Leaders are Teachers

BLUF: You won’t be able to scale without being able to teach in order to grow.

Becoming a great a leader means that you need to be able to teach.  Not teaching anyone about your experiences is a selfish approach to not spread your knowledge and understanding.    Jack Welch introduced many to the idea that leaders are teachers.

They have to see their roles as a combination of teacher, cheerleader, and liberator, not controller. – Jack Welch

Teaching team members fosters team communication and imparts a sense of “you know what you are doing” and gives team members a sense of confidence in a leader.  We have talked about how you are not going to know everything and you rely on others knowledge and experience to complete projects, but imparting your experiences is key as you are the more than likely the senior leader and have been involved in enough situations to apply past experience.

In my experiences in the military you see senior non-commissioned officers (NCO) that teach brand new lieutenants the ways of the force.  These NCOs have over a decade of experience in the military.  I had multiple NCOs during my time on active duty that pointed out my many flaws and showed the right way to execute.  You rely on your NCOs more than anyone else when you are a young lieutenant  My one caveat is that you cannot rely on every NCO to point you in the right direction.  Always apply common sense when choosing those that you want to be your inspiration in your career and life.

Everything that you teach your team are small dividends that you are investing back into your culture.  If you have teaching points and not demand points, then you allow your team to learn from the past and filter those experiences in order to provide a more productive environment in the company.  Give them the leeway to make their own mistakes and learn from those, so that they can pass on experiences to the new guy.

I keep going back to this book – Jack Welch: Winning.  This is one of my top books to read to learn how to be a understanding leadership and learn how the people you are leading will make you great and that you need to take care of them.


I do think there are issues in the OSS community for those new developers that are trying to get involved with projects.  If you are the one making snarky comments about a pull request or make the commit so complicated that no one wants to put aside a week of free time to fix a label misspelling, then you need to take an inner look at what you are trying to accomplish and if it is truly open source.  Yes OSS projects are “free” libraries to help out others, but open source also means that others have the possibility to help if you give them the platform and culture that allows for that help to emerge.  It takes more than just adding a tag that says “newbie” or “low hanging fruit” to get people to help out.  If they have questions or look lost, then don’t chastise them, guide them.

Accept Failure and Learn

BLUF: Failure is not a purposeful mistake, but you need to be able to learn from those failures.

No matter how much you plan it will never be perfect and sometimes failure is an outcome.  I have failed.  Too many times than I can count or even care to admit probably.  I probably would not be where I am today without those failures.  Every failure I had I came back stronger from them.

As a leader you have to know that failure is always a possibility, but how you respond to those failures is what makes you a leader.  If you become the one who turtles into your shell and cannot rally the troops, then you’ll lose the team right there.  You can be pissed off, sad or disgruntled about what happened, but your attitude cannot resonate that same tone in front of the team.

If you do fail at a task or project.  You have to be able to look back on it and make things better.  Answer three questions.  What was suppose to happen?  What did happen?  How can it be better?  You also have to be able, at a minimum, to provide 3 positive things that happened and 3 negative things that happened to help lead into your answers.  I have been a part of or used this procedure for my entire 16 years of experience in the military.  The outcome from this process is to learn from our mistakes and update the process, plan or procedures next time that allows for a better outcome.

In the military there are tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) that are built from learning from past events.  “Doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.”  You cannot apply the same procedures to the same problem every time if failed already.  It WILL fail again.

There are times at which you have to lean on team members to help get you through the hard problems.  Without being able to lean on others to complete the tasks, then you can definitely accept failure.  The best part about utilizing your team and failing is that you did it together.  The worst part about failing with a team is either you do it alone and you are the sole loser because the team knows they didn’t play a part or you blame the team for actions that you had control over.  If you are delegating appropriately and not asking for the moon, then you have given it your best shot at completing everything and you have to accept that and learn.