The Art of Leadership by Michael Lopp

the art of leadership


Marginal meetings are unavoidable, and identifying them ahead of time gives me a chance to figure out an angle to increase their value. I’ve got one small thing that works consistently: assume they have something to teach you.

More importantly, there are actually no marginal minutes. It is my personal and professional responsibility as a leader to bring as much enthusiasm, curiosity, and forward momentum as possible to every single minute of my day. When I find myself in a situation where the value is not obvious, I seek it because it’s always there.

When you reach Meeting Blur, a reset needs to occur. Your plate needs at least one less big rock on it, and that means backing out of a commitment.

Am I the right person to handle this Situation? Is solving this Situation truly part of my job responsibility? No? Okay, who is the right Situation handler and how quickly can I get this on their plate?

Do I have complete context? Do I have all the essential facts, opinions, and lies surrounding the Situation?

Quiet enables reflection. I replay the critical parts of my recent life, and rather than living them, I observe them…from a distance. This often allows me to find the lessons rather than react to the situation.

Information builds context, and context is what forms the setting for an idea so that it can be understood. The more folks go around the table and weigh in with what they think about the idea, the more context you have, so the better you can shape your opinion before you share it.

It’s sampling critical parts of the idea to get a sense of how this soup has been or will be made. Who are the critical people? What are the critical parts? Which decisions matter? I don’t know. I do believe that a prerequisite for leadership is that you have experience. You’ve had trials that have resulted in both impressive successes and majestic failures.

Leaders who default to micromanagement teach you nothing about the craft of building. Their tell-assertive style creates an unsafe environment where some of the best parts of being human, our inspiration and our creativity, cannot exist. Tasting the soup by asking small but critical questions based on legitimate experience creates an environment of helpful and instructive curiosity. Why did you choose this design? What is this metric going to tell us? What do you think the user is thinking at this moment?

The thesis that a predetermined performance season is the efficient forcing function for growth opportunities is absurd. Growth opportunities show up year-round.

“Have you had multiple face-to-face conversations over multiple months with the employee where you have clearly explained and agreed there is a gap in performance, and where you have agreed to specific measurable actions to address that gap?”

Let others change your mind. There are more of them than you. The size of your team’s network is collectively larger than yours, so it stands to reason they have more information. Listen to that information and let others change your perspective and your decisions.

Augment your obvious and nonobvious weaknesses by building a diverse team.

Delegate more than is comfortable. The complete delegation of work to

At the heart of each small thing is the same essential leadership binding agent: trust.

Gather and maintain context of complex projects at a distance? Build high-trust relationships with your team and your peers to keep communication freely flowing? Define the vision and strategy for an entire organization rather than a team? Communicate that vision and strategy?

Adapt your organization to deliver that vision and strategy, or build an entirely new team to do so if necessary?

The complete delegation of familiar work to another human is a clear vote of confidence in their ability, which is one essential way of forming trust within a team. Letting go of doing the hands-on work is a tricky and nonobvious win, but as a leader, you build yourself by building others.

“What do they do all day?” You know what a good manager is doing? They’re giving away just about everything that lands on their plate to members of their team because their job isn’t building the product, their job is building a team that is capable of building the product.

It’s confusing and challenging because you’re giving away the work that likely made you…you. That work you did gave you the experience to become a better leader. Delegation isn’t just how you’ll scale yourself — it’s how you’ll build leadership within your team.

My current observations of the company, the team, and our collective challenges. The first three large projects I expect the new hire to work on, why I think these projects are important, and why I think the new hire is uniquely qualified to work on them. The growth path for the new hire, explained as best I can.

Three-Point Agenda Here’s a starting agenda: The Minimal Metrics Story Rolling Team-Sourced Topics Gossip, Rumors, and Lies

Humans will greatly benefit from a clear explanation of the rules of the game. The rules need to evolve in unexpected ways to account for the arrival of more humans. The only way to effectively learn what is going to break is to keeping playing…and learning.

In our fury to fix, we forgot to finish.

With alarming predictability, at specific team sizes, these failures cluster. The humans see the spike in failures, become alarmed, start worrying to each other, and create a fear feedback loop. This is going to occur no matter what. It’s a cost of running a growing business.

My default operating model is sharing a vision for where we’re going. This means describing our ambitious future and all the strategic steps we’ll need to take to get there. I’ll want your opinion because I know ideas get better with eyeballs, but sometimes, rarely, we’re just going to go. See, I’ve been here before and by acting without asking, I’m giving us a strategic advantage, I’m saving us time and money, and I’m being a leader. See, managers tell you where you are. Leaders, all leaders, tell you where you’re going.

A critical part of a manager’s job lies in their ability to appropriately act in unusually complex, unexpected, and perhaps no-win scenarios. But you know what’s better? Not getting into those situations in the first place.

Frame the situation via a written artifact.

Vet the draft plan with three no-skin-in-the-game trusted humans.

Write down a list of all people and teams that you expect will be affected by the change. This exercise is the first step of building out a communication plan, but right now it’s a sizing exercise.

My educated guess is that 50% of my job as a manager is information acquisition, assessment, and redistribution. It is my primary job, and the efficiency with which I do this directly contributes to the velocity of the team.

Stale Slowness The lower-left quadrant is the most boring one. The information here is not relevant and isn’t fresh, but who cares? It’s low-signal information, and it’s stale, so there is no need to act. Voluminous Spam The lower-right quadrant is less annoying. You’re still dealing with less-critical information, but the more you move to the right, the fresher the information is. You’re sure learning lots of useless things quickly. At an extreme, it’s spam. An organization spends energy moving information hither and fro. If you’re seeing a lot of information falling into this quadrant, I am concerned about the overall efficiency of your team. If you’re seeing a lot of useless information on a day-to-day basis, what about the rest of your team? How much time is the team spending wading through the noise to find signal? How much time is it wasting looking for nuggets of relevancy?1 Critically Fresh

The upper-right quadrant is your informational sweet spot. Critical information is getting to you in a timely fashion. Yes, it’d be super if all the information were further up and to the right, but the fact the information is in this quadrant is a win. The vibe here is a distinct lack of surprises. When a piece of information lands on your plate, it’s fresh. It’s clear someone just made this horrible decision, and you have ample time to coach them in the correct direction. The Important Slow The final quadrant, the upper left, is the danger zone. Critical information making its way slowly to the humans who need it the most is the source of much of your organizational consternation, and I need a whole section to explain why.

Your ability to effectively lead is a function of the collective quality of the decisions you make on a daily basis. You can take your time on many decisions.

My deep-rooted fear of becoming irrelevant is based on decades of watching those in the tech industry around me doing just that — sitting there busily doing things they’ve convinced themselves are relevant, but that really are just Faux-things-to-do wrapped in a distracting sense of busy. One day, they look up from their keyboards and honestly ask, “Right, so what’s Dropbox?”

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