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Tech Leadership

Who are you doing this for?

I was listening to a Tony Robbins podcast recently. His interviewer, from LinkedIn, asked him something like: “Tony, you do a lot of coaching with people who are already successful, or on their way. What advice do you have for someone just getting started?”

Seemed like an innocuous softball question to me, so I almost tuned out. Glad I didn’t because his answer contains the kind of hard won insight you only get from doing the kind of work Tony does, a lot of it.

Role models can be examples for you, but you’ve got to decide what are you going to give? What are you here to deliver? I think you’ve got to fall in love with whose lives you’re going to touch and through what vehicle. You can’t fall in love with your product or service today. It’s going to change. You’ve got to fall in love with the client. … And you’ve got to know more about their needs, their wants, their fears, their desires than they do.

Tony Robbins

This was such a powerful idea to me that I went back and listened to it quite a few times.

Why? What does Tony have to say to software engineers?

Well, if you’ve read my letters or listened to my own podcasts to tech leads (I’ve got a long way to go to be Tony!), you know that I hammer on you to make sure you give work meaning—to make sure there’s a vision for what the team is doing, and you too.

But I haven’t done great job at giving you ways to craft that vision.

Tony’s is one excellent way to to find a vision. Your team probably gets so lost in the what of what they’re doing, and that’s ok a lot of time. Lots of time it’s good to be in the emotional blue zone and to stay in the focused/flow state. As tech leads, we help our team get in that mode.

But because your team spends a lot of time in an emotional blue zone, it’s naturally a little depressing, melancholy even, for them. If they can’t emotionally come up for air and get a positive emotional connection (the “yellow zone” but I still owe you a blog on that) to what they’re doing, then they’ll be in that blue zone for too long.

All kinds of bad things happen when people spend too much time in the blue zone. People get burned out, depressed, lethargic, and worst of all, their engagement drops—sometimes a lot.

So find a vision, and use Tony’s advice as one way (probably not the only way) to help you find it!

Categories
Tech Leadership

Repeat your vision often tech leads!

As leads, we almost always have the vision clearly in our heads–or we should. Our engineers probably do not.

You (hopefully) have all three of the components of a clear and compelling vision your head almost all the time–the what, the how, and the why. We are probably having conversations with managers or other stakeholders where you talk about the vision to constantly align the work with the rest of the company or the client’s needs.

If you are using effective tracking and adjusting behaviors, you have a pretty good idea of where each engineer or person on your team is against that vision or goal. You probably also talk about where the team is in terms of status against where you thought you need to be on the project plan, whatever form that takes for you.

Your engineers are not thinking about the vision as much as you are

Now, think back to when you were an engineer or individual contributor. What was your view of the world? It was probably something like the following.

You had a task or story to work on and you probably had a pretty good idea of how much work it was going to take and whether it was going to be on time.

You’re focused on trying to get all the pieces and parts to come together. Maybe you’re standing up an API or trying to integrate with one. You’re wiring up unit tests (hopefully). You’re flipping back and forth on git repos and branches, trying to get pull requests approved, and generally just trying to get stuff built.

You’re worried about whether your code is going to pass a code review or what your tech lead or other teammates are going to say about the choices, decisions, and code you’ve written. You’re balancing the need to get things done now with the need to do really high quality work and trying to keep track of the tech debt you’re incurring.

Oh, and if you’re a a junior developer, you might still be learning some fairly fundamental stuff and struggling with obscure things, like why your React component won’t render the data the way you thought it would. Maybe you’re spending a lot of time on Stackoverflow.

In short, as an individual contributor or engineer, you’re probably not thinking a lot about the vision for project and you might forget as you’re mired in all the details.

Beacuse of this, as a tech lead, it is YOUR responsibility to constantly remind the team WHAT, HOW, and WHY we are doing what we are doing, not the engineers’ responsibility.

Most importantly, it’s Taco Tuesday!

What do you think? Do you repeat the vision often?