Leading by example

Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon has a great quote on ESPN describing Lebron James’ leadership on the Cavaliers…

The three-time champion, four-time MVP took not just his own laundry bag to the locker room attendants, but picked up off the floor an additional five or six laundry sacks that were strewn about The Q locker room by teammates who had left.

“Hopefully I only have to say something once,” James said, promising to address the laundry littering with the Cavs. “Can’t leave the locker room like that.”

I love this. Winning isn’t everything. It’s what you do off the court, in the locker room and in the community that signals true leadership.

The Obstacle Is The Way

I recently finished reading The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday. I was a little skeptical at first – since most self improvement style books are pretty much the same – but I heard great reviews so I jumped.

I don’t typically highlight books or take notes but I couldn’t help myself. There were so many gems. Here are a few of my favorites.

There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means.

Holiday has anecdotes of people being genuinely excited to practice patience or calm in the face of negative experiences. Like most people I often cannot take make this connection right away, but now I’m reminded to practice. And practice makes permanent.

And what is up to us? Our emotions, our judgements, our creativity, our attitude, our decisions, our determination. This is our playing field, so to speak. Everything there is fair game. What is not up to us? Well, you know, everything else. The weather, the economy, circumstances, other people’s emotions or judgments, trends, disasters, et cetera.

While this seems obvious it’s shocking how many people (including me!) forget this point. I always find that taking a step back from the problem, asking myself why I’m stressed or angry, and reminding myself that I can’t control other people’s reactions almost always helps stay me on course.

Certain things in life will cut you open like a knife. When that happens—at that exposing moment—the world gets a glimpse of what’s truly inside you. So what will be revealed when you’re sliced open by tension and pressure? Iron? Or air? Or bullshit?

I thought this quote was a perfect summary of all the lessons and stories in the book. When everything goes to hell, how you react or get back up is truly how we’re all measured. I know I don’t want to be full of bullshit.

Service first

One of my favorite companies — Automattic, creators of WordPress — recently hired design heavyweight John Maeda. With a resume including the Rhode Island School of Design and working with entrepreneurs at venture firm Kleiner-Perkins, Maeda sounds like an amazing hire. While reading the Wired article announcing his move I found this great tidbit…

Maeda’s description of the new role is still vague, but his first few days at Automattic see him sweating the details. He’s doing a three-week stint as a customer service rep (Automattic calls them “happiness engineers” and requires every new hire to spend time in the role). If a WordPress user has trouble, say, navigating a menu, Maeda receives the ticket and replies with instructions—a baby steps approach to becoming acquainted with a service’s overall user experience. It’s a departure from his gig in VC, where he focused on the big picture.

While I’ve always known of Automattic’s new hire philosophy it’s amazing to see someone of Maeda’s status go through this process too. This is a direct reflection of the company’s commitment to community and customer support. I’d love to see more companies adopt this approach. How can a design leader truly craft an amazing product if they aren’t in tune with the challenges and concerns of their audience?

Web trends

I love the HTTP archive. For people who work on the web it’s a great way to see long term progress, especially if you’re just focused on the day to day.

Here’s one of my favorites — web font usage.

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 10.31.31 PM

Back in 2010/11 when Typekit was growing this percentage was in the single digits. Over the years it’s grown to a new average of 60%. When you consider the size of the web it’s a massive change.

So what does this actually mean? Adding web fonts to your site means using your brand’s typeface across all mediums (print, tv, web, etc.). It means removing flash and other rich media that take light years to load (especially on mobile) and make it tough for search engines to index. It means improving the accessibility of your site so people with visual, audio or other disabilities can view your content. It means browsers can easily translate your text into other languages so your content can reach new audiences.

This is progress. It’s always fun to look back and see how far we’ve come.

Shipping makes you better

David Cancel, the former head of product for HubSpot, has an excellent post about shipping your work to make gradual progress. While reading the post one of his comments really hit me..

When you’re constantly shipping, you’re constantly learning. But here’s the other benefit of always shipping — it makes you a better teammate too.

Shipping equals showing your work, and showing your work creates an environment of transparency and shares your thought process with everyone.

While working in business development and sales it’s pretty easy to communicate your progress. Closing deals for revenue, new users or product growth is a version of shipping. You can quietly go about your work as the results are measurable daily. The numbers don’t lie.

After moving towards marketing and product management it’s been a complete change. It’s so easy to let a couple weeks go by without communicating progress — however small — with your colleagues. You can’t expect everyone pick up on what you’re doing and why it’s important. The best leaders and product builders not only ship, but also get everyone bought in on the goal. Reading this was great timing for me personally.

Asking for feedback

At some point in our professional lives most of us have been coached on delivering quality feedback. It’s a critical skill that people of all ages and experience levels need to develop and hone. But delivering feedback is only one half of the equation, the other half is asking for feedback, and depending on your role at a company odds are you probably need to ask for feedback way more than give it.

In asking for feedback I believe there are two important components — context & constraint. Let’s unpack those words a little bit. Context is critical because it helps the giver understand what you’re hoping to achieve. Without context they don’t know if you’re looking to brainstorm ideas, or stress test a single idea. By providing the feedback giver with adequate information they know how to best help you.

Constraint puts the power back in your hands. By constraining the feedback to a specific focus the feedback receiver can block off topic comments and realign focus to the task at hand. There’s nothing worth than starting with a simple brainstorm exercise then crashing off course into an implementation discussion. When off topic comments and questions come up, politely decline to answer stating it’s not the focus of this discussion and get back to the objective.

In short, tell people the type of advice you’re looking for. They will feel helpful, and you’ll get the answers you need. It’s a win-win situation.