I think, therefore I am. I am, therefore I sail

Tag: Teambuilding

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

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

9 Critical Concepts for Leading High-Performance Teams

I just returned from WebDevStudios’ (WDS) 2018 WDS Camp, a company-wide, weeklong retreat. The annual event provides face time for a team that is distributed across the entire geographical region that is the US. As I sat on the six-hour flight home, I reflected on the past week and noticed that nine concepts continued to come up in my reflection. I believe these concepts to be critical to leading high-performance teams and would like to share them with you here in hopes you will be able to implement them in your team and see the same success that I have seen utilizing them.

If you want to be a better leader, shut up

World-renowned leadership expert, John Maxwell, says:

Good leaders ask great questions.

He even wrote of a book by that title that I highly recommend. As a leader, you have a big vision but only one brain. You may be highly skilled but there will always be areas you have not considered. Sharing your vision with your team, and then asking them great questions amplifies the possibilities. By yourself, your vision is just another work item for your team. Engaging the team in your vision by asking questions taps into their creativity. The result will always enhance your vision. It may also identify additional opportunities along the way you would have never seen alone. When your team is actively engaged in your vision, they gain a sense of ownership and are motivated to get it done in the best ever way it can be done.

You can build better software by turning OFF your computer

What do you mean turn off your computer? How can a software company build better software without a computer? It seems counterintuitive to suggest this, but there are major benefits to turning off your computer. I will focus on just one.

Turning off your computer allows you to connect with your team members.

There are no distractions, no pings, no more doing “just one more thing.” Face-to-face, distraction-free communication establishes a deeper rapport with your team. It creates stronger connections. It allows them to get to know the real you and discover more about each other. This adds immeasurable value to each team member. The next time computers are turned back on, your team will be stronger together and WANT to help push your product to the next level. There is no external substitute for the power and motivation that comes from inside yourself.

A walk on the beach can make you a million dollars

Get away from the formalities. Create an open invitation for your team to join you doing something enjoyable, like taking a walk on the beach. Being away from the structure and processes of the company encourage your team members to dream about what would make the company the best ever for them. All it takes to start the ideas flowing is a simple question like, “What would this company look like if you had full control to change or improve it any way you like?” Then ask, “What would it take to get there?”

Encouraging your team to dream in a no holds barred way shows how much you value their ideas and you may very well come back from your walk with an idea that will make you a million dollars!

Let the ideas flow

Never shoot down an idea from your team! An idea may not make sense to you, but your team has boots on the ground. They are daily in the trenches. They see things you do not. The idea may not make sense at first but there is always a reason someone suggests a change. Instead of shooting it down, dig into it. Ask lots of questions. Seek understanding. Be curious. Really consider what they are saying and how it could fit into the overall picture. To help it fit into the bigger picture suggest small tweaks in the form of encouraging questions. Such as, “This sounds really interesting. I am wondering, what would it look like if we slightly altered the idea with… [insert tweak]?”

Allowing and encouraging your team to bring you ideas will create a sense of openness, trust, and respect. All of which are key building blocks of a strong team and leader.

Be an enabler.

Do not be the roadblock preventing your team from moving forward. Do whatever it takes to enable your team to move forward with ideas that will push the company forward.

Empower your people

Years ago, my friend and missions director at Churchome, Joanne Ramos, was speaking to a crowd on raising children when she said something that has stuck with me ever since. She said:

Kids need infinite freedom within definite boundaries.

This same idea can be applied to your team with powerful results. Provide the vision; provide the boundaries, then unleash your team. Give them the power to make decisions for the team/company/product/etc., within those boundaries. It may seem like this will make you obsolete as the leader but the reality is that 10 out of 10 times your capacity will increase. The skill and power of your team will increase. Your position as the leader will be strengthened, and you will be more valuable to your own leadership.

Play with your people

It is impossible to be in work mode all the time. Make sure you take time to relax. Play a game. Get a coffee. Go to lunch. Do something that is fun with your people. Let them see that you are still human and approachable. Learn what brings them joy and go do it with them. It is particularly easy to do this at a company retreat. Just make sure you do not overdo it! You never want your people to feel like it is a requirement or it will have a detrimental effect, the exact opposite of what you intended. Pay attention to your team. They will let you know when it is time to play and when they need space.

Be smooth as a baby’s bottom

Friction is a great thing. Friction indicates a definite point where you and your team have a learning and growing experience. Embrace it. Do not get upset. Most importantly do not lash out. Keep your calm. This is an excellent time for you to learn. Remain as smooth as a baby’s bottom.

How should you handle the friction? Activate your coaching mode. Ask your team questions to help identify the friction. Ask questions to determine where it came from and how it got there. Ask questions on how to eliminate the friction.

Do you see a common theme of asking questions? Asking questions is so important! Humans do not always respond well to being dictated to. In fact, even in a great relationship being told to do something may make you feel like a robot and not motivated. Asking questions of your team creates ownership and internal motivation. They will solve their own problems. It will get your people moving in a way simply telling them will never accomplish.

Practice leadership yoga

Standard operating procedure (SOP) is necessary across an organization to keep everyone working together smoothly, especially when teams may not have direct interactions. But remember, your SOP is made up. It should never be set in stone. Use your vision as a leader to see where it could be improved. Engage the team to ferret out weak points. As the people in the trenches, allow the team to help mold SOP. It will only create more value for the company and everyone on the team.

Always know why you are there

Your people are THE ONLY asset to the company that is invaluable. Without them, there would be no you. Filter everything through the lens of adding value to them. If you consistently value and add value to your team members they will move heaven and earth for you and will be a source of great joy for you.

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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