Leading by Example

It takes discipline for development teams to benefit from modern software engineering conventions. If your team doesn't have the right kind of engineering discipline, the tools and processes you use are almost irrelevant. I advocated as much in Discipline Makes Strong Developers.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2007/08/leading-by-example.html

Steve: “The deep dark secret underneath it all is that the software is company property and it needs to be done a certain way if the management says so.”

The question is why this is even a “dark secret”.

While I agree with the blog post, it isn’t quite complete. It doesn’t take too much experience for people to think that they know everything. Being able to introduce standards requires that people are open minded about adopting them. Very few people are open minded at all.

One does need to be “respectful” but one also needs to make it clear that standards have to be followed because of the “deep dark secret”.

I think the lesson here is that you need to convince developers that they should follow the standards because they want to, because they believe in them.

Not because they were ordered to do so.

This is doubly true for software developers, who tend to be quite stubborn and heastrong. Myself included, of course… :slight_smile:

You can use Marine Corps leadership methods and not be like Gunny Hartman (BTW, the character failed at his job because he didn’t remove Pyle from the platoon ASAP). Here’s an article series I recently wrote about it: http://vbnotebookfor.net/2007/07/25/marine-corps-leadership-secrets-part-i/

The bottom line is that a lot of leadership is just having basic common sense in dealing with people.

Dave: easy on the Mountain Dew…

njkayaker: It’s a “secret” because many developers aren’t aware of this concept and think the project is their “canvas” to express themselves. Which isn’t bad, but perhaps do that mostly on your own stuff.

Most of Dennis’ points really boil down to this - be respectful. Be respectful of what people know even if you know differently, be respectful of what they have achieved even if you don’t admire it, be respectful of what they think even if you don’t agree with it.

Going down the path of actions instead of words says you don’t know better than everyone else, you are just one of the guys. That shows respect for the job they do, because you are doing it to.

Love? Well, change the word to respect and I’d have to agree. Love is just a bit ripe for me, particularly concerning most of the technical people I know :slight_smile:

“We may love our machines and our code, but our teammates prove much more complicated.”

Amen brother.

I am not sure where I heard this but it is a good rule for programmers in general (It might have been John Carmack talking about univeristy profs), it went something like: Just because you are smarter then them doesn’t mean they don’t have anything to teach you.

It goes along with the theme of just being respectful as Phil pointed out.

Hey, Jeff, let me be a picky bastard for a second (unusual because I tend to be such all day long).
I don’t know what kind of blog software you use, but does it allow title-based urls? I mean, it sucks to hover the mouse on a hyperlink and see that it refers to blog post ID# 000788 which I can’t at all recall the contents by number.
I don’t know about other readers, but I never feel compelled to click a link that doesn’t show me exactly where it’s going.
It’s either that or using the exact blog post title in the hyperlink, which makes for bulkier content.
Anyway, just being an annoying reader here :slight_smile: Since you so detail-oriented and thorough, I thought it would make sense to point that out in the best interest.

How many times has a performer joined a team with an expectation to carry the water for non-performers? Or worse, fix non-performers. This scenario is far too common in the IT industry, and is 180 degrees wrong.

Individuals are responsible for fixing themselves. Leading by example is a noble concept, but at the end of the day everyone is accountable for their own performance. The real failure in leadership occurs when leadership does not communicate to individuals what is expected of them, when it needs to happen, and what will happen if they do not perform.

Most of this perpetual greek tragedy links back to inept hiring. If a manager isn’t any good at hiring, they produce an inferior product. If a manager inherits the result of someone else’s bad hiring, and cannot or do not replace them, they produce an inferior product.

One other thing - about “motivation”. There is a considerable amount of empirical data to suggest that efforts to “motivate” people are a waste of time. It is true, however, that one should avoid doing things that would “de-motivate” people. There is a difference.

This book is great:


I’m not military, but I think there’s a ton of procedural and team stuff to be learnt from tactical/field ops. Like drills, and experiential learning (we rely too much on passive material in our business imo).

Becoming a Technical Leader… should have a subtitle of “herding cats without being mauled to death”. As mentioned above, the word is respect. If you walk into a situation without knowing any of the people, what they’re doing, why they’re doing it that way, and even what their perception of the process might be, then start spouting off about changing things because they aren’t being done right - you’ll be shot down every time. And rightfully so.

I haven’t read Weinberg’s book, I think I’ll pick it up. I have read How to Win Friends and Influence People. Besides the fact that the title is pretty sucky - it’s an excellent book. I’ll never be a sales person, but it’s a different way of looking at things. It’s a difficult thing being a technical manager, those who do it right are worth their weight in gold.

Hey Jeff buddy, I love your blog man. Way too cool.

Correction, herding very smart cats…

Fantastic post! I agree that the human aspect is much more difficult to manage. As everyone has, I’ve ran into the individuals that send out the best practice emails, etc., yet never actually show you a real solution. We had a prime example at my company, and he is no longer here and either is the director who backed him. Lead by example, not by continuously talking about it. Code something up…and show someone…rather than talk about how it should be.

Keep up the great work on the blog, Jeff. I’m an avid reader.

It’s certainly a mixture, particularly in this era of not having an opinion that might offend anyone.

One needs to be caring, to lead by example, to point out the benefits of a particular style, etc. The deep dark secret underneath it all is that the software is company property and it needs to be done a certain way if the management says so.

Years ago, working with a mainframe 4GL, we had published standards that everyone was accountable to live up to. But the boss said, “if our standards are wrong, prove it, we will change them”. There was a review committee for this purpose.

“Not every application is a high-volume e-commerce site.”

Well, thank goodness somebody noticed this.

Now, could you broadcast this fact to every dimwitted middle manager at Microsoft, Oracle? And while your at it, maybe we could get the word out to the thousands of myopic web-addled software shops in the world until they get the point?

A tester of ENGINEERING software

“Becoming a Technical Leader” is the single-most important book that I have ever read (several times). Jerry understands that being a technical leader is a people skills issue. Please read it and change the way that you “do software”.

I’m always amused at companies who seem to believe that a manager can either:
a) have management skills
b) know how to do the job he’s supervising.

I’ve found the hard way that either/or doesn’t get you very far in a group.

Thanks for another interesting post Jeff.

Motivation and not de-motivation are a complex subject, and the idea of ‘not de-motivating’ is certainly simpler as Greg Askew points out.

However I’ve found that although not simple, motivation is extremely effective if done, and indeed possible. It takes experience and study, and I’d love to be better at it.

“There’s never a bad student, just bad teachers” - I believe this to a point. Some students/team members are just mired in being a pain in the ass and worthless, and motivation certainly draws from the law of diminishing returns. Often it’s just not worth it to take the time to get someone to be decent at their job.

That doesn’t mean it’s not possible.

Managing is certainly at least as much of an art as a science. Probably more so.