This article talks about how leadership comes with knowledge. I will be sharing my personal views on how leaders can become good leaders. I firmly believe some people are natural leaders, but at the same time, like every other skill, if you don’t practice, you will not end up being one or a good one! I will refer to technical industry in this talk, but the talk might be applicable for other industries as well.
Leadership is not about sitting in a position and claiming to be a leader, it is about being able to help people find a direction to follow with the goal of helping out a small or large group of people/ community. It may come naturally, but extra efforts are needed to become a good one. Leaders are often expected to have a lot of qualities – honesty, integrity, pro-activeness, sense of responsibility, being able to take ownership, attitude towards people who work for you and who you work for, being visionary, organised, hard and smart working, communication skill etc. In this article I will mostly talk about knowledge and few key points that I felt like mentioning, considering the other values of a leader are already there. We all know about many of the points, but still listing, so that they create a fixed place in our long term memory!
At any level of your career, your primary target should be learning as much as possible. Learn and take the good things from everyone around you, from a guard with good and warm behaviour, from your learned manager, from your fellow engineers – from all. If you have a question, first try to find the answer yourself – this way you will not only learn about the answer, but also few other things that you came across while finding the answer. If the question is not within your ability to find or taking too long to get the answer, then never hesitate to ask a question, but try to make sure your questions are constructive. Also, don’t ask for the sake of becoming visible, ask if you really need to know something. Asking a question will never make you a stupid. Never let your ego come between your learning process. The project you are working at, make sure you know about every bit of it, and keep yourself updated about it. The tools you have to use, make sure you have grasped it to the max level of learning and become really comfortable with them.
Find a mentor
Learn from all, but find a teacher too. In your organisation, try to find out who knows the best about your discipline or the one you are interested to move to. Start interacting with the skilled person and ask questions and be more involved with that person. The process of learning will be faster this way as you may be able to skip some researches that is done by others already and can concentrate only on the new researches.
Document your learning’s
You will forget what you just learn, so document your learning in an organised way for yourself and for others as well. Someday you will be able to teach people. If the documents are pretty then great, but don’t worry if they are not. You can do that later. Content is more important. Make sure you write it in a way that even if you read it years later, you will be able to understand it. Whenever you document something, remember you may need to give it to someone else someday, so write it in a way that others can understand too. Document the non-technical leanings too, so that you are reminded about the good behavioural skills in case you forgot about them with time.
Slowly, you will see you are the one being able to answer questions coming from different level. This will develop the trust and people will become dependent on you. Always try to help people in every way you can. Once you feel you have learned about a tool or project to a great extent, share your knowledge. This will not only strengthen your skills, but also help other people learn about them without going through the same research process you went though. You will again gain trust, learn more by answering questions or finding answers for the questions that you didn’t know about and people will be more and more dependent on you.
Once you know a lot and is always updated on the changes made, progress of work and other things, you will naturally start taking ownership of your project, hence, ownership also will come with knowledge and how you make use of your knowledge to benefit others. Be pro-active and help others to get their work done. Make people working under you independent, teach them what you know and let them know that you trust them. Let other people take ownership as well.
Find out the most effective hours
For some people, early morning might be the most effective hours when they can put some serious concentration and solve critical problems, and for some people it might be the evening. Find out yours and ask people to find out theirs. It may not be the same every day and depend on the sleep you get. Whenever you know you are feeling great, start working on the most complex problem you have at your hand now. Easy problems that do not need your brain to work out can be solved at any time even when you are tired or not feeling great, but critical once need you concentration. Therefore, learn to utilise your effective hours and share the experience with others.
You might be very good and efficient at what you are doing, but don’t try to do everything by yourself. Distribute the workload and teach them the techniques you use and help them to become more efficient. This will free you up and you will get time to learn new things as well as help the team as knowledge is being distributed too. You will soon get more people taking ownership of small modules.
Facebook has been my biggest enemy and I believe this is the same for many others too. There are mails, chats, phone calls, questions and many more distractions. Try to limit your time to be on Facebook and control yourself – very hard I know. When you are in your effective hours of the day, at least which time refrain yourself from any sort of distraction. Keep your mobile silent, don’t log into Facebook, try to avoid discussions and distractions of all other forms. This will increase you efficiency during the most effective hours. Don’t forget to bring the good habit in other people working with you as well.
Never forget to appreciate good work and to give feedback
Don’t forget to appreciate good work, this will motivate people. In other words, people will surely be demotivated if they feel their good work is not being seen and appreciated and of course, rewarded. Point out loopholes in the process and always thrive for efficiency. Give your feedback to any level, but always in a constructive way. Find out who is performing and who is not and give feedback to the both. If you don’t see improvement even after giving feedback, then sit with the person for few more times, set goals and inspire to work. If that doesn’t help, then reach out to higher level. Remember a person not trying well to improve will have an impact on the organisation.
Accept critical feedbacks positively
There will times when you will have to hear criticism – some are constructive and some not. Totally ignore the ones that are not constructive and take the constructive feedbacks very positively. Think that if someone didn’t remind you about your mistakes, you might have continued doing the same. Also think, how you are giving critical feedbacks to other people, and think, if they also take them negatively how that will have an impact on the performance of them team. Therefore, take critical feedbacks positively and create an environment where others are able to do the same. It will be easy when people know you don’t only give critical feedbacks, but make sure to appreciate the good works too!
Not everyone will be equally good and have the same level of maturity
There will be people around you who are extremely efficient and who may not be. Find out good things or good sides of each person working in your team and make the best use of them. If one is not good at research, but very good at documentation then assign tasks accordingly to increase overall efficiency. Don’t give up on people easily, only with some positive and constructive feed-backs you may and may just see a lot of improvement in someone’s work. Believe that people can be developed and don’t expect the same level of efficiency from everyone.
Admire differences and be open to suggestions
You will find out that discussions may bring out many corners that you didn’t think about. Always listen carefully to all suggestions coming from any person at any time, and decide to go with the one that sounds logical. There will be people who will have completely different view than yours and respect that as they may have some logical reasoning behind it. You may not have the best solution or answer for everything and it is completely fine, but if you find that someone else has it, then be happy, go for that solution and don’t forget to thank the person. Discussions are about finding the efficient/ best possible way to solve a problem or to build something, not about winning a debate. Try to think about both short and long term benefits when ending up with a decision. When you know for sure that what you are suggesting is right, then try to convince people with your logic. Many things that you are able to see, people working at a lower level will not see. Don’t make people feel that you are imposing decisions on them, even if you are doing it sometimes for the greater benefit of all. Again, if you are knowledgeable, people will trust you and will not be sceptical about your decisions.
Set goals for yourself and others
Try to set goals for yourself. If you are already in a leadership role, then set for both yourself and the team. If you only set for others, then people will not feel that you have the same commitment. Set deadlines as well and try hard to achieve them. If you or anyone is missing it, then find out the reason and rectify the process/ fault to avoid the same in future. If you work or do a research without a goal, you may get lost in abundance of resources and lack of motivation to finish the work. Goals are great to know your limits.
Set expectations that you can achieve
Do not set impossible goals, this will make you and others frustrated. Start with small and then grow bigger. Small achievements will give you confidence to do more and more. Failures will ruin your peace, at least for some time. List out the set of tasks you have and take out the done ones regularly. Re-estimate your time if you see the remaining tasks can’t be done on time and inform and explain this to whoever needs to know about it. Being clear and transparent is always a good thing.
Mistakes are great
You will not find anyone who didn’t do any. This is a great way to learn. Document your mistakes and find out the reasons and take it seriously. You will feel great about the fact that you will not repeat it. If you or anyone working with you is not learning from mistakes and repeats the same over two times, then this is something really to be concerned about.
Keep calm in critical situations
You know there will be situations when everything will not go according to plan, or things may popup at the last moment. In those situations, if you get too worried, then nothing will change. Handle pressures and work on reducing them. Whatever has happened has happened, think what can be done now to improve the current situation rather than mourning about what is gone already.
Find the reason of failure not the person
No one sees success at every single attempt. Find out the reason of failure. Sometimes it could be just one person who missed something and made a great mistake which led to the failure, or it could be a collective mistake. Never try to blame a person for failure, rather find out the reason of the mistake and learn collectively not to repeat it. Don’t give up too. You now know for sure what you should not do next time and that is great.
Compete with yourself only
Competitions should always be healthy. If you are always keen about being one step ahead of your fellow engineer or any other person or team, that will certainly affect the quality of your work. You will get the best output from yourself if you are working with peace. It is okay if someone is doing better, learn from that and always try to outreach yourself. Do better today than what you did yesterday. Compete with yourself only. Make sure your team members believe in this and help each other, share knowledge and grow together instead of competing with each other. Seriously!
Always keep an eye open for new tools and technologies
Always thrive for learning new tools. Join good technical groups, read blogs, and technical news to know about the new tools and technologies. If you are snob about your skills there is a huge possibility that you will not grow. If a new technology is simple but efficient, don’t disrespect it because of its easiness. It might bring great business results. Read more than what you need to know.
Find ways to work smart
Always look for ways to reduce manual efforts. Make use of tools or processes that will save your time. Make others also think in this way. Always try to make life easy. Automate everything that can be automated, but don’t waste time automating things that surely needs human mind.
Connect with people
Connect with people and discuss about how they manage things. Try to share the good things you practice and take the good things from others. Give importance to all your connections, you never know which will click for you at what point of time. You will also have a good knowledge on what is happening around and what are the best practices in the industry.
Celebrate every small thing
Celebrate even the smallest success with all the people involved. You and the team will have a feeling of accomplishment and some good moments together. This will enhance the bonding as well and will inspire people to be more productive and bring more success.
Keep some time for yourself and have a work life balance
Be engaged with something creative or refreshing. Try to spend some time on what you love to do other than work. It could be traveling, music, writing, sports, movies or anything you love. This will keep you happy and content and will give you the state of mind to think fresh again. Give time to your family and loved ones. Work hard during crunch time, but never make it a habit. Working too hard regularly is not sustainable. Encourage others to keep time for themselves and family. Organise fun events in the office, take breaks and go to nice places. A happy workplace is the best workplace. Be happy and try your best to keep others happy. You may not be able to please everyone at a time, and don’t be harsh on yourself when you can’t. Just keep on working with a goal of learning, being skilled, sharing knowledge, developing people and creating something great.
Who am I to talk about leadership??
No one probably! I believe you don’t need to be the president of a country or the CEO of a big company to talk about leadership. I basically see leaders everywhere. A successful mother leading her family or a fellow colleague always helping others and taking ownership. You never know when the group of people they are helping out will grow big.
I have written this after getting influenced and inspired by some of the wonderful people I have met or worked with. I have written this for myself as well, to help myself remember the positive words always.