Over the last 3+ years, I have been in a leadership role, first as a Tech Lead and later as an Engineering Manager. One of the biggest lessons I have learned is the impact my behavior has on my team and the people I work with.
The cliche “show, don’t tell” is not only true but extremely powerful. This is even more so when in a position of authority. Here I want to share a quote from the book Poor Charlie's Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger, specifically his take on one of the cognitive biases he talks about called “Authority-Misinfluence Tendency”:
"Living in dominance hierarchies as he does, like all his ancestors before him, man was born mostly to follow leaders, with only a few people doing the leading. And so, human society is formally organized into dominance hierarchies, with their culture augmenting the natural follow-the-leader tendency of man."
"But automatic as most human reactions are, with the tendency to follow leaders being no exception, man is often destined to suffer greatly when the leader is wrong or when his leader’s ideas don’t get through properly in the bustle of life and are misunderstood. And so, we find much miscognition from man’s Authority-Misinfluence Tendency."
As a leader, you need to be careful of your actions and their impact on others. Regardless if you realize this or not, your actions are being scrutinized. Like most things in life, this has its Pros and Cons. Next up I will share two practical examples of how I leveraged this positively and also one common mistake to avoid.
The first example is when someone takes a day off but I still see them online, responding to comments I will be the first to call them out and ask them to disconnect and enjoy their day off. After doing this a couple of times a wonderful thing started happening. The members of my team started calling each other out and promoted work-life balance the same way I did. Before this, I tried reinforcing this in my 1:1s by telling but I can promise you, nothing was as effective as showing.
The second example I will share is, one time, there was a critical bug that my team had to handle promptly. I rallied the team and jumped on a call. First, I gave them the context of why it was important to solve the customer’s issue and that we needed to drop anything else and focus on the issue at hand. I reassured them that although this is urgent and important we have it under control. After that, I stepped back and started handling the external communications. The issue was related to perceived data loss. We knew that the data was recoverable. However, we had to do that manually which would take over an hour and we still didn’t know the root cause. I could have easily let one of the engineers do this tedious work but instead, I used to opportunity to show and not tell by taking on the task and leaving the team to focus on fixing the issue and finding the root cause. Some might say, this was a waste of time but I would disagree. In my opinion, this is exactly what a leader should do when shit hits the fan. We need to provide context, shield our team from distractions and allow them to do what they do best. Next time a tedious task needs to be done, I have a hunch that the example I gave my team will be much more powerful than any words I can use.
On to the common mistake I mentioned above. Leaders need to be more self-aware that their opinion holds a heavier weight and can greatly impact others. This is important as hopefully, you do want to hear everyone’s unbiased opinion. My recommendation is to take turns and give everyone a chance to talk. Start with the least experienced person and finish with the most senior member. As a leader hold your thoughts until the very end. This way you will avoid biasing everyone else and increase the chance to get the most out of everyone involved.
In conclusion, as a leader, your behavior matters. Your actions and words have the power to inspire and motivate your team, or to create a toxic and unproductive work environment. It is important for leaders to be aware of the impact of their behavior and remember that “With great power comes great responsibility”.
Hopefully, at least someone can find value in reading this article.
Keep a growth mindset and take care!