Five Key Leadership Imperatives

I believe there are five key imperatives that excellent team leaders must strive to accomplish. My belief in these five come from the experience, challenges, failures, and successes I have had the honor of experiencing over the past 15 years as I supported, managed, and led multiple individuals and teams through many varied experiences. Through that variation, I found these to be constant contributors to success.

Set Clear Goals

It is critical that a leader set and communicate clear and consistent goals for his or her team. This is true even if the leader finds themselves in an environment that may not have overall clear and consistent goals. Every team needs to know what they are working towards. When they do not, the team moves without purpose. Hopefully you will find yourself in an organization that has clear and consistent goals into which you can design your team’s goals to support. However, if you do not, it is still an imperative that you establish and communicate goals to your team.

Provide Resources

Once the goals are established, you want your team working to accomplish them. They should not be working for you but, instead, should work towards the goals. Have you ever worked under a leader where you found yourself thinking, “Gosh, if I wasn’t doing tasks for him all the time I would be able to get my real work done!” In my opinion, it is less than beneficial if your team feels this way. Instead, they need to know that you are there to provide the resources they need to accomplish the goals you have established. You need to work for them to provide what they need as opposed to them working for you. I use the term “resources” in a broad sense. Resources include staff, budget, training, coaching, guidance, space, time, support, and more. Anything they are lacking in tools you need to work to provide within the constraints of the business situation you are in.

Clear Obstacles

Once your team is working towards accomplishing the established goals using their resources, they are going to encounter obstacles. These come in all forms from conflicts between staff, concerns with goals, conflicts with other teams, roadblocks of all kinds, and even personal life stresses and issues. The third leadership imperative is to clear these obstacles. Your team needs to know you have their back and are working to break through any barriers that are preventing them from accomplishing the goals. The faster these obstacles can be overcome, the sooner they can get back to working towards these goals.

Cheerlead

Leaders need to understand the status of their teams progress towards the goals and then make sure this information is communicated to other teams and leaders. A leader gets the word out with respect to the accomplishments of the team and attributing these accomplishments to the team members who did the work. For failures, the reverse applies. You should take full responsibility for a team failure. While you certainly need to take actions to correct situations that led to failures, these failures fall on you as opposed to the team or individual team members. Ultimately, you’re accountable for failures and your team is responsible for success. How do you correct for failures? First you must look at yourself and the three prior imperatives. Did you not make the goals clear and consistent? Did you fail to provide the resources needed to accomplish the goals? Were you not able to recognize and clear obstacles that worked against a successful goal? Most of the time you will find the failure falls in these areas as opposed to a failure of your staff. Of course, sometimes it is a staff failure and this is where the next imperative comes into play.

Develop The Careers Of Your Staff

Your team members need to trust that you are helping them develop their careers. In my experience, there are three primary career growth areas each of your team members will gravitate towards:

  • You may have members of your team who want your job. This is excellent and you should help them get there as it contributes to a responsible succession plan for your position. What skills do they need to accomplish this that they do not have? How do you help them gain these skills. Work with them to develop and execute a plan.
  • You may have team members who simply want to get better within the job that they have. Too many times I believe people think that they need to change jobs to move up when they may just want to see a career path within their position. It is your job to help enable this. Send them to the conferences to speak on behalf of your company about their project. Develop a training or certification program with them. Provide training materials that expand their knowledge into a new area and help them become the expert.
  • Then you will have a third type of team member that really wants, or should be, doing something else. They, literally, may want to own a donut shop. Or, they may want to change careers. Perhaps they want another role on the team. It is my belief that you need to have a trust relationship with your staff that they feel comfortable sharing these aspirations with you knowing that you will support them. If they do not, then they may pursue their alternate desires in secret causing disengagement from their current job and surprise departures. If they know you are helping them, they are more likely to stay engaged in their current responsibilities.

Finally, for multiple reasons, sometimes your environment is not the right environment for a team member. You must be honest with them about your concerns. And, take a hard look to make sure that the problem is not related to a failure on your part of the prior imperatives. Perhaps it is a training problem. Perhaps it is something else. If you must make a change, it is your responsibility to help them move to an environment better suited to their skills, disposition, and desires.

Does Your Lenovo Laptop Own You?

Anyone who has purchased an inexpensive Microsoft-based laptop recently knows how the laptop vendors “supplement” Microsoft Windows with various “pre-installed” software and utilities such as the ever-nagging “have you paid for your subscription yet” anti-virus software. Not only is this “Crapware” practice annoying, and performance degrading (original ad-laden article), but it is also can endanger your security and privacy.

Over the last week or so it came to light that Lenovo (a Chinese-owned company) installs software from a Superfish called “WindowShopper” on laptops from September 2014 to January 2015. The good news is that they have stopped doing it. The bad news is that what they did is very, very, bad. Just how bad is hard to explain to someone who has a limited to little technical understanding.

They installed this software so that they could inject ads into your browsing experience. What this means is that they sell your information to ad providers who then buy ad space. This ad space is “injected” into your browser search results. It is as if you are reading a newspaper like the New York Times and another company comes along and inserts ads into it without either the New York Times or your consent. This is called a “man-in-the-middle” attack.

Let me be really clear on this. The Superfish software is HACKING your Google search feed with a man-in-the-middle attack and Lenova knowingly facilitated this attack vector to make money by selling access their customers to help boost the profits of their cheap laptops

What makes this so bad (the “Paul Harvey Page Two” for you old timers) is that they do it on SECURED web sites because Google encrypts the results they send you (hence the “https” in the URL and the little lock icon in your browser). And, it turns out (surprise, surprise) that the software they installed to do this is flawed. The flaw lets those that know how break secured access to other sites such as . . . your bank, your healthcare provider, etc. Hopefully, you get the idea.

Here is more information:

And, some of my personal advice:

  • If you own a Lenova laptop, follow the instructions above to check and see if WindowShopper is installed. If it is, remove it. If you are uncomfortable removing it yourself, pay to have someone at your local computer support company do it.
  • If you need to buy a laptop and also need to minimize your spending in doing so by buying a cheap pre-loaded laptop, factor into the cost buying your own clean copy of Windows, wiping what comes installed on the computer, and installing your own copy of Windows from scratch. This is the ONLY sure way of having a clean Windows laptop that is not already loaded down with the “bonus” software the vendor sees fit to include. If you are uncomfortable doing this yourself, factor into the cost the expense to pay your computer store to do it.
  • Or, if you can afford it, consider buying it directly from the Windows Store. I have heard, but not confirmed, that these PCs are sold “clean” of all the adware and “bonus” software.
  • Unless you’re highly technical, my best recommendation is that you buy an Apple Macintosh. I am an Apple Fan Boy and admit it. There is a reason.
  • If you are technical, and you really want to take control of your computing environment, they buy cheap hardware and then install one of the various Linux or BSD distributions. This skips the whole Windows versus Apple debate (but does put you in a Linux vs BSD debate) and gives you the most control of the situation. Although, it isn’t as easy. “My Other OS Is Linux”

UPDATE 2015-02-25

Here are some updates:

  • Lenovo is being sued over their Superfish implementation. There was an excellent interview with Bloomberg News this morning on NPR.
  • Basically, you can no longer trust that a “secured” https connection really is secure. Turns out, that Superfish is not the only software vendor doing this for the sake of ads:
  • From this article (original) and this article (original), the following additional software providers may be doing the same thing. These providers all have an Israeli technology called “SSL Digestor” and “Watchdog”, by a company called Komodia. Basically, these are commercial tools to hack and break your box.
  • If you are a Mac user, while generally you are safer from “Crapware” you are still susceptible to ad ware. To help protect yourself, here is a good article walking you through some steps you can take (original). Also, I highly recommend disabling automatically running Flash in your browser. I don’t know if I would go so far as to shut down JavaScript; otherwise, you’ll be finding yourself managing a large exceptions list for all the sites you like that extensively use JavaScript.
  • Top Ten Movie List

    I recently revised my Top Ten movie list that I’ve maintained for years. Over that time, it hasn’t changed much. Most recently, “Interstellar” was added bumping out “The Return of the King.”

    I was pleased to read a recent article that Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Rashomon) agrees with me in placing The Godfather II over The Godfather. For some reason, I have always liked The Godfather II more and it seems I am in good company.

    Kurosawa’s own “Seven Samurai” makes my list at the third slot bracketed by my two favorite Film Noir movies “Casablanca” and “Citizen Kane”.

    As a common theme on my list, I vastly prefer “Seven Samurai” to its American remake “The Magnificent Seven”.

    The two epics “Lawrence of Arabia” and “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” fill slots five and six followed by the war epic “Das Boot” of which I would recommend the original sub-titled version over the overdubbed “The Boot” version. I cannot think of a more gripping war movie.

    “Wages of Fear” sits at number seven. This is a fabulous movie with a universal theme of bad people stuck in inescapable bad circumstances. Like Seven Samurai, this black-and-white original is much better than its 1970’s American remake named “Sorcerer.” Although, in it’s own way, Sorcerer has some unique qualities that make it worth at least one viewing.

    The list ends with the constant favorite “Pulp Fiction” followed by “Interstellar” as the newcomer.

    Here is the list itself followed by a link to the Evernote version (as of 2014-01-12):

    1. The Godfather II
    2. Casablanca
    3. Seven Samurai
    4. Citizen Kane
    5. Lawrence of Arabia
    6. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
    7. Wages of Fear
    8. Das Boot
    9. Pulp Fiction
    10. Interstellar

    Honorable Mentions:

    • Alien
    • American Beauty
    • Dark Star

    And, here is a link to the most current version of the list:

    Decker’s Top Ten Movie List

    Crisis in the House of Node.js?

    An interesting thing happened this Independence Day —TJ Holowaychuk (the brilliant fellow that wrote Empress, Mocha, Jade, Stylus, etc., in other words, a NodeJS guru) announced he is greatly reducing his work in Node.  See his ‘Farewell Node.js‘ post (best quote, “callbacks suck”).

    As can be guessed, this is causing a stir in the vibrant Node and JavaScript communities. Interestingly enough he mentions the venerable C language that I love in passing, but his next language-of-the-day love appears to be the very young Go language. Personally, I would place bets that he will eventually step away from Go too.

    Some of the reaction:

    An excellent functional-language developer I know recently described the language-of-the-day trend, especially regarding the explosion of wrappers and libraries for JavaScript, simply as efforts to make up for deficiencies in the base language that other mature languages simply don’t have or that were solved years ago (c.f. this article, by Douglas Crockford, the author of JSON).

    The ubiquity of JavaScript interest, in my opinion, is because it is a “lowest common denominator” language (as put by my functional developer acquaintance) that is initially easy for new developers to learn. It is the new, more functional, BASIC. Eventually, the most serious of these new programmers run into its problems and thus start seeking (or use their talent to re-invent) various libraries, extensions, and wrappers to try and fill these gaps.

    Perhaps some of this trend comes from our lack of the pursuit of a pre-college software development curriculum leaving smart people who may be interested in software development on their own to pursue their interest. Logically, they first turn to front-end development where they are exposed to HTML and CSS then, in turn, JavaScript and JQuery. The march then to libraries and Node.js logically follows.

    I cannot help but wonder that if we had a decent curriculum for young developers (like the one by Project Lead The Way that focuses on Python as a starter language) then these smart developers would gravitate towards C/C++, Java, or C# for imperative and Lisp/Clojure, Erlang, or Haskell for declarative development needs.

    On the personal side,  I continue to re-birth my own skills and have been refreshing my straight C skills these days, doing some bash scripting, and Java. I’ve also been wondering if Haskell can be brought to bear on some of the more complex algorithm challenges I have at LigoSphere.

    An Interactive “Powers of Ten”

    Back around 1990, Philip Morrison published a wonderful book called, Powers of Ten. Powers of Ten explored numeric order of magnitude changes in size and scale of real world objects. It served to illustrate society’s general state of numeracy (or lack thereof). Today Liza Krug passed to me a web site created by NASA that boils down to an interactive “Powers of Ten” book where one can move a slider to see order of magnitude changes. Check it out:

    Astronomy Picture of the Day, 2014-01-12
    http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140112.html

    Persistence

    Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved And always will solve the problems of the human race.

    Calvin Coolidge (attributed)

    *Quote from a program at a Coolidge memorial service (1933); cited in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (1999) (per Wikiquotes).