Monday, August 20, 2012

Behaving Like a Leader

I've been an engineering manager at Google now for a couple of years and it's been quite an eye-opening experience for me.  I won't say I've got a ton of advice to offer (see first bullet below) but here are a few things I've taken away from the people that I take as great leaders around me:

  • Don't give advice unless you really have to.  This is easily the most important thing to remember and something I have to constantly work on.  Most people just want someone to talk to and they usually already know what the right thing is to do.  Offering advice is rarely considered helpful.  Listen and support their decision.  Most of the time the decision itself doesn't really matter as long as people move forward.
  • Learn to look people in the eye when you talk to them.  Many people find this challenging (myself included) and find themselves looking everywhere in the room except in the other person's eyes.  From what I've read, this is more often true for guys.  Especially for 1:1s, the best way to show that you're listening carefully and talking honestly to someone is to look at them when one of you is talking.  In particular, never look at your phone or computer without first saying why you're doing this (e.g., "Just checking the time to make sure we're not running late since I know you've got lots to do").
  • Take the personal issues seriously.  Don't dismiss things if they're unrelated to the task at hand or seem minor.  These things really matter to people and you should treat them as such.  Acknowledge them, enforce that you think this is important and include these things in your decision making (although they don't necessarily have to be the deciding factors).
  • Don't try to appear busier than you are.  Yes you'll likely be busy and people will realize this.  Resist any temptation to look like you're too busy to be approached (even if you really have a lot of stuff to do).  Always err on the side of appearing less busy than you are to remain approachable.  Avoid giving the impression that you're just trying to look busy so people will think you're important.  Nothing good can come of this.
  • Be modest.  You're probably not as good of a leader as you think you are.  Keep trying to evaluate your successes and failures.  Downplay the successes and over-emphasize the failures to keep yourself grounded, fight complacency and highlight your efforts to improve.
  • Wash your hands with soap every time.  This may sound like a minor thing but getting the details right and taking every situation seriously is important.  You should *always* (try to) conduct yourself in a way that you would like others to behave.  Every situation is an opportunity to influence people's impression of you and the little things really matter.