Listening is your secret weapon and how to make everyone a leader on your team (No. 74)

We're back from the long break! Missed you. This week I'm sharing other peoples' content on how to be a strong technical leader

Hey tech leads,

How have you been? Missed you.

Feels like a long time since I’ve written a letter to you. I think I went the entire week last week without a podcast or a letter. I’m not really sure why that is. It’s true that last week in the States was the American Thanksgiving and I was busy, but I’m not really sure I can blame that—I’m always busy. Just a fail. 👎

I have good news about Thanksgiving to report. If you know me, you know I’m not a huge fan of most American food, and Thanksgiving is the annual pinnacle of American food. The zenith, if you will. Usually I pick up some Chinese take out at some point on Thanksgiving. This year was pretty good, however, since we bought a bunch of steaks. Didn’t even need to head into San Gabriel Valley (sorry, that’s an LA joke).

A note about our first live training session

I made a big deal about my first live training session a few weeks ago. So it doesn’t seem right that I haven’t closed the loop on it yet. Let me give you relay a few highlights now. (And no, no I’m linking to it. Cringy.)

It was basically a live beta test. I know you’re supposed to rehearse these things. If I were doing it for someone else, I would have done that. But I like to fail forward when it comes to my own stuff. I thought it went pretty well once it got going. There were a few stutters and a few places where my thoughts didn’t full connect (ok maybe more than just a few). The good news is that the content fits neatly into a one hour session, so I hope you’ll join this Saturday’s session for another shot at it.

I also made two key content changes leading up to the session. First, I decided to get rid of the awkward “bias for action,” and started calling it what I think it really is: SHOWING UP. Leads don’t get to not show up in my book. The second thing I did was move showing up to be the first, numero uno, capability. Listening is still foundational in my book, but I think if you commit to showing up as a tech lead, all the other behaviors will follow. They don’t necessarily follow from listening well.

What we’re doing this week

I mentioned this last night, but for the month of December I’m really focused on getting another revision of How To Be a Tech Lead shipped. The content I put out there is unique and interesting, I think, but it’s way below my own personal quality standards. Kind of embarrassing, really.

I’m also focused on running through the training for the rest of the year because it’s useful to do both activity.

As such, I don’t really have a lot of free cycles for new content development (although I do have a bunch of stuff brewing that I can’t wait to get back to).

Let’s talk about some of the other (better?) stuff out there

Instead of developing my own content, I’m going to draft off other folks’ content for this week, and possibly the balance of the year. Besides, there’s lots of other useful stuff out there that you might be missing out on. Plus I can learn a lot from it myself.

The Leader’s Secret Weapon: Listening

Ok, ok, I know I just mentioned above that I busted listening down to the number two spot on the Four Core, but let’s forget about that right now and lead off with an impactful article from Strategy+Business. About two weeks ago, Adam Bryant’s editors hit publish on The Leader’s Secret Weapon: Listening.

You already know that article is going to grab my attention. The title is like my someone know how to craft custom made link bait for Michael Rice, the wannabe tech lead coach.

Bryant opens with this question, “Do you feel like your boss listens to you?” When the author gives that question in his own live executive training session, he says only about one third of the attendees say their boss seemingly listens to them.

Tech leads! What would happen if he polled the people on your team? Would they say their tech lead listens to them?

Bryant observes that most conversations “seem like serial monologue[s], with one person talking while the others simply wait for their turn to say what they want to say.” Does that pretty much sum up your last team lunch?

Bryant is writing mostly to the executive-level Strategy+Business readers, so his reasoning why listening is critical may be a little less important to us as first line tech leads. They’re still worth noting, however. First, things are changing so fast that leaders need to assemble diverse teams and draw out all their different ideas and opinions if they want their organizations to survive. Second, when you move up in organizations you get more and more drawn into your own bubbles and you are missing insights.

But here’s the best, most practical part of Bryant’s article: he’s got this cool acronym that absolutely have to share with you. It’s WAIT. W-A-I-T. So when you’re about to start talking, pause yourself and say, “Wait. Why am I talking?”

He suggests it’s hard to listen. He quotes Joel Peterson who says to listen

You have to really be at home with yourself. If you have these driving needs to show off or be heard, then that kind of overwhelms the process. If you’re really grounded and at home with yourself, then you can actually get in the other person’s world, and I think that builds trust.

An Engineering Team Where Everyone is a Leader

The next article I want to share with you came out quite recently on the Pragmatic Engineer blog. George Orosz I think from Uber, wrote An Engineering Team Where Everyone is a Leader. He’s writing about his early experiences moving from an engineer to an engineering manager and how he wanted to “build a team where everyone can be a leader.”

He draws his inspiration for distributed-leadership from two sources. One is a book I love called Turn The Ship Around (check out the spectacular TedX talk by David Marquet). The other source is from a Harvard Business Review interview with professor Sue Ashford. In the HBR Ideacast, she says having a lot of shared leadership on a team is particularly useful “in places where things are moving fast, are complex, and have many dependencies.” That sure sounds like she’s talking about software engineering teams to me—and George too.

It’s a long post, that I really recommend you to dive into, especially if you’re wondering how to foster more leadership on your own team. Let me give you my hot take highlights. You should:

  1. Pick one engineering lead per project, so the lead has autonomy to make choices based on his or her on the ground knowledge

  2. Set up clear expectations on what the leadership will look like (see his Google doc)

  3. Start with mentoring, then get good at coaching (notice that are NOT one and the same)

  4. Be very transparent and accountable using at least weekly, written updates

  5. Prepare your junior members for project leadership

Seriously, it’s a long and thoughtful article with lots of great tool and insights for EMs and TLs. Hope you’ll take the time to read and consider it.

That’s it for today tech leads! The holiday break in the States is over and it’s time to get back to work growing and developing into the best lead and human you can be—and you’ve got a whole new week to do it.


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.

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Published from sunny Los Angeles. 🌴☀️