This post is the fifty-third part of a ramble-rant about the software business. The current posts in this series can be found on the series landing page.
This post is about inspiring others.
Hot Chicks - Baby chickens beneath a warming lamp…
For those who do not know, we raise chickens that lay eggs – referred to as “laying hens”. Natural attrition has taken our flock of laying hens to 11, plus one rooster. We recently received an order of new chicks (pictured above). We keep them inside for the first couple weeks until they grow enough feathers to withstand outside temperatures. The temperatures in our area this winter have been very mild, so we ordered thirty-three birds earlier than usual. For now, they live in our sunroom in a large box beneath a heat lamp. Hence, hot chicks.
As we approach the time they will be transferred outside, the birds begin to fly. Believe it or not, these chicks can fly a couple feet up, even now. It’s funny to watch because they are a little clumsy and their weight isn’t yet distributed well for flight. Mostly they lack confidence that they can fly well. How do I know? Because the instant one bird flies out, they all do.
Why is that? They see that it is possible. With two cats in the house, we take great care to keep the chicks inside the box. The cats will not bother them while the chicks are in the box, but all bets are off if the birds are running around the house on the floor. I fully expect the cats would give chase and catch them.
Right now, if they knew they could, the chicks are capable of escaping the box. So how do we keep the chicks from realizing they can fly out? We manage their confidence. We have a pretty high box, to begin with. They could fly out, we know this. In fact, one flew to the edge of the former box just the other day – prompting a transfer to an even higher box. Once they know they can make the upper edge, we have to change boxes.
This happens on the job.
If you manage people, you are managing their confidence – whether you realize this or not. Your team is leaving work each day either more confident or less confident than when they arrived. Stasis is possible, but not likely. Everyone likes to do a good job. And everyone drops the ball at some time or other.
Managing confidence well means you manage each situation individually. “But that’s a lot more work, Andy.” Yes. Yes it is. One of the reasons a manager is paid more is because the job is supposed to be more work. Establishing and enforcing blanket rules is not only lazy, it treats your employees like they’re in kindergarten. Do you find yourself complaining your employees behave like unmotivated children? That’s a clue. Treating your team poorly diminishes confidence. It’s offensive personally and professionally.
But that’s not your only option as a manager. You can inspire confidence in your team members by treating them with trust and respect. Believe it or not, this is easier to manage than demotivating your employees. It’s less work in the long run. How do you inspire confidence in your team? Treat them with trust and respect.
“Broad and vague terms, Andy…” Yes, so here is a specific example. If you are asked to provide an estimate for something that’s impossible to predict – such as “How long will it take your team to figure out the best and fastest way to accomplish this task?” – your first response as a manager should be along the lines of: “It is impossible to know the answer to that question and, as a result, everything else I say should be considered at something less than 50% confidence.” If someone wants a number, explain why that’s a risk-laden question; and explain the risks. Need help explaining the risks? This should help. Also, read Frederick Brooks’ awesome tome The Mythical Man-Month. Estimating software projects is part science and part art. Stand up for your team in these matters.
Sometime, no matter what you do, you are stuck with an impossible deadline. Years of experience developing software and delivering solutions has taught me that everything is mutable except the delivery date. When faced with those scenarios, I tell my team, “I don’t think this is a fair deadline for this project and I have communicated that fact back up the chain of command. I believe if anyone can bring this in, it’s you. And if you cannot bring this in by the deadline, it simply cannot be done.”
Faking this doesn’t work. It’s not an incantation; it’s a reminder of the confidence I have demonstrated time and time again in the team.
Bolstering the confidence of your team is part of the job of every leader. You want your team members to fly. And if you can encourage the confidence for your team members to succeed, those team members will give you the last percent.