There’s a lot I don’t know about being a kick-ass boss, or being a great manager. I’m pretty much still a work-in-progress in that area. Thankfully, Kim Scott’s “Radical Candor” points me to the questions I need to ask myself about it, and suggests steps I should consider taking in order to do better.
Some memorable lines from the book:
- Relationships don’t scale. But the relationships you have with the handful of people who report directly to you will have an enormous impact on the results your team achieves.
- You strengthen your relationships by learning the best ways to get, give, and encourage guidance; by putting the right people in the right roles on your team; and by achieving results collectively that you couldn’t dream of individually. When you fail to give people the guidance they need to succeed in their work, or put people into roles they don’t want or aren’t well-suited for, or push people to achieve results that are unrealistic, you erode trust.
- It turns out that when people trust you and believe you care about them, they are much more likely to 1) accept and act on your praise and criticism; 2) tell you what they really think about what you are doing well and, more importantly, not doing so well; 3) engage in this same behavior with one another, meaning less pushing the rock up the hill again and again; 4) embrace their role on the team; and 5) focus on getting results.
- We are all human beings, with human feelings, and, even at work, we need to be seen as such. When that doesn’t happen, when we feel we must repress who we really are to earn a living, we become alienated. That makes us hate going to work. To most bosses, being professional means: show up at work on time, do your job, don’t show feelings unless engaged in motivation or some such end-driven effort. The results is that nobody feels comfortable being who they really are at work.
- It’s about finding time for real conversations; about getting to know each other at a human level; about learning what’s important to people, about sharing with one another what makes us want to get out of bed in the morning and go to work – and what has the opposite effect.
- Challenging others and encouraging them to challenge you helps build trusting relationships because it shows 1) you care enough to point out both the things that aren’t going well and those that are and that 2) you are willing to admit when you’re wrong and that you are committed to fixing mistakes that you or otherwise have made. But challenging people directly takes real energy – not only from the people you’re challenging but from you as well – so do it only for things that really matter.
- If nobody is ever mad at you, you probably aren’t challenging your team enough. The key, as in any relationship, is how you handle the anger. When what you say hurts, acknowledge the other person’s pain. Don’t pretend it doesn’t hurt or say it shouldn’t hurt – just show that you care. Eliminate the phrase “don’t take it personally” from your vocabulary – it’s insulting. Instead, offer to help fix the problem. But don’t pretend it isn’t a problem just to try to make somebody feel better.
- If we have the data about what works, let’s look at the data, but if all we have are opinions, let’s use yours.
- What growth trajectory does each person on my team want to be on right now? or Have I given everybody opportunities that re in line with what they really want? or What growth trajectory do my direct reports believe they are on? Do I agree? And if I don’t, why don’t I? Sometimes people really want to grow and are capable of contributing more than they have allowed to; at other times, they simply want more money or recognition but don’t really want to change the way they work or contribute any more than they do already. As the boss, you’re the one who’s going to have to know your direct reports well enough to make these distinctions and then have some radically candid conversations when you see things differently.
- There’s nothing wrong with working hard to earn a pay check that supports the life you want to lead. That has plenty of meaning. Only about 5% of people have a real vocation in life, and they confuse the hell out of the rest of us. Your job is not to provide purpose but instead to get to know each of your direct reports well enough to understand how each one derives meaning from their work.
- You don’t want to be the absentee manager any more than you want to be a micro-manager. Instead, you want to be a partner – that is, you must take the time to help the people doing the best work overcome obstacles and make their good work even better. This is time-consuming because it requires that you know enough about the details of the person’s work to understand the nuances. It often requires you to help do the work, rather than just advising. It requires that you ask a lot of questions and challenge people – that you roll up your own sleeves.
- It won’t get better all by itself. So stop and ask yourself, how exactly, will it get better? What are you going to do differently? What will the person in question do differently? How might circumstances change? Even if things have gotten a little better, have they improved enough? If you don’t have a pretty precise answer to those questions, it probably won’t get better.
- If you never ask a single question about a person’s life, it’s hard to move up on the “care personally” axis. probably the most important thing you can do to build trust is to spend a little time alone with each of your direct reports on a regular basis. Holding regular 1:1s in which your direct report sets the agenda and you ask questions is a good way to begin building trust.
- The platinum rule says, figure out what makes the other person comfortable, and do that.
Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is a classic, and I did not understand what that meant until now, after reading the book. It has survived the test of time, and the lessons in it still applies to all of us today. It really is a treasure trove of actionable advice about forging friendships and leading people, and I’ve come to see why some of my way of doing things have worked for me all this time. Better, I’ve found places where I could use more practice and improve.
Here are some favourite lines from the book:
- Let’s realise that criticisms are like homing pigeons. They always return home. Let’s realise that the person we are going to correct and condemn will probably justify himself or herself, and condemn us in return.
- There is only one way under high heaven to get anybody to do anything. And that us by making the other person want to do it. The only way I can get you to do anything is giving you what you want.
- We nourish the bodies of our children and friends and employees, but how seldom do we nourish their self-esteem? We provide them with roast beef and tomatoes to build energy, but we neglect to give them kind words of appreciation that would sing in their memories for years like the music of the morning stars.
- If there is any secret to success, it likes in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as your own.
- Keep in your mind on the great and splendid things you would like to do, and then, as the days go gliding away, you will find yourself unconsciously seizing upon the opportunities that are required for the fulfilment of your desire. Picture in your mind the able, earnest, useful person you desire to be, and the thought you hold is hourly transforming you into that particular individual.
- He had wanted merely a friendly, sympathetic listener to whom he could unburden himself. That’s what we all want when we are in trouble. That is frequently all the irritated customer wants, and the dissatisfied employee or the hurt friend.
- So if you aspire to be a good conversationalist, be an attentive listener. To be interesting, be interested. Ask questions that other persons will enjoy answering. Encourage them to talk about themselves and their accomplishments. Remember that the people you are talking to are a hundred times more interested in themselves and their wants and problems than they are in you and your problems.
- Anyone who takes the time to disagree with you is interested in the same things you are. Think of them as people who really want to help you, and you may turn your opponents to friends.
- You can tell people they are wrong by a look or an intonation or a gesture just as eloquently as you can in words – and if you tell them they are wrong, do you make them want to agree with you? Never! For you have struck a direct blow at their intelligence, judgment, pride, and self-respect. That will make them want to strike back. But it will never make them want to change their minds. You may then hurl at them all the logic of a Plato or an Immanuel Kant, but you will not alter their opinions, for you have hurt their feelings.
- If you are going to prove anything, don’t let anybody know it. Do it so subtly, so adroitly, that no one will feel that you are doing it. You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him to find it within himself.
- I am convinced now that nothing good is accomplished and a lot of damage can be done if you tell a person straight out that he or she is wrong. You only succeed in stripping that person of self-dignity and making yourself an unwelcome part of any discussion.
- If a man’s heart is rankling with discord and ill feeling toward you, you can’t win him to your way of thinking with all the logic in Christendom. Scolding parents and domineering bosses and husbands and nagging wives ought to realize that people don’t want to change their minds. They can’t be forced or driven to agree with you or me. But they may be possibly led to, if we are gentle and friendly, ever so gentle and ever so friendly.
- No one likes to feel that he or she is being sold something or told to do a thing. We much prefer to feel that we are buying of our own accord or acting on our own ideas. We like to be consulted about our wishes, our wants, our thoughts.
- What do you think he found to be the most motivating factor – the one facet of the jobs that was most stimulating? Money? Good working conditions? Fringe benefits? No – not any of those. The one major factor that motivated people was the work itself. If the work was exciting and interesting, the worker looked forward to doing it and was motivated to do a good job.
- This is what every successful person loves: the game. The chance for self-expression. The chance to prove his or her worth, to excel, to win. That is what makes foot-races, and hog-calling, and pie-eating contests. The desire to excel. The desire for a feeling of importance.
- He always gave people the opportunity to do things themselves; he never told his assistants to do things; he let them do them, let them learn from their mistakes. A technique like that makes it easy for a person to correct errors. A technique like that saves a person’s pride and gives him or her a feeling of importance. It encourages cooperation instead of rebellion.
- If you want to improve a person in a certain aspect, act as though that particular trait were already one of his or her outstanding characteristics. Assume a virtue, if you have it not. Assume and state openly that other people have the virtue you want them to develop. Give them a fine reputation to live up to, and they will make prodigious efforts rather than see you disillusioned.
- Tell your child, your spouse, or your employee that he or she is stupid or dumb at a certain thing, has no gift for it, and is doing it all wrong, and you have destroyed almost every incentive to try to improve. But use the opposite technique – be liberal with your encouragement, make the thing seem easy to do, let the other person know that you have faith in his ability to do it, that he has an undeveloped flair for it – and he will practice until the dawn comes in the window in order to excel.
- It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it. There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
It is sort of easy to set goals for myself for the work that I do because I know myself well, I can accurately gauge what I can and cannot do, I have a list of stuff that I greatly value. It is, however, rather more difficult to help other people, who share the same line of work that I have, with their goals, to provide advice and guidance, because I don’t know everything about them, who at best can only assume the things they might know and then ask about the rest. I won’t know the things that are important to them unless I observe carefully, talk to them, discuss stuff with them in detail. And goals are people-specific; momentous goals for one person can be trivial for another.
This a good challenge, of course, for sharing knowledge and making friends, to develop empathy and understanding processes, and in building a habit of making each other better at what we do.
A team leader does not simply give instructions to each of the members of the team every chance he gets. What he shares is a general goal that everyone in the team can relate to, a mission of sorts for a span of time when the group needs to work together, a fun and worthwhile quest to do. The team members more likely than not already know their roles in the group, and often do not need you to remind them of those. They actually picked you to be their leader because they thought you’re the kind of person that does things differently, and definitely better than that. You, therefore, must trust that they know their jobs very well, must respect their work and the rituals they do for the sake of completing their tasks as remarkable as they can. You, as their leader, do not need to do more pushing, but do more pulling instead. Help them in various ways only you can – providing them with information they need, equipping them tools they can use to make better things, giving them clear answers for each of the difficult questions they ask, and supplying them enough time and freedom for making the best possible work – because those are their hopes when they decided to pick you. More instructions alone do not help them or you in getting to where the team wants to be. Giving them reasons to trust, respect, and help you does.
Here you are, in a situation you don’t want to be in, listening to your boss pointing out a few things he noticed. The team you lead may have experienced some bumps in the recent sprint, several unplanned tasks or blockers causing noticeable delays in the project. Problems may have occurred in the development environment, or some members of the group may have fallen ill or may have had family emergencies. Miscommunication between team members may have transpired because of tasks with incomplete requirements or they not being aligned with each other caused the progress to slow down a bit. What happened was no one’s fault really and you did what you could but you’re here taking everything and it feels like you’re being blamed, accepting bullets that you think shouldn’t be fired towards you in the first place. It’s an uncomfortable place to be because it feels like you’re being scolded.
Except that (often) you are not being reprimanded. What’s happening is a conversation and your boss is merely pointing out what he sees and letting you know about it, because you lead the team. He’s just showing you key areas where your group most likely need to work on next time, even if it doesn’t feel like it. He’s giving lessons which you must digest carefully and he’s giving it to you because he knows that you understand your team far better than him. The talk that’s happening now between you and your boss is not about you per se, but about your ability to influence your teammates, towards becoming a more remarkable group than you are now.
Following the recent release of a major software development project we started at the beginning of the year, I’d like to share some key things I noticed:
- As you trust your team to make their own decisions and pursue what they think they need to do (while you perform your magic in background support) you let them grow exponentially from the experiences they encounter.
- Communication between programmers at the time they’re working o the same bit of functionality is critical, whenever a feature is more than one person can handle. Communication skills depend on personality and preferences however, and is difficult to change.
- Partner a programmer with someone who has great grasp of the business rules and always they will be able to deliver quality work together, unless they don’t like each other.
- As web applications grow more complex, test automation (project build, code, functional) becomes more of a necessity.
- Software requirements of new features must be reviewed frequently at the start of a project initiative, especially the parts which coincides with current application operations. Partner this with early solid regression testing if you want to minimize chances of major bugs appearing during user acceptance testing period.
- The challenge for a scrum master (or for any lead) is finding ways to achieve teamwork within the team circle. Each team is different because it is composed of different people, each having their own personality, skillset, and priorities.
A big chunk of the software tester’s time at work is often spent on coordinating with product owners and programmers. She verifies the completeness of the feature requirements before they go in development. She asks the programmer’s opinion on the tasks at hand. She delivers news of project status, of blockers that need resolution, of changes to processes, of successes and failures. She bridges the (ideally) mutually symbiotic relationship between the two and helps them reach the optimum performance possible for the group at any given time. She sees what the team could be and directs them towards that vision: prioritized, challenging goals being achieved in a healthy work environment, every time. She leads.