@DanLebrero.

software, simply

Book notes: Becoming a Technical Leader

Book notes on Gerald Weinberg's "Becoming a technical leader"

These are my notes on Gerald Weinberg’s Becoming a technical leader.

This is the first book that I read about leadership, so even if I found it insightful, I do not have any other reference to compare against.

Key Insights

  • Leadership is a skill and as with any skill it can be learn.
  • Leadership is not an instinct.
  • Leadership is the process of creating an environment in which people become empowered.
  • Organic leadership leads to the process, not the people.
  • An environment must have MOI:
    • Motivation - why.
    • Organisation - to move ideas to practice.
    • Ideas or Innovation - seeds, vision.
  • Motivational leadership is just one type of leadership.
  • Technical leaders emphasise innovation. A problem-solving leadership style consist on:
    • Understanding the problem.
    • Manage flow of ideas.
    • Maintain quality.
  • All problem-solving leadership leaders have faith that there is always a better way.
  • Manager != Leader. Manager is an appointed leader.
  • Best working groups, leadership comes from everybody.
  • The paradox of the appointed leader:
    • We think the appointed leader is the essential part of an organisation, so
    • When there is trouble, everybody turns to the appointed leader, so
    • This increases the load on her, so she either:
      • Breaks, or
      • If she does not break, she has been the most active during the crisis, so
    • The paradox if reinforced, as she is seen as the essential part during the crisis.
    • This is why appointed leaders are replaced when a team does not perform. This is a fallacy. Systems are not linear.
  • Will I lose my technical skills if I become a leader?
    • Yes.
  • Obstacles for innovation:
    • No-problem syndrome.
    • Self-blindness.
    • Single solution belief.
  • Becoming a leader means shifting the focus from your ideas to ideas of others.
  • People without vision cannot influence others.
  • Find a vision: child-like, but not childish.
  • Clear communication, tell:
    • What you perceive.
    • How you feel about what you perceive.
    • How you feel about the feeling.
  • If you are a leader, the people are your work. There is no other work worth doing.
  • Offer to help only if you would want to be helped in the same situation and do it in the way you would want to be helped.
  • You cannot care for others if you don’t care for yourself.
  • Everybody wants to feel useful.
  • Mature patterns of behaviour
  • Consensus in organizations
  • Obstacles for organizing:
    • Not using people’s judgement.
    • The more precise your orders, the more frustration when they are not understood, and the less creativity for the one ordered.
    • Doing the work yourself
      • A leaders job is not to solve a single problem, but to create an environment in which many problems will be solved, not just for today, but for the future.
  • Everybody is doing their best, under the current circumstances. Hence if you think they there are not, it is because you don’t understand the circumstances.
  • The person at the top makes the rules, which is another way of saying it breaks the old rules.
  • If you don’t fail, you are not testing yourself thoroughly.
  • Take responsibility for your own education.
  • Make the most of your organisation’s learning opportunities.
  • Make time: Don’t redo work you have assigned to others. Allow if you must make them mistakes.
  • Seeking support is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  • Do not obsess to become a manager or leader. Ask yourself:
    • Why do I want to do this?
    • What assets do I have to contribute?
    • What liabilities do I bring?

TOC

Part one: Definition

Chapter 1 - What is Leadership, Anyway?

  • Leadership is a skill and as with any skill it can be learn.
  • Leadership is not an instinct.
  • You maybe a reluctant leader, because leading is conceived as “telling people what to do”, which feels wrong.
  • You are a leader if people comes to ask for advice, and you like that.
  • Who is the leader of a team? You cannot ask the team or the observers of a team.
  • Leadership means influence.
  • Many model of leadership:
    • Linear:
      • one effect, one cause.
      • Example: thread/reward.
      • You feel stupid if it doesn’t work.
      • Person:
        • Place individual into categories.
        • “Growth” == how well you fit into a category.
      • Relationship:
        • Good for large scale.
        • Your position == your authority.
      • Change:
        • Expect change to be orderly, one thing at a time.
    • Organic:
      • close to system thinking.
      • One effect, hundreds of causes, including the passage of time.
      • Good for complex situations.
      • Bad if we become paralysed until we fully understand the problem.
      • Person:
        • Are unique.
        • Find common ground.
        • Help find inner harmony.
    • Relationship:
      • Everybody is equal.
      • Everybody benefits of problem solving.
      • Joy of discovery.
    • Change:
      • Expect change to be messy, ambiguity.
      • Change is an opportunity to grow.
  • Definition of Leadership:
    • Is the process of creating an environment in which people become empowered.
    • Organic leadership leads to the process, not the people.
    • Organic model is important for innovation.

Chapter 2 - Models of Leadership Style

  • For change to happen, an environment must have MOI:
    • Motivation - why.
    • Organisation - to move ideas to practice.
    • Ideas or Innovation - seeds, vision.
  • Leadership style is how much of the above you use.
  • Examples:
    • Pure “M”: Politician able to sell any idea.
    • Pure “O”: Supper efficient office manager, for last year problems.
    • Pure “I”: Genius that cannot work with others neither can organise the work for his ideas.
  • Technical leaders emphasise innovation. A problem-solving leadership style consist on:
    • Understanding the problem.
    • Manage flow of ideas.
    • Maintain quality.
  • The above is accomplished with MOI strategies.
  • To improve leadership, we ADD strategies, do not remove.
  • All problem-solving leadership leaders have faith that there is always a better way.

Chapter 3 - A Problem-Solving Style

  • Understand the problem:
    • Read the spec.
    • Encourage others to read the spec.
    • Resolve arguments by referring back to the original spec.
    • Seek clarification from customer.
    • Refer back to the spec after some work has been done.
  • Manage flow of ideas:
    • Contribute with a clever idea.
    • Encourage copying of useful idea.
    • Elaborate on an idea that a teammate contributed.
    • Drop one’s idea in favour of an idea the team want to develop.
    • Refuse to let an idea drop until everybody understands it.
    • Resist time pressure and take time to listen when other people explain their ideas.
    • Test ideas contributed by other people (outside teams or company).
    • Withhold quick criticism of teammates ideas, in order to keep ideas flowing.
    • Criticise an idea, not the person behind the idea.
    • Test your own ideas before offering them.
    • When time and labor are running short, stop working in new ideas and just pitch in.
    • Encourage the team to drop ideas that succeeded earlier, but cannot be extended to the new situation.
    • Revive a dropped idea later, when it has value for other part of the problem or different context.
  • Control quality:
    • Measure quality as the project proceeds.
    • Design tools and processes to measure quality as you build a solution.
    • Measure the speed of implementation. Compare it to the schedule and be prepared to change the solution procedure.
    • Step back from the project to refresh your perspective and assess its viability.
    • Check ideas with the customer before implementing them.
    • Restore morale when an idea collapses.

Chapter 4 - How Leaders Develop

  • Practice makes perfect.
  • Learning is like:

Learning curve

  • Huge jumps in productivity.
  • Ravine before breakthrough.
  • Plateau with little improvement.
  • How do you know there is something after the ravine?
  • Metacycle: learning to learn.

Chapter 5 - But I can’t because …

  • I am not a manager
    • Manager != Leader.
    • Manager is an appointed leader.
    • We tend to forget things that do not work, things that do not fit our models.
    • Best working groups, leadership comes from everybody.
    • The paradox of the appointed leader:
      • We think the appointed leader is the essential part of an organisation, so
      • When there is trouble, everybody turns to the appointed leader, so
      • This increases the load on her, so she either:
        • Breaks, or
        • If she does not break, she has been the most active during the crisis, so
      • The paradox if reinforced, as she is seen as the essential part during the crisis.
    • This is why appointed leaders are replaced when a team does not perform. This is a fallacy. Systems are not linear.
  • I am not the leader type
    • Motivational leadership is just one type of leadership.
    • Problem-solving leadership is more appropriate for me.
  • I will lose my technical skills
    • Yes you will.
  • I am in danger of growing
    • Yes.
    • But you can chose when.
    • Again, manager != leader != boss.
  • I don’t want that much power
    • What BS is the author talking about?

Part 2: Innovation

Chapter 6 - Obstacles to Innovation

  • Self-blindness:
    • The only way we can see ourselves is through other people, so
    • Find somebody to watch over you and give you honest feedback. Keep it mutual.
  • No-problem syndrome:
    • What:
      • Finding a solution before understanding the problem.
      • You know the answer to all problems.
    • Test to find out:
      • Ask the problem solver to repeat back the problem to be solved.
      • If she replies with a solution, then she has the problem solver syndrome.
  • Single solution belief:
    • Just one solution.

Chapter 7 - Improve self-awareness

  • Test if you want to change: start writing a personal journey for the next 3 months.
  • When? Whenever fits you.
  • What? About yourself.
    • Maybe follow: facts, feelings, findings.
    • Maybe: work ideas and fixed bugs.

Chapter 8 - Developing Idea Power

  • You must believe that any real problem has one more solution, which nobody has found yet.
  • New ideas:
    • Every mistake is a new idea.
    • Steal ideas:
      • Plagiarising.
      • Research.
      • Talks to others to be able to do this!
    • Misunderstand stolen ideas.
    • Copulation:
      • Mix two ideas into a better one.
      • Coupling of ideas.
      • Best way to solve arguments between two parties.
  • Error, theft and copulation: all things that we learn not to do since school.
  • Relation with 3 obstacles to innovations:
    • Error == self-awareness: we do not error.
    • Theft == no-problem syndrome: we are so clever that we do not need others ideas.
    • Copulation == single-solution belief: if there is only one solution, there is no point on mixing.

Chapter 9 - Vision

  • Becoming a leader means shifting the focus from your ideas to ideas of others.
  • Success can lead to failure.
  • People become leaders because the way they react to failure:
    • Not only overcome adversity, but turn it to their advantage.
  • How? Special kind of vision, one that combines:
    • “Ordinary” mission in life.
    • And personalising the vision.
  • In other words, something worth doing, but must have a unique part that only I can contribute.
  • People without vision cannot influence others.
  • Find a vision: child-like, but not childish .

Part 3 - Motivation

Chapter 10 - First Great Obstacle to Motivation - clear communication

  • Inability to see yourself as others see you.
  • Top problem solvers tend to believe that they had success without other people help. When they become leaders, they act more like a chief surgeon than an athletic coach. Basically, they think teammates cannot solve problems
  • Testing question: Are you willing to appear fooling in front of other peoples?
  • An Satir’s interaction model:

Interaction model

  • Inner me steps:
    • Sensory input.
    • Interpretation.
    • Feelings.
    • Feeling about feelings.
    • Defense.
    • Rules for commenting.
    • Outcome.
  • This is just the receiving part, the sending part goes through something similar, so the opportunity of misunderstanding is big.
  • Reasons why communications go awry:
    • Perception.
    • Wrong time.
    • Wrong place.
    • Wrong person.
    • Self-worth.
  • Satir says that 90% of communications are incongruent.
  • Incongruent comms are deadly for motivation.
  • Clear communication, tell:
    • What you perceive.
    • How you feel about what you perceive.
    • How you feel about the feeling.
  • By telling all of these, you may look as a fool, that why the testing question.

Chapter 11 - Second great obstacle to motivation - Putting task over people

  • Pretend/Think that there is a conflict between people and a tasks. (Conflict == that you have to chose one over the other).
  • People and tasks are indivisible. They cannot be separated.
  • Every task derives from people.
  • Lessons of task vs people oriented leaders:
    • When survivals is concerned, there is no choice but to put people first.
    • If the job is not highly technical, the leader need not to be competent, but can lead by fear.
    • People with strong technical background can convert any task into a technical task, thus avoiding work they don’t want to do.
    • Leaders who don’t care about people don’t have anyone to lead, unless their followers don’t have a choice.
    • No amount of caring for people will hold your audience if you have nothing to offer.
    • Task-oriented leaders tend to overestimate their own accomplishments.
    • Very little work we do is really so important that it justifies sacrificing the future possibilities of the people doing the work.
    • When the work is complex, no leader can be absolutely sure that plans won’t “gang aft agley”.
    • To be a successful problem-solving leader, you must keep everybody’s humanness at the forefront.
    • If you are a leader, the people are your work. There is no other work worth doing.

Chapter 12 - The Problem of Helping Others

  • You cannot help if people don’t want to be helped.
  • Start by agreeing what is the problem.
  • You can stop helping if it doesn’t work.
  • In every offer to help, the helper expect to get something, even if he is not conscious.
  • No matter how strange it may look, most people are actually trying to be helpful.
  • Golden rule regarding help:

    Offer to help only if you would want to be helped in the same situation and do it in the way you would want to be helped
  • If you don’t care about people whom you lead, you will never succeed as they leader.
  • You cannot care for others if you don’t care for yourself.

Chapter 13 - Learning to Be a Motivator

  • Chapter about self-esteem: each of us have survival rules.
  • Survival rules do not allow to be effective leader.
  • We can change survival rules to guidelines.
  • We also have meta-rules (rules about our survival rules) that govern how we can change our survival rules.
  • So when your leadership is not working, maybe you need to find if there is a survival rule interfering.

Chapter 14 - Where Power Come From

  • You don’t “possess” power. Power is a relationship.
  • Example: Technical expertise is “power” in a team of junior people, while not so much in a team of senior.
  • You need to understand what you want power for.
  • When changing role, your old power will banish and a new one will emerge. This is because your relationship with others has changed.
  • Personal power: when you have a clear understanding of what you really want.

Chapter 15 - Power, Imperfection and Congruence

  • Everybody wants to feel useful.
  • Mechanical problems: one that seem complex but turns out to be solved by a technical solution with no emotional or psychological turmoil.
  • Some mechanical problems are hard to handle because of the reaction to the event.
  • List of mature patterns of behaviour, to help fixing a problem:
    • Be clear when dealing with others.
    • Be aware of your own thoughts and feelings.
    • Be able to see and hear what is outside yourself.
    • Behave towards other people as separate from yourself and unique.
    • Treat differentness as an opportunity to learn and explore rather than a threat or signal for conflict.
    • Deal with persons and situations in their context, in terms of how it is rather how you wish it were or expect it to be.
    • Accept responsibility for what you feel, think, hear and see, rather than denying it or attributing it to others.
    • Have open techniques for giving, receiving and checking meaning with others.
  • These are all social and communication skills.
  • Be congruent.
  • Be open with others about what you perceive, how you feel and be open to learn.

Part 4 - Organization

Chapter 16 - Gaining organisation power

  • Organisation power: to obtain resources (money, training, office space, tools) for your team.
  • Power conversion: convert other kinds of power into organisational power.

Chapter 17 - Effective organisation of problem-solving teams

  • Possible organisations:
    • Individual: no org, everybody works on its own.
    • Voting: Vote without previous discussion.
    • Strong leader: one person makes all decisions, privately consulting the team.
    • Consensus: everybody agrees after the discussion:
      • Everybody agrees in principle.
      • Everybody backs up the decision with logic and facts.
      • Avoid changing your mind only to avoid conflict.
      • Avoid techniques to reduce conflict (like voting, averaging, …)
      • Facts and only facts.
      • Consider other opinions helpful, as long as they are supported by facts and logic.
      • Do not withhold information just to be nice.
      • Can use intuition, but make it clear that is intuition.
    • Voting:
      • Better than individual.
      • Require less time.
      • No information exchange.
      • Better than consensus, if consensus breaks down.
      • Better than strong leader, if leader is bad.
    • Strong leader:
      • Depends a lot on the leadership style and knowledge of the leader.
    • Consensus:
      • At first, time consuming and frustrating.
      • Usually highest quality decisions.
      • Can be harmful if consensus process breaks down.
      • Whole team feels responsible for the decision, so more productive.
    • Best one?
      • Depends on the organisation context.
      • Remember that organisation context can change.
      • To check if it is working, see if the organisation is providing an environment for people to understand the problem, manage the flow of ideas and maintain quality (== problem-solving org).

Chapter 18 - Obstacles to Effective Organising

  • First Obstacle: Believe that you just have two choices: order or be ordered.
  • Second Obstacle: Think that people can take and interpret orders as computer.
    • People have judgement and you want them to use it.
    • Communication is never perfect.
    • The more precise your orders, the more frustration when they are not understood, and the less creativity for the one ordered.
  • Third: doing the work yourself.
    • A leaders job is not to solve a single problem, but to create an environment in which many problems will be solved, not just for today, but for the future.
  • Forth: Reward ineffective organising:
    • Reward heroics.
    • Organizing is not about solving “crisis”/problems, but avoiding them.
  • Giving and taking orders are means to an end, not an end in themselves.

Chapter 19 - Learning to Be an Organiser

  • Practice: at work and outside work.
  • Observe how people organise and experiment (introduce little changes to observe what happens).
  • Look for incongruences:
    • What things are vs the way they look. Example:
      • org chart vs real org.
      • Official channels vs informal channels.
    • (Seed model) Everybody is doing their best, under the current circumstances. Hence if you think they there are not, it is because you don’t understand the circumstances.
  • Look for cross wires:
    • If everybody is motivated, and
    • If everybody is agrees on the problem
    • Then look for a mistake/misunderstanding in the organisation.
  • Legitimize differences:
    • Sometimes the cross wires happen because orgs do not account for people being different.
    • Look at the Myers-Briggs model. Read “Please understand me”.
  • Use yourself as a model of the team.
    • You can see your own internal conflicts as a model of people conflicts.
    • For example, conflict of wanting to finish now vs wanting to do a perfect job.

Part 5 - Transformation

Chapter 20 - How You Will Be Graded as a Leader

  • Grading is multiplicative. If you have a 80% in tech and 60% people’s skill your score is 0.8 * 0.6 = 0.48.
  • This is because as a leader, people expects a lot more.
  • To make things even harder, as a technical leader, you are going to be graded in more dimensions.
  • Improving an are with the least grade has more impact.
    • From the previous example, if we can improve 10 points:
      • (0.8+0.1) * 0.6 = 0.8 * 0.6 + 0.1 * 0.6 = 0.54
      • 0.8 * (0.6+0.1) = 0.8 * 0.6 + 0.1 * 0.8 = 0.56
  • Until some trust is build, tech leaders are scored by the minimum of the grades.
    • Try to delay the area that you are weak at.
    • You don’t need to answer any question immediately.

Chapter 21 - Passing Your Own Leadership Tests

  • The person at the top makes the rules, which is another way of saying it breaks the old rules.
  • A leadership trait is withstand testing, because you are going to be tested all the time.
  • To pass a leadership test, you either use:
    • Motivation, also called personality style.
    • Organisation, also called planning style.
  • Tech people are usually better at the planning style.
  • Paradox: to avoid your weakest style, you have to strengthen it.
  • Both style are important.
  • If you don’t fail, you are not testing yourself thoroughly.
  • If you are not testing yourself thoroughly, you will learn little.
  • If you learn little, you can be good but not exceptional. You cannot jump to your next plateau.

Chapter 22 - A Personal Plan for Change

  • When trying something new:
    • We are in a special state of alertness.
    • When we stop paying attention, we go back to the old, safe behaviour.
  • A series of small, ordinary changes can put you on the brink of a large and extraordinary one. You have to have the courage to take the plunge.
  • You need a plan.
  • Take responsibility for your own education.
  • Make the most of your organisation’s learning opportunities.
  • Learn your learning style.

Chapter 23 - Finding Time to Change

  • Make time:
    • Don’t redo work you have assigned to others. Allow if you must make them mistakes.
    • Avoid trivial technical arguments to prove your technical superiority.
    • Choose your own priorities and don’t wait for a crisis to organise your activities.
    • Avoid administration.
    • Pay attention to what you do when there is nothing to do.
    • Listen to what other people has already learned.
    • Do two things at once:
      • Find activities where you get multiple benefits.
      • Kill two birds with one stone.

Chapter 24 - Finding Support for Change

  • Seeking support is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  • Nurture relationships for:
    • Technical support.
    • Services you cannot perform (like criticism of your own writing).
    • Growth: people that give you things you didn’t know you did want to know.
    • Recovery, emotional and spiritual support.
  • There are three types of supporters:
    • Conservatives: they don’t want you to change.
    • Radicals: they want you to change.
    • Friends: “Do whatever you really want to do”.

Epilogue

  • Do not obsess to become a manager or leader.
  • Whenever you want to do something, ask yourself:
    • Why do I want to do this?
    • What assets do I have to contribute?
    • What liabilities do I bring?

Did you enjoyed it? or share!

Tagged in : book notes