I work at GitHub, as a senior engineer. I’m not looking for a job. But I have been thinking about leadership and what I’ve appreciated most from various bosses over the years. Inspired by Chad Fowler’s “Who I want to hire”, I started noting who I want to work for, in terms of an ideal leader.
Before I share thoughts about my ideal leader, for context, a little about me… I’m an experienced engineer. I do a lot of foundational architectural work and act as a technical advisor for my area of expertise: APIs and the ecosystem around them. I am someone who doesn’t need much supervision; my boss can point me in the general direction of a problem and consider it handled. I’m comfortable solving hard engineering problems, leading a team towards a ship, or communicating about a project both within the company and to the public. Or as one colleague said, I’m “just really good at getting shit done”.
Here are some characteristics that make for my ideal leader:
- You’re noticeably calm and comfortable at work. You’re aware how your attitude and behavior affects those around you, and you care deeply about having a supportive climate at work.
- Work is one part of your life. You fit your work into healthy working hours. You take vacations. You switch off. When you choose to work unusual hours, you don’t expect others to, therefore you don’t disturb them.
- No matter who you’re speaking with, when you’re speaking with them, you are present.
- You listen.
- You operate on intentional, thoughtfully chosen processes based on what you and your team value. Because you value other’s engagement, and time, you don’t add or persist process for the sake of process.
- When you have critical feedback to offer, you give it promptly and in private. You give specific details and you offer suggestions and support to improve. You also give specific details when you have positive feedback to offer, and share it in a way that person likes to be recognized.
- You’re confident enough that you welcome feedback on your work or approach. You’re humble enough to readily admit when you don’t know, made a mistake, or learnt something new. You enjoy learning from the people around you.
- From your thorough and insightful viewpoint of the company, you strive to get the clarity and context that helps guide your people on how their work can add the most value and have the best impact for your users and the company.
- You’re not afraid to question or push back to your leaders, or challenge the status quo in the company.
- You allow and support your people to make their own decisions within the wide guard rails you’ve helped create, even when it’s not what or how you would choose.
- Whether it’s about large or small tasks, new features or regular maintenance, you value the work of those around you. Everyone knows you value them and their work, primarily because you regularly tell them so. You cultivate a culture of giving credit where and when it’s due.
- You’re aware of the small, subtle, perhaps subconscious, actions that marginalize people in underrepresented groups. Because you’re aware of the cumulative damage these things cause, and the emotional toll often born by the victim, you act swiftly to address that behavior when it arises amongst your people.
- You’ve learned that the tech world is not in fact a meritocracy, so you pay attention to who does the tasks that are most valued, who gets to take initiative and ensure they’re not just the loudest, or most privileged. Similarly, you pay attention to who experiences more friction, and work to redress any inequity.
- You observe how people are spoken about and to, both in day-to-day communication and in formal reviews. You’re aware of systemic biases affecting women and people of color, so you work to ensure they’re not reflected in how your people are treated and evaluated.
- You use your privilege to help develop your people’s growth and success. You actively sponsor your people: you work to get them included, seen and promoted.
- You don’t just expect your people to do their best work, you empower and trust them to. You give or find them the support they need to grow into new challenges and be successful.
- You don’t accept mediocrity. If despite your best efforts, people aren’t engaging in their work or pulling their weight, they have to go.
- You may have many responsibilities and interests, but you focus on making it easier for your people to do their best work.
- You notice when someone is frustrated, struggling, or bored at work. Whether they tell you or you just sense it coming, when you notice this: you stop, make time to listen and tend to them and the cause.
From my perspective, these are the things that matter.
If this describes you, I imagine your good example radiates out and cultivates a group that is supportive, motivated and committed. You make your people’s lives better, because quite simply, you give a damn about your people.