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Don’t Lead by Example (medium.com)
79 points by theBashShell 28 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 40 comments

Strong disagree. Doing all the work is not leading by example. Leading by Example would be handling the first emergency with a more junior engineer following along, or doing a write up of how you handled it and then asking someone else to handle next time.

Not leading by example would be expecting your reports to deal with shit that you don't know how to and getting annoyed when they can't.

Yeah, the article misunderstands the nature of active personalities versus passive personalities. People aren't necessarily weak, slow, or incompetent because they lack your same level of initiative and inertia. People need to be directed properly. People are wired differently and strong leaders respond to this by dictating communications in a way best received by the individual.

The opposite of leading by example is leading by hypocrisy, which is less than exceptional.

Leading by example sets a performance standard. In addition to leading by example never assign work you aren't willing to do yourself. Strong leaders are occasionally willing to get their hands dirty. It keeps the complaints low about how hard life is since the leader is willing to do the grunt work if the team member isn't and therefore doesn't need that team member.

Strong disagree with your disagree. What the article is getting at is that, setting an example is completely insufficient for leading a team in the right direction. As someone who's been there, I know how obvious it can feel to you that you are communicating by demonstration. You feel so strongly about it that you can't really comprehend that others aren't picking up on that (hint: unless your team is exceptionally empathetic AND has an absolutely great relationship with you, they're not).

The point of this article, as I see it, is that sometimes you need to say what you feel like goes without saying. That's a lesson that not everybody needs. But those who do need it, need it phrased in exactly this way. Just because this article doesn't vibe with you personally doesn't mean it won't deliver a TON of value to someone who's struggling with this situation.

Strong this!!! I've done what the article suggests not to do and it failed miserably. I was put in a tech lead role and had little coaching on how to lead, so I mostly cargo culted based on what I thought other leads did and missed the point.

So glad that the top comment on this thread is people disagreeing with this post! Leading by example is fundamental to success in any capacity.

We cannot expect people we are attempting to lead/coach to do a task if we do not demonstrate that we know how to do it. It's like having a personal trainer who is a couch potato, it simply makes no sense!

I really hope that other "tech leads" are not following this example! Put in the hours you expect others to work. Document your work the way expect others to. Write tested, maintainable & performant code as you wish others to. This is all leading by example!

"It's like having a personal trainer who is a couch potato, it simply makes no sense!"

This may be true but obviously, in sport more generally, there are many instances of great older coaches who couldn't do half of what their players can do, and in some instances were never as good as their players even when they were young.

You are actually in agreement with the author.

But the author chose a click-baity controversial-sounding title to actually make the argument for a much less controversial point: don't do all the work yourself thinking you are "leading by example".

No, sadly I don't agree with the author's opening statement that they are:

  "dispelling a common leadership myth: that you should lead by example.”
The article does nothing to "dispel" a myth. If anything I agree that the title of the post is incorrect and "clickbaity" when in reality it should have been "leading by example is not enough".

Setting expectations is obviously important, but the article does nothing explain how this was done. For example do they use OKRs at Dropbox? Overall I'm disappointed that so many people have "waved" (liked) the post on Medium and feel like it deserves a counter-article to set the record straight.

I think you and the other top post folks are disagreeing with the title of the article, not the actual content of the article itself.

The author agrees with you in that you should actually do the work (you're a tech lead not a PM or purely management) but also actually tell your team what is expected and enforce it, not just assume they'll see what you're doing and copy it.

Leading by Example, as you describe it, sounds a lot like Andy Grove's concept of Task Relevant Maturity [0], described in his book High Output Management [1], which seems popular with the tech crowd.

[0] https://getlighthouse.com/blog/management-concept/ [1] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/324750.High_Output_Manag...

What you're referencing is more leadership through training and mentorship. What he was doing sounded more like him just doing more of the work solo and hoping/expecting people would respond.

There's a really critical difference between handling something with a junior riding shotgun / doing a write up vs just doing the work yourself. He didn't touch on this, but you don't propagate any knowledge just doing it yourself, and I think that's one of the problems with his version of "leadership by example".

Even worse: when you keep doing it yourself rather than delegating, you signal to your team that you don't trust them to do the job.

Lead by example in character.

Bingo. The author was always setting an example. He was simply setting the wrong example initially.


Actually the most important example is to own up to one’s mistakes and shortcomings.

And choosing subordinates who are better than you.

Off-topic, I'm sorry but I just can't help it, the aggressive modal that pops up instantly when you view Medium enough as a non-signed in user drives me away instantly. I can't imagine continuing to post content on a platform that treats my readers so poorly.

Ugh, I hate this. If a web site nags me like this, the one thing I will NOT do is whatever the popup wants.

"Don't every close this page without subscribing!"

If you’re using Safari, hitting the reading mode button in the address bar disables it and also gets rid of anything not related to the content which is nice. Works on a lot of sites too.

Firefox's Reader View works great on Medium too.

Medium is the new experts exchange. I loathe each time someone sends me a link to yet another blog post on this platform.

I have blacklisted medium.com so I will remember to never go their site. It works.

It actually annoyed me enough that I made a chrome extension to auto-close them : https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/closeme/llkndphpek... ...

I'm at about 2733 auto-closed popups so far.

The link is broken, would you be able to fix please?

Thanks, you were faster than me. Source is here : https://github.com/jlengrand/closeme

Don't expect too much. I did this in 3 hours out of frustration :).

I’ve unbookmarked them and deleted their emails.

My strategy is to avoid Medium posts.

I usually check out the comments to see if it's worth the annoyance, and if there's strongly positive feedback, I will read it.

At least the post is not complaining that people are writing on proprietary platforms instead of each own's website.

Doesn’t everyone lead by example, even if they don’t mean to? It’s anecdotal of course, but I’ve always been affected by how my manager behaves.

That doesn’t mean you only lead by example though. Maybe I’m not reading it right, but the author seems to think that leading by example and setting clear expectations are mutually exclusive, and I don’t see why that would ever be the case.

Management is a trade though, I’ve had technical managers and I’ve had manager managers, and I typically prefer the latter because it’s really hard to be a good X while you’re also a good manager.

Tech lead positions where you make technical decisions but aren’t meant to actually manage people, motivation or finances are a little different, but I don’t see how you get out of setting a good example in those either.

Should be titled "Don't Lead by Bad Example".

You were leading them into Hero Ops behavior when you should be leading by creating solutions and processes that made Hero Ops less necessary.

"you’re a member of a team not the boss of the team."

Surely the boss is still a member of the team, otherwise he is chilling, collecting pay checks for nothing.

I don't like the ring fenced sub-team mentality that this comment allows.

Bosses that are not a member of the team, are not proper bosses.

Maybe "figureheads".

You can lead by example without crowding others out. Set the example, then make room for others to execute on that. This is often the role of a coach.

In other aspects a tech lead must lead by example. If the tech lead reviews pull requests in a sloppy way then the juniors will surely do so too. It does not mean that the tech lead should review all pull requests, of course.

They seen his example, concluded that "this is ineffective" and did not emulated.

The first rule of leadership is to never post articles on medium.com

Such a dark-patterned mess.

Leadership by example is only one tool in the leadership toolbox, and if it's all you know you have, everything looks like a nail. But there's also times where it can be useful. In engineering orgs where senior engineers are treated as non-managerial technical leads, role power may not be available for holding people accountable to expectations. A brief set of scenarios for tech leads:

- asking questions in public spaces. Many people avoid asking questions for fear of looking 'dumb' for not knowing the answer already, and when they do they ask questions of the narrowest set of people possible via email or DM. Having senior people modeling the behavior with genuine humility goes some way towards eliminating junior team member's fear of asking the questions to get the information they need to actually do their job.

- actually documenting your Pull Requests. Plenty of senior technical folk pull this thing where they submit PRs with no description, either because they feel the code is obvious, because documentation is a waste of time, or because they discussed it with an office colleague who they expect to merge without comment. I've nudged my team towards documenting why a PR is valuable and how it accomplishes that, both through leadership by example --crafting well explained pull requests -- and by introducing PR templates: https://help.github.com/en/articles/creating-a-pull-request-.... Which was itself introduced via a well explained PR =)

- Apologizing to coworkers and customers. Generally speaking, apologies are free, and over my career I've learned a template for them: accept fault, apologize, and commit to do better. Emphatically, do not lie about things or make up mitigating circumstances. This is a recipe for repeat failure, and subsequent loss of trust amongst coworkers and customers. If you blame a process failure on a hardware failure, there is no expectation that you will make an investment in fixing the process!

Leadership by example is a soft power, but still a power any leader should have access to, on a limited basis. Of course, nuance is unsuitable for headlines.

> jumping on every pager alert immediately, being the first one to respond to team emails, constantly fielding questions on chat.

Thoughts on this:

- It's unclear this is behavior you expect of others, versus impose upon yourself. In particular, the competitive framing of showing up on the scene first is not immediately obvious to outside observers. It's not even internally consistent, you can't logically have ten _first_ responders.

- When leadership views things as a competition, it's not clear who is 'supposed' to handle things. When I see people like James rushing to work on tasks X, Y, and Z, I imagine they like the task, and/or are ignoring equally non-urgent but important tasks A, B and C, and focus on those. For urgent tasks, leadership should serve as a backstop to an SLO, and make it clear who's job it is to meet that SLO.

- Additionally, it's not clear to me that leadership by example was bad here so much as the destination they were being led towards was bad. Knowledge work often requires uninterrupted concentration, and spinning up a dozen engineers every page is a solid way to destroy their sprint's deliverables. I generally disable Slack notifications, shunt listservs to folders (and mark a good chunk as read) and silence most iMessage threads.

"I was working 16 hour days and struggling to get the team on board, while instead just going overboard."

I think this is the key takeaway. The author was leading by a BAD example.

More time on task can lead to more productivity... but at the cost of your sanity. I think it's a common tactic in younger developers because they haven't really obtained that level of "ideal worker" they're striving for.

I think he meant to say don’t lead by setting an unrealistic example.

Attention seeking headline, made up the article to fit.

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