This blog post is dedicated to providing my opinions on Don’t Lead by example by James Cowling. I believe that the situation explained in the article is simplified and it may have many related environmental and personal factors that aren’t mentioned. So, I would like to talk only about the important part of this article. The solution.

Everything was great when the team was small but as we expanded the growing pains started to set in. I didn’t feel like everyone was doing their share of the dirty work. It felt like the same few people were always jumping in to help with emergencies, respond to alerts, fix dashboards, and keep the lights on. I was one of those people, and I was starting to get frustrated.

My solution to this problem was to “show people how it’s done.”

I tried increasingly hard to set a good example: jumping on every pager alert immediately, being the first one to respond to team emails, constantly fielding questions on chat. I was working 16 hour days and struggling to get the team on board, while instead just going overboard.

You can guess where this is going.

What we should accomplish before tackle any problems is finding what is the actual root cause. If the problem is “feel like they’re doing nothing”, the next step is to find why they’re doing nothing such as:

  • Did they have a good understanding of their jobs?
  • Did they struggle on something not relating to their assigned duties?
  • Did we communicate clearly on what we expect them to respond?

There will be a hundred of possible issues, some may occur a long time ago but still recurring, some is fresh and easy to resolve. Go find and fix them first. Most of the problems are likely to be happening by known issues we are facing every day, technical skills, communication or process.

When you are going to give them an example and expect to be followed, you have to remind yourself that everything could go wrong when there is no clear sign of why you do that. Don’t let people interpret your action and guess your intention by themselves. They would be on your side now if they could correctly determine and understand what you need. Communication is the key.

I also believe that the idea of lead by example is just one of the elements on the improvement process. Giving them the destination, why they need to something, is just the beginning. Things like a feedback loop to improve the process itself and a progress summary to keep track everyone’s progression and help them get through could also along the way.