How I lead my team

November 5, 2021

Many years ago, when I was just starting out college, I happened to be reading Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson. It was an influential read, but it made me feel I should be as arrogant and intolerant as Steve (I see this often enought that I now call this “the Steve Jobs syndrome”). This was a problem, because I’m really not a hot headed guy. I really dreamt of being CEO someday, but I wondered if I was cut out for it.

Thankfully, I realized over the years that that’s not the only way. Having worked with some excellent managers, reading a ton of insights from fantastic people, and being thrust into a lead role for a young team, I have developed some notion of what works for me.

Build trust

People perform their best when they feel safe at work, and know everyone has the team’s best interest in mind. It’s important that everyone can bring up issues to the concerned people and deliver it with good intentions. Trust is something you have to work to earn, and once earned you must work to keep. If you’re working with a team that has lost its morale, or had bad experiences with their leadership before, it will take you months of consistent work before they start trusting you and each other.

Transparent communication

You can only make the best decision when you can see all your options laid out in front of you. This is why clear communication is so important. Concise written issue descriptions and solution proposals or specs will make a world of a difference in preventing “He said / she said” (or it’s worse counterpart “I thought …”).

Make sure people are aware of the tonality- especially if the team has non natives of the language. An issue or comment written with good intentions might trigger a defensive response because the receiver perceived it differently.

I avoid CC’ing my boss in emails to team unless they really need to be involved. Usually these are signs of insecurity when the sender is trying to imply that the boss is on their side (and sometimes the boss could be unaware of this implication too!). Direct communication is the best way- and if you ask openly, you’ll get a more transparent response.

Ownership and Rewards

Somethings are worth just so much more than your paycheck. Someone who’s appreciated in front of 3 people stands proud, and is motivated to go the extra mile for you next time. Yet, it’s absolutely stupifying how little people are credited for their work.

When I appreciate someone for their work, I know it lifts everyone’s spirit- including mine! It’s a small community ritual that tells us we belong to this place and we are valued. A workplace where one does all the work and someone else takes all the credit does not work for me.

No brilliant jerks

It’s hard to find brilliant people, and so often the management chooses to remain silent when clearly such a person is out of line. Toxicity in the workplace leads to learned helplessness. It makes others think they are inferior. You don’t get much done in a team where everyone is afraid of making a mistake. The moment you remove the jerk, prepare to see your team soar.

Leaders don’t complain

When I stop complaining, I can focus and redirect that energy into strategizing my way out of a bad situation. Sure, I’m human, and I still have to fight the urge to go on the defense when it’s so much more easier to point fingers and push the blame.

What if we focus on solving the problem first? If you do this often enough, you’ll see issues disappear fast. People get that problems are bound to happen- they learn to dive right into action. You minimize the impact, and you can credit a hero.