Listen powerfully and craft compelling visions tech leads! (No. 73)

We’re refreshing core, foundational tech lead content this week

Hey Tech Leads,

In case you missed Monday’s letter and podcast, just a reminder that I’m planning to run a live, streamed tech lead training this coming Saturday at 10:00 a.m. (California time.) It’s totally free, and it’s my first time doing it online, so I hope you’ll join us! 

Register Free!

Might be fun and impactful, or it could be a complete technical disaster. We’ll know at around 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, I guess. Will try to record, but no promises!

Given my need to pop out some new (or cleaned up) content on Saturday morning, this week I’m trying to do a little double duty and use this list and podcast as an excuse to refresh some of the material. Think it will be useful for you.

Refreshing the Four Core

Today we’re starting in on a refresher on the Four Core. (Catch today’s podcast here as well.)

For context, I created the Four Core because there are so many things you might end up doing as a tech lead (see Monday’s letter) that it’s not practical to make an accurate or useful laundry list of the skills you need. 

Even if I did, there’s no way I could nail it all down for your specific context.  

The Four Core are the common behaviors or capabilities I’ve seen over the past two decades common to successful tech leads.

The Four Core is obviously focused on the “soft” skills, but if you can nail all four, combine them with sharp tech skills, then you’re easily going to be in the top 20% or better of tech leads in the world. Want to help you get there tech leads!

Context refreshed, let’s dive into the first of the four core capabilities: listening. 

Capability No. 1: Listening

What does it mean to listen? 

Here’s the obligatory Merriam Webster definition, or definitions:

  1. to pay attention to sound

  2. to hear something with thoughtful attention or give consideration

  3. to be alert to catch an expected sound

Number two is the best, of course, for our discussion. It’s probably not unlike the “active listening” instruction you get at various corporate training events. But it’s NOT TO BE OVERLOOKED!

It’s THE most important soft skill because really, everything in your leadership springs from your ability to gather fast changing, on-the-ground, contextual data. You have to listen to your team, managers, company, constituents, the broader organization, and even industry leaders. If you aren’t hearing this critical data, you simply you don’t have information you need to make decisions or to lead with you. You just don’t.

Like all the Four Core, there are three levels. At the beginner level, you’re either not listening or hearing only raw content (e.g., if you hear people at all you’re taking them way too literally or too much at face value).

The intermediate level, then, is being able to absorb the context of the communication. As they say, 80% of communication is non-verbal. (And by the way, after a number of years in Slack-first organizations, I believe there are plenty of non-verbal cues even on Slack. Ask me about it.)

Moving up to the advanced level, we get to empathic listening. That’s a popular word today, but my definition is really modest: all empathy means is that you can take yourself and your own needs out of the communication and step into someone else’s shoes when you’re listening. This is easy to say and exceptionally hard to do, especially on a sustained, consistent basis. 

For some examples, join us on Saturday!

Capability No. 2: Vision crafting

So you did the hard work and you listened. Now it’s your turn to talk (finally, tech leads!).

Vision crafting means you take what you’ve heard about the team, the organization, the project, the individuals, the mission, product, feature, whatever, and you frame a vision about what the team should do in a way that means something to them—in a way that motivates them.

This is a particularly hard for newbie tech leads because it means putting yourself out there as a leader. Worse, individual contributors aren’t required to do this, so you don’t have much, of any, practice. 

Vision crafting means stepping up and putting yourself out there. True leaders see this as real, challenging work that needs to be done (think the Gettysburg Address, for those of us in the States). They aren’t just words. The words are meaning.

It takes mental calories to craft a vision that unifies, organizes, and motivates the team and organization. They aren’t just words, even if the pros make it look easy.

Speaking those words aloud will make other see you as a leader and, crafted well, will get results.

Just like with listening and the other Four Core, there are gradations in your progression with this skill. 

At the beginner level, you either fail to articulate any vision or your attempt lands as an uncompelling statement that might sound like a dry list of tasks or requirements.

At the intermediate level, you’re crafting more sophisticated, effective, and compelling visions—visions that synthesize multiple points of view (that you earned by using your listening capabilities above!). 

At the advanced level, you’re crafting compelling visions and fluidly repeating them often. You’re drawing visions that connects to the team to the mission and you’re able to repeat the vision in a way that’s compelling to each team member, and, most importantly, you’re fluidly repeating the vision in a wide variety of contexts

We’re running a little long for today, so for some examples, join us on Saturday!

Join us!


Thanks for reading!

The Tech Lead Coaching email list and podcast are written and recorded by Michael Rice to bring more clarity, certainty, and confidence to my tech leads.

Tips? Have something you’d like me to cover or someone you want to me talk to? Drop me an email to me@michaelrice.com. Hope you will.

Let’s Connect-

Published from sunny Los Angeles. 🌴☀️

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