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Listener Question: Brad Asks About Leadership

Published 6/27/2016

In today's episode, we'll talk about a question sent in by listener Brad about becoming a leader.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone and welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and in today's episode I answer a question from listener Brad. Brad reached out to me on the spec slack community before we get started. Make sure you go and join that slack community by going to spec.fm slash slack. Of course I am in there and the other hosts of spec shows are all in there along with thousands of other designers and developers who are looking to become better at what they do every day. So go and join the spec slack community. It's free and it always will be spec.fm slash slack. Developer Tea is dedicated to guiding you the listener towards the mindset of the great developer. But today listener Brad has a question about becoming a great leader. He says, I've been listening to your podcast for the past couple of months now and I absolutely love it. I have a question and I'm curious if you would know the answer or what I should read or do to learn more about it. Currently I'm an intern at a regional tech company. I always hear people say the best way to move up between ranks is to show leadership traits. What do you think is a good way for someone at my low stature to act like a leader without seeming overconfident or cocky? Brad this is a fantastic question. First I want to address the idea that an intern at a low stature that they can't be a leader because there's a lot of people who are listening right now. That was your first response that you can't really show leadership traits when you're barely into this industry. I'm going to go ahead and tell you Brad that those people are wrong. You can show leadership traits from the moment you walk in the door. Because leadership is not necessarily about expertise. Of course it is important that you develop expertise and good leaders are always working on their craft. Especially those who are leading as developers. It's important to always be working on your expertise that helps you connect with the people that you lead. It may help you lead them a little bit better. Another very important aspect of developing leadership traits as an intern is to always show respect for the people that are leading you. It is a common misconception that leadership means disagreeing with other people. This is a very common misconception and that leadership is abrasive or that it means coming in and acting overly bold. Taking charge of something that isn't really yours to take charge of. I'm here to tell you that that is not what leadership is about. Brad, I have a lot to say on the subject. I'm excited to ask this question. This is an essential part of your career as a developer or as anything else. The ability to cultivate leadership qualities within yourself, whether you are an intern or if you are at the top of the company. Cultivating leadership qualities is a never-ending trail. You can always become a better leader. But there's a lot of confusion about what it means to be a leader. That's where people get confused on this subject most often. Particularly, you can be a leader as an intern for example. Does that mean that you're going to jump from intern to CEO? Absolutely not. Cultivating leadership qualities, you do not have to have a position of leadership to practice leadership. That's one common misconception. Cultivating those leadership qualities can be a task for everyone in the company. The most powerful companies are full of people who consider themselves leaders. I want to go through a couple of guidelines. I've already started here just off the cuff telling you some of the things. That are misconceptions about leadership and why going down this path as an intern is a good idea for you, Brad. So don't let anybody else tell you otherwise. And don't let anybody tell you that keeping your head down and just saying yes, sir, is the only way to do your job. There's a huge difference between respect and passivity. There's a huge difference between respect and passivity. If you are passive, your ability to grow, your potential to grow will shrink very quickly. If you are passive, you're not going to be able to grow very quickly. So leaders are active. They are actively seeking better qualities and themselves. And again, we're going to talk about a few guidelines. Really, this is kind of a definition of what leadership is. And some of the things that great leaders do. I'm going to give you four guidelines today. And then I'm going to give you a recommendation for a book that I think is quite good on the subject of leadership. Number one, leadership is about finding and capitalizing on the potential in those you lead. Leadership is about finding and capitalizing on the potential in those you lead. Brad, you may not think that you are leading anyone, but the reality is that when you sit in a meeting with other developers, it is very possible that leadership is handed back and forth between the developers in the room. Again, leadership is not a position, but it is an action. It's a set of qualities that you possess and you practice in the workplace and really anywhere in your life. So cultivating these qualities is incredibly important. If you are looking for the potential in other people and you're focused on helping them bring that potential out, in a valuable way, then that is leadership. The CEO at Whiteboard talks about moving roadblocks as a part of his primary day-to-day job, moving roadblocks so that other people in the company can do what they do best. This is a huge part of leadership. If you are enabling a whole team of people to become better at what they do, then you are practicing leadership. Number two, leadership isn't a single skill, but a set of constantly developing skills that require time and patience. So you're not going to become a great leader overnight. It takes patience. It takes time. It takes just like anything else. It takes practice. So you need to set yourself up for success by pursuing leadership traits daily. Now, this may seem a little bit in contradiction to what I said earlier about you not being able to be a leader as an intern. The truth is, leadership isn't a single skill. You're not going to be able to develop it overnight, but you can absolutely start practicing leadership skills today no matter what your position is. It just means that it's going to take a lot of work, just like anything else in your life. Cultivate a long-term appreciation and care for those you lead. Long-term appreciation and care takes time to cultivate. You need to build habits. Habits take time to build. Build habits that put you on a constant climb, on a constant bettering of yourself. You're on a pathway to becoming a great leader. You're not going to wake up one day and decide to be a great leader. That takes time because leadership is dependent on relationships, for example. And you can't cultivate a relationship overnight. So becoming a leader is something that you will do for the rest of your life. There's not a certification that will suddenly say, hey, Brad is a great leader now. That's not the way this works. Do things like read books that better your mind, that help you think in a more holistic way about leadership. Surround yourself with other leaders. Go grab a cup of coffee or a cup of tea, of course. Sit down with a leader and listen to their stories. Ask them for their advice. Ask them, you know, interview them. Ask them to tell you ways that they found to lead other people effectively. And you'd be surprised. A lot of good leaders are really totally excited to do this kind of thing. And that's because they realize that empowering another person, Brad, for example, them empowering you, is hugely valuable. Right? That's what they do naturally. If they're a good leader, then it's likely that they would be happy to sit down and share some of the things they've learned because they're naturally inclined to empowering other people to do a great thing in the world. And so that's what leadership is about. It's not a single skill, but a set of constantly developing skills that require time and patience. Number three, your ability to influence people is synonymous with your ability to lead people. And this one is very simple. Influences ultimately gained by empowering someone to achieve their goals, not coercing them to help you achieve yours. Let me say that one more time. Influences ultimately gained by empowering someone to achieve their goals, not coercing them to help you achieve yours. Great leaders are those who people choose to follow. And the best way to influence me to choose to follow you, right, to follow this line of logic here. The best way that you, Brad, can influence other people to follow you is to help them achieve what they are trying to achieve. For example, with Developer Tea, this podcast, I'm not telling people that they have to listen to it. That's not how I get people to listen to this podcast. People listen to this podcast because I am passionate about helping them become great developers. If I expected everyone to listen to this podcast because I wanted to achieve something, then I would have almost zero downloads of this episode. Maybe my parents would download it, right, because they want to help me achieve what I want to achieve. But ultimately, Brad, the reason you listen to this podcast and other people who are listening, the reason you listen to this podcast is because you know that I want to lead you to the thing that you are trying to get to. That is a leadership trait to help other people accomplish what they are trying to accomplish. And this is where we can have a little bit of a sidebar on hiring. If you hire someone whose primary goals are to accomplish things that have nothing to do with their job, right? If you hire someone whose primary goals are to be lazy in their life or maybe their ultimate goal in life is to switch to a different career path. Well, as a leader, if your influence, your ability to lead is limited by that person's own goals in life, right? Your ability to lead is limited by you helping them achieve their goals. And their goals ultimately don't line up with the goals of your team, then they can't be a team player. And of course, everyone can have their own personal goals in life. There's nothing wrong with that. And in fact, people achieving their personal goals in life often makes them a better, happier worker. They're going to be more productive. But if their primary goals, if they have no care for becoming good at their job, then you leading them is not going to be financially viable. They have to care about their job for you to be able to lead them. So that's just a hiring sidebar. Don't hire people who don't have goals in their professional life. Don't hire people whose professional goals don't line up with the goals of the team they're trying to join. They are ultimately going to be unhappy in their job. You are going to be unable to lead them. And it can become a very poisonous situation where no one is getting what they want done done. So going back to number three, rehashing this, your ability to influence people is synonymous with your ability to lead people and influences ultimately gained by empowering someone to achieve their goals, not coercing them to help you achieve yours. And you can recognize pretty quickly that what we're talking about here, Brad, is that you're shifting your focus away from your own pursuits and onto the people around you. You're becoming selfless and you're sacrificing for those that you lead. This is the most powerful aspect of leadership. That leadership is not about you, but about those that you are leading. So my final piece of guidance for you today, Brad, and for anyone else who is looking to cultivate leadership qualities, which I believe everyone listening to this podcast can benefit from cultivating leadership qualities, great leaders lead by example. As number four, great leaders lead by example. If you want the people that you lead to be committed to high quality work, then you have to be committed to high quality work. If you don't want your team members talking poorly about a client, then you can't talk poorly about your clients. If you think about the term leadership, it essentially means walk in my footsteps. Come behind me and act as I act. Do as I do. Follow the same path that I am going down. And so you shouldn't be surprised when you start seeing qualities that you yourself present in the people that you lead. So if you want the people that you lead to not ship bugs into production, then you shouldn't ship bugs into production. If you want people that you lead to not cut corners, then you can't cut corners. Great leaders lead by example. You are the picture that people are trying to emulate. And when you set the standard, that standard is shown in your example. What you want for other people to do, you have to do that as well. And this doesn't mean that you have to do their job. This doesn't mean that if you want somebody to write good code in a language that you don't know, that you have to learn that language. That's not what this is about. This is about setting an example for a mindset, for a way of being, a way of working, setting a minimum level of excellence. And you'll be surprised how quickly you will see other people mirroring your example. Thank you so much for your question, Brad. I think this starts a fantastic conversation on the concepts of leadership. We can talk more about what leadership looks like, specifically for developers on this show in the future. But I wanted to kind of lay out this idea that leadership is really about the people you lead, more than it is about your goals as Brad for you as an intern. And for anyone else who is listening to this show, leadership, regardless of what position you hold, leadership is about those around you. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. If you're enjoying the show, make sure you subscribe in whatever podcasting app you use that automatically delivers the downloads to your device. So you don't have to think about it anymore. Also, if you're enjoying Developer Tea, then you will almost certainly love the other podcasts that are on the SPEC network head over to SPEC.FM. There are tons of other fantastic shows and you can connect with all of the hosts of those shows by going to SPEC.FM slash Slack. If you'd like to send in a question, go to that Slack community and join it. You can send me a message directly on Slack and I'll read it. I promise I read every message I get on Slack. You can also email me at developertea.gmail.com or you can reach out to me on Twitter at at developertea. Thanks so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.