What Leadership Means To Me

I finally took some time to write some thoughts about what Leadership means to me.

During April 2017, I’ve been very lucky to attend the Leadership training, organized by Zingtrain, paid by the OpenStack Foundation and sponsored by my employer (Red Hat) who paid for the trip to go in Ann Arbor. Thank you to all of them!. I also would like to thank Colette Alexander who made this happen.

In this blog post, I’ll explain what I’ve learned and also what I took away during this training but also my career; also I’ll give some personal opinions that only engage myself and nobody else.

 

Four {Levels, Stages} of Learning

Being a leader starts with the willingness of learning. Let’s start by the four levels of learning:

Listening, Reflecting, Assimilating and acting, Teaching (Repeat)

The things mentioned during the training were very close of how I personally learned how to be an Open-Source contributor. It starts by listening around you. It has been a little bit frustrating for me at the beginning to not being able to quickly take actions when new ideas come up, but being patient is really worth it.

The time to reflect is important to assimilate what happens out there: “what people do” and “why”, “how to they work together” and “how my contribution would fit in there” are the biggest questions I ask myself most of the time I’m jumping into something new for me.

Then it’s time for actions. That time is really interesting because it’s very exiting at the beginning when contributing for the first time to a project, but can also be frustrating when getting the first feedback of this contribution. It’s like an “emotional elevator” where you go from total happiness of finally feeling useful in this project to “I’m so frustrated, the way I proposed my idea was rejected, I just want to thrash everything and run away”. This moment is to me very crucial and usually I manage to get my frustration out by going for a run or do some other activities that I like. Coming back on keyboard, I take time to retrospect and see how can I do better the next time.

Now you’re part of the project and you know how to contribute, the work is not finished. Quite some times I see some projects where it’s hard to join the team because there is simply nobody willing to take time and explain you the really basics. Note: on the other side, it also comes with the capacity of saying “I don’t know” (yeah it happens, period.) and learners have to be ready to be mentored. Anyway, if you know something, teach it so more people will know it and your project will remain a cool place to work for.

Let’s talk about the four stages of the learning journey.

It starts by being Unconsciously Incompetent. You underestimate the skills required to contribute and you jump into this hole without knowing that it’s not going to be easy. This stage is usually fast when you become consciously incompetent and realize it won’t be so easy. Don’t give up and go learning, you’ll become unconsciously incompetent (when you start to be productive and teach what you’ve learned). And then it comes the time to be consciously competent. If you didn’t start to teach the skill to someone else, it’s never to late to do it. If you want to read my personal experience of being a Project Lead in OpenStack community, I wrote a blog post that mentions these Learning steps.

 

The importance of a vision

There are different versions out there of what is a Vision. A Vision is not a Mission Statement nor a Strategic Plan. My definition from what I’ve seen and learned over the last years would be: “a vision tells a successful story about what you want to be and where you want to go”.

An effective Vision is:

  • written collectively (where all individuals part of the story can contribute)
  • inspiring people who work with you but also externals
  • strategically sound
  • documented and communicated

It starts by taking your pen and write yourself on paper your first draft. I find it important to highlight “you” and “draft” because to me a good Vision takes time and iterations to be well written by yourself and not by any consultant.

During the training, for the first time I wrote a vision of my life in 1 year and I found the exercise interesting. Also, when I came back I started this work with my team at Red Hat. So far it has been very helpful to document where the team wants to go.

 

Good Leaders offer great service to staff

A good Leader is not a boss, nor a Chief. A Leader is an human who makes the best as possible to serve a team who work on a common purpose. During my last 5 years, people who inspired me were Leaders in some sorts. They help others to be better, share their knowledge, accept failures and learn from them.

To me, a good Leader is someone able to drive a project to success without taking any decision, but instead, influence her / his peers by engaging collaboration to make the work happen.

Something we learned during the training: Power = 1 / ( Authority x Frequency of use )

Also two things I’ve learned over the last years and also were confirmed during the training:

  • Multitasking doesn’t work. Being a Leader doesn’t mean you have to be busier than others so you can do multiple things in the same time. First of all: everyone is busy (period again.); Second: it’s impossible for the most common brains to perform in a successful way multiple tasks at the same time.
  • High performing has nothing to do with skills. It’s a matter of how much your team shares a common understanding at how they can work together for a specific purpose (“It’s easy to do the right thing, but hard to do the bad things”). Working fourteen hours per day is not efficient and knowing everything doesn’t mean you’re a good Leader.

 
 

Bottom-line change is leadership

I’m convinced that it exists multiple methods to be a great leader and bring new ideas. One of them might be the BLC (Bottom-line change). It appears to be useful when you (leader) wants to bring a new idea in your team.

First of all, you need to make sure you’ll have some time to dedicate because people won’t always buy your idea so quickly. You need to prepare your idea: write some background, define a problem to solve, and if possible get some valid data to justify your proposal.

One of the key things is to get the right people involved in your idea. If your idea is a new feature, get all stakeholders involved (one person per group is enough), and rewrite the idea with them, so all of them agree on it. This step is very useful so when you’ll present results, people will recognize their interests since you asked to the right people. Engage the microcosm to work on the vision and prepare a plan for the change. Share the results with your team and help them to implement the change by giving support and accept feedback.

 
 

As a conclusion, I would define Leadership as a skill that you can’t learn only in the books (but some books are very useful like Being a Better Leader). You need to practice, try, fail, retrospect and try again. Being a leader in some tasks is very rewarding and in my opinion sometimes reduces frustration. At least but not least, being a good leader and going the extra-mile can be to create new leaders around you by sharing techniques, trusting and promoting people. Have fun!