Leadership and simple rules in tough times

Today we’ll talk about leadership. If you’re building product or team you have to obtain some leadership skills to make things work. You can be an expert in some field and could do a wonderful job in your area but you’ll never achieve the highest results by yourself. The team can do much more than an individual oneself.

Everything is ok on the uphill — when there is a clear goal, enough time and resources and everybody is happy with what they’re doing. But suddenly your team meets the downhill. It’s when you’re suddenly getting a deadline from nowhere, team lacks of resources or skills and basically everything is starting to fall apart. Then you have to become a leader and help your team to survive this tough time.

What you need to do as a leader when you face downhill:

Create clarity

You don’t have to explain your team what to do. You need to explain them why they’re doing it and which problems team is trying to solve. Why solving those problems is important and which value it will bring to the users, stakeholders, team itself.

Examples of questions which will help to create clarity:

  • What is our main goal and why? (keep asking again and again until you’ll get to the core, use 5 whys)
  • What is the biggest challenge you are facing right now? Why we’re facing it? Why we can’t solve it?
  • Where we can go on a compromise? What is most important for us: quality, budget or time?

Set simple rules

Ok, we have a clear goal and maybe we have lots of propositions for solutions from the team. But still we have some constraints or obstacles (it’s a downhill). Simple rules will help you to solve complex problems. Read this HBR guide on setting simple rules.

Examples of simple rules:

  • Our main goal is X, whatever we do — it should move us further to X.
  • We fight procrastination (put here any of the previous mistakes or reasons of problems you defined using previous questions).
  • We care mostly about Quality (time, budget — choose based on the previous questions).

Provide discipline and ownership

You’ve set the goal and rules, now it’s time for execution. Success of your team depends on how disciplined you are. As a leader of the team you’re responsible for making sure they follow those rules and if rules still make sense. Listen to Jocko Wilnik on Tim Feriss new podcast, he’ll tell you about discipline, execution, problem solving and ownership.

Quick advices on discipline:

  • Create common understanding of terms, procedures and measures team is using.
  • Lead by example — make sure you follow the rules you established.
  • Build responsibility and ownership. Define the roles, make sure everybody knows who is responsible for what. Remember that you’re responsible for the whole team.

That’s all you need to lead your team through tough times.