Showing all posts tagged "Leadership"

Job description smells

Job description smells dog

I love reading Job Descriptions (JD). I know, this sounds a bit strange. Given the rapid changes in the Information Technology sector, it's a way to get a perspective on market trends especially with hiring software engineers and managers.

Along the way, I've come across more than a few questionable, funny, or downright outrageous requirements or qualifications embedded in JDs, mostly the unicorn and purple squirrel ones. To start the week off, I thought I would share with you a few JD smells. For the non-coder audience, a "code smell" is any symptom in the source code of a program that possibly indicates a deeper problem.

Let's have some fun!

"Establish an impeccable engineering culture of technology innovation and excellence, characterized as highly collaborative, execution-focused, customer-centric, and high velocity."

Smell: "Impeccable culture" seems to indicate a command and control management style. And, the only thing that would push this into the buzz word stratosphere is somehow including the word "synergistic" into that statement.

"Comfortable with ambiguity and rapid change: excited about pushing out lots of code quickly and constantly iterating."

Smell: I need a code monkey ASAP!

"Ability to communicate well with business stakeholders, resolve competing or contradictory objectives, and to unify disparate ideas into a homogenized solution."

Smell: Our politics and internal organization resemble a Rube Goldberg machine.

"Implement and encourage successful asynchronous collaboration across the BU's global R&D organization."

Smell: Asynchronous collaboration, how does that work? I have an idea, just use a Promise, and it might eventually take care of itself. More coding humor!

"Experience upgrading, converting and integrating legacy technologies with modern architectures a plus."

Smell: As a software developer, there's a lot of work here you're going to hate doing. Most of it will be working on a monolithic application long forgotten.

"Oversee translation of product direction into plans to deliver high-quality products on time and within budget."

Smell: Our backlogs are half-baked, we miss our deadlines, and we're underfunded as a department. Did I forget to tell you that it's common to get bounced out of bed at 2 am to fix something that broke??

"Foster a thriving culture which marries both quality and delivery, employee engagement and retention in a highly competitive local market."

Smell: Our culture resembles Office Space. No, wait, it is Office Space!

"Can solve even the toughest and most complex of problems; great at gleaning meaning from whatever data is available; is a quick study of the new and different; adds personal wisdom and experience to come to the best conclusion and solution, given the situation; uses multiple problem-solving tools and techniques."

Smell: There's no way you're going to be successful in this role.

What are you hiding?

While most of this is tongue and cheek, there's something valuable each of us can take away. The question is, during the interview process, how open is the organization about sharing their dirty laundry? As the candidate, you're the one that will attempt to meet the expectations and solve all the ills listed (not listed) in the JD.

When HR and hiring managers write a job description, they imagine a future state. They also write from the perspective of knowing the problems and how to fix them.

A note to the hiring manager, elicit creativity from the candidate by sharing the "why" and "what" and let them explain the "how." In the JD, write about your current set of issues and then ask your candidates to share how they would go about solving them?

Wow, I know, scary. How many companies value that type of transparency? After all, the candidate you hire will quickly figure out, did I get sold a bill of goods?

Does your company suffer with retaining employees? Maybe there's a disconnect between the before and after hired states: what they think they're getting vs. what's actually there. Think about it.

What are some of the funniest or questionable statements or claims you've seen in JDs? Please share!

The servant leadership philosophy

Servant leadership philosophy Gandhi quote

What is the servant leadership philosophy? In this article, I'll share my experiences with applying what I believe to be the fundamental concepts: empowerment, transparency, collaboration, and adaptation.

I've spent plenty of years in command and control structures and understand the pros and cons of dictatorial management styles. Back in 2001, I accepted a position at McDATA to help lead the acquisition of a small storage software startup in San Jose. After the transaction closing, I spent a considerable amount of time with the product and engineering teams and learned about a software development methodology called XP. The acquired company's processes were vastly different from the waterfall models followed at McDATA. From that point forward, I knew our SDLC had to change and hoped to infuse iterative software development into McDATA.

I didn't realize I was missing some huge pieces of the puzzle since Agile processes are about a cultural transformation; one I was not yet equipped to drive forward.

Fast forward to 2013, a position at Rally Software, and an Agile itch I needed to scratch for some time. I learned why I hadn't been successful at McDATA convincing the stakeholders on the merits of Agile. At Rally, I was in the presence of experts and absorbed as much information and took as many classes as possible. I felt like Neo plugging into the "Matrix" to learn kung fu. While technology and process are critical, I discovered Agile was about people and more importantly, a servant leadership state of mind.

The servant leadership philosophy

I like to define the servant leadership philosophy as a set of behavioral values and characteristics of a company or, how we agree to interact with one another. My experience shows me a single individual can demonstrate servant leadership, but it takes an entire organization to make it genuine. Accountability is also critical since you have to reward the valued behaviors and weed out the ones that don't work.

There's a ton of literature to be found on the formal principles of servant leadership. There are a few essential beliefs for me, empowerment, transparency, collaboration, and adaptation, and I've included thoughts on each. I know there are more attributes of servant leadership, so I don't want to discount the ones not listed. Google "servant leadership" and you'll find a deluge of information on the topic.


Imagine hiring bright people to solve difficult problems and structuring an organization to help them get their jobs done. It requires a clear business vision and strategy as well as knowing which products to build and why. Organizing around this level of clarity enables autonomy which leads to empowerment.

Tell people and teams the "what," provide mentoring and coaching, and let them figure out the "how."


How often do people in an organization share an event that didn't go well? Are they thrown under the bus? And, do they own it and have a supportive environment to help clean it up? Trust, vulnerability, transparency, and accountability are vital traits of servant leadership. Do you and your company embrace these qualities?


I characterize an organization's overall behavior as either management by conflict or collaboration. I always ask myself, how do I want to show up today for work? I choose collaboration as conflict leaves people the options of fight or flight. I can't think of a more stressful situation to be in for 8+ hours each day and expect people to do their best work.

Disagreement is part of the collaboration process although it can't be the primary way an organization operates.


One of my mottos is inspect and adapt, everything, always. Not only does this include project and iteration level of work but individual hard and soft (EQ) skills. I believe improvement is the key to personal and professional success.

It only takes embracing a few essential characteristics of servant leadership get you to a whole new way of leading and working with people. Anyone at any level can adopt these principles since all of us have centers of responsibility and influence. Impact your corner of the world and watch the fruit of your efforts blossom.

Comments, questions, or corrections?? Let me know!