developer 
  • Get promoted to Senior Developer
  • Get promoted to Lead Developer
  • Get promoted to Engineering Manager
  • Get promoted to Director of Engineering

As you progress through the roadmap you will discover what is required to reach the next level. If you want to get to the next level,  you need to operate as if you were on the next level.

A Lead Developer is typically responsible for a team. Moving from a Senior Developer to a Lead position is no small jump. You go from being responsible for your own output, to being responsible for the output of an entire team. Not to mention client communication and interfacing with project management, and possibly other departments.

When I consider someone for a leadership position I ask myself the following questions:

  • Where are they going? I.E. What is the career roadmap?
  • Have they asked me for advice on how to get to the next step, or are they blindly hoping they know what it takes?
  • Have they asked for mentorship? 
  • What actions have they taken inside the company to prove their ability?

I mentioned mentorship- that is not a requirement, however it weighs heavily in their favor. For a good portion of my early career I did not have a mentor. It was like the blind leading the blind. Once I found a mentor my growth and leadership ability exploded. A good mentor will provide invaluable insight into where you are now, and guidance for where you are going to.

How to get back on track if you screwed up

A team member I worked with years ago recently called me up for advice. He was trying to get a leadership position in his company, but had been passed over twice for the promotion. As I probed him with questions I learned that there had been an incident in his personal life the previous year that spiraled out of control and had an impact on his work and the company itself. He is very capable of taking on the new role, but his leadership has concerns about his stability. I shared the above advice with him, and a simple plan on how he can overcome the stigma currently attached to his name.

In order to move up, he first needs to restore the trust and faith of his leadership. A great start is being completely transparent with them and bringing them a plan. Here is the plan:

Personal Life

  • Acknowledge and own the issues
  • Share what he did to address the original issue
  • Show the ongoing personal improvement plan and how he will stay aligned with it

Professional Life

  • Acknowledge and own the impact on the company
  • Ask what leadership requires to  show he is ready for the new position
  • Work on a plan, with leadership, to regain status
  • Request mentorship on a consistent schedule. Biweekly is a good starting point

If a member of my team came to me with that plan (and indeed a couple have!) I would certainly be impressed! I want my team to succeed. If you show me your drive and desire for improvement I will move heaven and earth to get you there, as any good leader will.

Pulling it all together

In summary, there are two qualities that you must have to be promoted to a leadership position:

  • Personal Stability and Growth
  • Career Roadmap

If you messed up somewhere along the way, do not fret. Your career is not over. Own your mistakes and work with your leadership on a plan that will get you back on track, and before you know it you will be coming back here to read about the traits of successful leaders!

Know that I WANT YOU TO SUCCEED! If you are struggling to reach that next level in your career and would like advice or mentorship then head on over to my contact page and let me know how I can help. I would love to hear from you.

Photo by BENCE BOROS on Unsplash

Wrong Way Sign

The #1 mistake leaders make when learning to coach their team

In the early years of my career I rose through the ranks pretty rapidly. I had an uncanny ability to see the big picture and work at both a high and low level. I was good, really good. Being good meant that peers began to rely heavily on my knowledge and skills. When there were questions I was who people turned to first.

I worked with big, household name, clients and led teams building mission critical components in their technology stack. At the time, I thought being a leader was about being the most knowledgeable and talented person on the team. The person who could answer any technical question that arose…. Then I was given a non-technical leadership position and dropped into a project I knew nothing about. Suddenly I was no longer the smartest person in the room. A quick realization came over me that, without all the answers, I had no idea what true leadership was. My reality was shattered.

Over the next few months, I set out to learn what it meant to be a leader. The more I studied, the more I came to the realization that the number one skill of being a leader is not having all the answers, the number one skill of being a leader is asking the right questions. That led me to coaching. 

You may be thinking, “what does coaching a sports team have to do with this?” It is a fair question. While I am not sure where the term originated, the coaching I am talking about is the practice of using open ended questions and active listening to draw answers out of the group or individual. One of the core tenants in coaching is a belief that you already have the answer within you, it just needs to be discovered. I was hooked on the concept! I even trained and became a certified coach!

I started using coaching techniques with family and friends. I was blown away by how effective it is, and how much easier it made my life, not having to have all the answers. 

When I Implemented coaching with my team I made the #1 mistake that leaders can make while leading a team. 

I turned everything into a coaching session!

My team saw an increase in confidence, efficiency, and output as a result of my new coaching method, but that only went so far. As with everything, coaching is a tool for leaders. It does not replace your knowledge and experience, nor does it replace your guidance and answers. 

Leaders are needed to build and train teams. Leaders must make decisions and provide input. Only asking questions of your team is doing them a disservice. 

I am still 100% sold on coaching as the primary tool all leaders should master, however it is just that- a tool. I encourage you to learn how to coach well, and to also learn how to mentor, make solid decisions, communicate well, and discipline your team members. The more tools you have available the more effective a leader you will be!

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Level Up Your Team with a Few Simple Leadership Principles

Look across the world today, and it is astounding to see what humanity has built. All humans have amazing creative capabilities that can be tapped into to take yourself and your business to the next level. Tapping into that potential requires good leadership and can seem intimidating, but I would like to challenge that preconceived notion with a few simple principles that you can utilize today to level up your people.

It is all about your people.

Your people are your most important asset. Without people your company will not achieve much, therefore before you are a company that does XYZ you need to be a people-building company. What does it take to be a people-building company? While salary and work benefits are important, you might be surprised to learn that they are not the most important. A sense of purpose, belonging, and a feeling of effectiveness in an organization are the primary drivers that will keep people engaged and growing in your business.

Get to know your team.

Creating time to meet with and listen to your people in a relaxed one-on-one environment will build their trust and establish feelings of self worth. During these one-on-one sessions, it is important to listen often and speak little. The purpose is to hear the dreams and passions of your people. Validate their feelings and encourage their ideas and creativity, especially in areas that may challenge you, as that will encourage bonding and create growth within the company. Find out why they are working at your company and what they envision their role looking like over the next one, five, and more years. Help them achieve their dreams, and build them up as leaders in their own right.

Learn the strengths of your people and play to those strengths. Everyone at some point will need to perform tasks in skill sets they are weak in. If they are consistently asked to work in areas of weakness, they will not last long on your team. Find ways to build on your team’s strengths to take them to the next level.

Allow and encourage people to become subject matter experts in their areas of interest and encourage the rest of the team to learn from them. Allowing them to share their knowledge with the team will provide the recognition all humans crave and create great team collaboration opportunities. Additional side effects of this are increased confidence and leadership skills building. Both of which provide immeasurable benefits to your company and the individual.

Trust your people.

Trust is another critical component and it must go both ways, but it starts from the top. Good relationships require implicit trust; and as the leader, it is your job to step up and provide the first offering of trust. Trust is not given if feelings of respect and safety are not also present. Both require time and consistency to build, but it will happen.

As a leader, if you are in a situation where you do not trust or feel safe with your own people or there is a lack of trust among the team, it is a prime opportunity to step up and lead. Noted leadership and business coach Simon Sinek says, “If the leader does not feel safe from their own people, it is because the leader is not taking care of their people.” Change yourself first, and your people will follow.

Failure does not exist.

Humans are humans, and humans are not perfect. If we were perfect, there would be no innovation and the word “sorry” would not exist in our language. No matter how good your people are, at some point, they will come up short. How you react as their leader in this time will define the relationship far into the future. Speak positive, encouraging words, and your people will follow you anywhere. Speak negatively, and you will cause damage that will take significant time and energy to repair.

In my own personal life, I have adopted a motto, “If I am not winning, I am learning.” What do you notice about that statement? I replaced a negative word, failing, with a positive action: learning. Negativity shuts down the brain and brings out defensive instincts. Eliminating the negative aspect and replacing it with a positive causes the brain to open up and think about new possibilities and ways to overcome the issue at hand.

Negativity breeds negativity. If you have a negative attitude towards your people, that negative attitude will be reflected back at you. Luckily, positivity also breeds positivity. By staying positive as the leader, your people will be positive with you.

Overcoming negativity is possible and will require you to change and become the positive person first. At first, people will be suspicious; but with time and consistency, the trust and respect will be earned back.

Celebrate success and partner in weakness.

One of the very best ways to create a positive atmosphere of trust and respect is to celebrate your people’s successes and partner with them in weakness (remember, there is no failure!). The human ego constantly wants stroking. It is very natural that when a project goes off successfully, you want recognition for the success. This applies to your people, too.

Good leaders become transparent during success. Instead of taking glory for yourself, a good leader will elevate and brag about the people responsible for helping create success. This simple action releases feel-good chemicals in your people’s brains that will drive them to more success in the future. Any ego-stroking or glorification you may think you lose in the process will be made up for and magnified in the form of goodwill that you will receive from your team. Your people will strive for even better results in the future, which will increase your team’s standing in your organization and elevate your status as a leader among your own leadership.

On the flip side, in times of weakness, the presence of the leader is most visibly seen. These are the times when your people will be looking to you for your reaction and guidance through the storm. Instead of reacting negatively, a good leader will join the person or persons struggling as a partner alongside them, helping them through the situation and back to success. These times should be seen as times of learning, both for the person and the leader.

At the end of it, the person will have learned new problem-solving skills and gain insight into how to quickly resolve the matter in the future, should it happen again. The leader will have earned greater trust and respect from their person and acquire powerful insight into how to prevent such issues from evolving before they even start. Celebrating the person’s success after one of theses times may be more important than during a completely successful time. Be sure not to skip it at this juncture.

Stay positive in tough times.

In the midst of a tough time, it is easy to lose focus on the big picture and only focus on the negative happening now. A good leader will not get sucked into this mindset and will instead focus on staying positive. Tough times are temporary and should be treated as such. Keeping that in mind and finding the silver lining will do much to boost the morale of your people and will teach them how to react in other tough times. Your people will look to you more than ever during moments of challenge. Stay steady, do not despair, and your team will become a source of inspiration for you just as much as you are for them. By keeping a positive attitude, your team will win together and have some great learning opportunities along the way.

Give lots of compliments.

The final thought I will leave you with promotes not only leadership, but good will in general. That is to give lots of compliments. People love hearing positive things about themselves. A quick compliment here and there can do a lot for morale. It does not even have to be business-related. Maybe they have a cool new pair of shoes or did something helpful for a coworker. Compliments are the bread and butter of happy people!

Wrapping it up.

I hope the above has helped you see that being a good leader is not difficult. Following these few principles will level up both you and your team and you will become a powerhouse in any organization you are part of:

  • People are of primary importance
  • Get to know your team
  • Trust your people
  • If you are not winning, you are learning. Failure does not exist
  • Celebrate success and partner in weakness
  • Stay positive in tough times
  • Give lots of compliments

Now go forth, and lead the world to greatness!

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