Monday, September 14, 2015

Learning to Lead: It Starts With Trust

In my previous post on being a Senior Software Engineer I talked about one of the characteristics that defines the role is being able to get people to want to follow you. At it's heart the problem is one of trust. People don't want to follow someone they don't trust. What does it take to gain trust? Fully answering that question would probably take a novel. But at a high level I believe there are five key aspects to earning the trust of others.


Any conversation about trust needs to start with honesty. At it's core honesty is about NOT deceiving others. As a software engineer that means you're able to:

  • Say I don't know when you don't have the answer.
  • Remove personal bias when evaluating a solution. When you can't remove the bias, it means communicating that bias clearly.
  • Give credit where it is due (i.e. don't take credit for others achievements).
  • Publicly recognize the achievements of your team.
  • Provide clear, constructive criticism when someone is not doing something well.


Being a leader means having a known set of guiding principles that you hold yourself and others to. The key is that you hold yourself to them FIRST. It's also important that the value of these principles is understood by others. It helps if others agree with these principles, but even if they don't knowing that you're holding yourself to your own standard helps earns trust.


The key to gaining the respect of your peers is to start with respecting them. In the technology industry this means valuing others skills and abilities. Not just the skills and abilities that you find value in, but also the skills and abilities that THEY find value in. Respect involves holding others achievements in high esteem.


In my opinion transparency as a leader in the technology industry is not about making sure everyone knows everything you know. That can actually be detrimental to the team. It can add unneeded stress on those that don't have the context or the maturity to deal with the information.

Instead transparency as a leader is about making your motivations known. Help people to understand why. Why you're asking them to do something, Why something is the correct priority. Why somethings not the right direction for the team or project.


The last key aspect to earning trust is being able to admit when you're wrong. Everyone is human and humans make mistakes. Being able to admit when you're wrong sets the tone that it's okay to acknowledge your humanity. Once you're able to admit you're wrong you can start to correct the problem.

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