Friday, April 24, 2020

The LinkedIn Legal Blogging Group grew by over one hundred members from eighteen different countries in the last day.

Egypt, Poland, India, US, Canada, UK, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Japan, Romania, Belgium, Germany, Turkey, South Africa, Jamaica, Nigeria, Argentina and Columbia. Amazing.

My teammates and I at LexBlog, moderators of the Legal Blogging Group for the last twelve years, are going to work to restore the group to a valuable place for insight, ideas and networking.

In approving requests to join, I was more liberal than usual. I want to help people during the pandemic who want to join and be open to the fact that people from various walks of life and various countries can help each other during these tough times.

I looked at the member’s profile who was requesting to join the group – what they did, what their background is, how they would benefit from the group and how they might offer value to the group.

I sent a personalized note requesting to connect with each new member to whom I was not connected to. Notes, thanks and some engagement followed.

Made me realize that in this pandemic that my new connections in India or Poland were as close as someone down the street – and that my engagement with them was just as real.

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Sunday, April 26, 2020

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s morning briefings have become a staple for many, New Yorkers or not, on the state of the pandemic.

Sunday morning Governor Cuomo ended with a story that he said taught him a lot.

A story that taught him to question why we do what we do. To question the bureaucracy. To ask why we can’t do it a different way. Not everything has to be the way it is.

Cuomo was of course referencing bringing New York back from the depths of this pandemic, for which he made clear the worst days are behind.

His message struck me as equally appropriate to a couple things near and dear to my heart.

One, our attempts to provide consumers and small business people meaningful access to legal services – especially during the pandemic and the years ahead. We need to question the way things have been done and the bureaucracy that holds change back.

Despite years of debate and “action,” we have 85% of people never thinking of using a lawyer when a legal need arises.

Two, legal publishing, where the Internet has democratized everything – for the benefit of legal professionals and the public. We need to question gatekeepers controlling what gets published, the practice of charging lawyers for distribution of their work and charging for access to legal insight and commentary.

We need to question the way things have been done. To question the bureaucracy. To ask, why not do this? Why not try that?

From Governor Cuomo:

“There’s a tunnel in New York called the L train tunnel. People in New York City know it very well. It’s a tunnel that connects Manhattan and Brooklyn and 400,000 people use this train in this tunnel, 400,000 people is a larger group than many cities in this country have.

Okay, so they had to close down the tunnel because the tunnel was old and the tunnel had problems and everybody looked at it and they said, “We have to close down the tunnel.”

Four hundred thousand people couldn’t get to work without that train and they had all these complicated plans on how they were going to mitigate the transportation problem in different buses, in different cars, in different bikes, in different horses.

The whole alternative transportation discussion went on for years. Everyone said you had to close the tunnel and it was going to be closed for 15 to 18 months. Now when government says it’s going to be closed for 15 to 18 months, I hear 24 months to the rest of your life.

That’s my governmental cynicism, but that was the plan. We’re going to close it down, rebuild the tunnel, 15 months to 18 months, the MTA.

This was going to be a massive disruption. I heard a lot of complaints.

I get a few smart people, Cornell engineers, Columbia engineers. We go down into the tunnel and we look at it and the engineers say, “You know what? There’s a different way to do this.” And they talk about techniques that they use in Europe and they say, not only could we bring these techniques here and we wouldn’t have to shut down the tunnel at all, period.

We could just stop usage at nights and on weekends and we can make all of the repairs and we can do it with a partial closure for 15 months.

The opposition to this new idea was an explosion. I was a meddler, I didn’t have an engineering degree. They were outside experts. How dare you question the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy knows better.

It was a thunderstorm of opposition, but we did it anyway and we went ahead with it and we rebuilt the tunnel and the tunnel is a now done better than before. With all of these new techniques, it opens today. It opens today and the proof is in the pudding, right?

We went through this period of, I don’t believe it, this is interference. It opened today and it opens today, not in 15 months, but actually in only 12 months of a partial shutdown, so it’s ahead of schedule. It’s under budget and it was never shut down.

I relay this story because you can question and you should question why we do what we do. Why do we do it that way?

I know that’s how we’ve always done it, but why do we do it that way and why can’t we do it a different way? Why not try this? Why not try that?

People don’t like change. We think we like change, but we don’t really like change. We like control more than anything, right?

So it’s hard. It’s hard to make change. It’s hard to make change in your own life, let alone on a societal collective level.

But if you don’t change, you don’t grow. And if you don’t run the risk of change, you don’t have the benefit of advancement.

Not everything out there has to be the way it is.

So we just went through this wild period where people are walking around with masks, not because I said too, but because they understand they need to. How do we make it better? How do we make it better?

And let’s use this period to make it better. And let’s use this period to do just that. And we will, and we’ll reimagine and we’ll make it a reality because we are New York tough, and smart, and disciplined, and unified, and loving, and because we know that we can. We know that we can. We showed that we can.”

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Chopped, Creativity, and (Not) Thinking Big (with Dave Noll)

Dave Noll and his business partner are the creators of the hit TV series Chopped, as well as a number of other popular television programs. Every day they bounce ideas off of one another, combining themes and smashing old concepts together to form new possible programs.

In our conversation, Dave and I engaged in a little “idea bouncing” as well. Here are a few of the practical tips that emerged in our chat:

Keep A Queue Of Old Ideas

When you engage in a project, you probably end up with a lot of discarded ideas that didn’t quite work out. What happens to those ideas? Many people simply discard them on the trash heap and start fresh with the next project. However, it’s wise to keep a queue of these old, but not quite right ideas. Keep them in a notebook, or on index cards, or someplace where you can browse them later. Often, an idea that’s not right now is the perfect idea for a later project, but you would never have remembered it unless you had a system to help you do so.

At the completion of each project, transfer the ideas or hunches that didn’t work out to a queue, and review it regularly so that you keep those ideas top of mind.

Don’t Think Big. Think Bigger.

In the interview, Dave told the story of pitching a “dream scenario” show to Barry Diller, the iconic TV executive, only to have him toss it back in his face as being too small. Dave said he learned that no matter how big you think, there is always someone who will think bigger. You’d might as well aim as high as you can with your career and decisions, because if you don’t, one of your competitors certainly will.

Will Smith didn’t want to be a movie star, he wanted to be the biggest movie star in the world. As you think about your life and your career, where are you playing too small? Where are you settling for what you can get instead of dreaming about possibility?

Consider New Media, New Formats

Given the economic shakeup caused by the pandemic, it’s time for many of us to reconsider how we are delivering our ideas to market. Dave and his business partner, having only made TV shows in the past, have just launched their first ever podcast called Factorious. While they certainly could simply focus on making TV shows, they decided to explore a new medium that would offer a different kind of challenge as well as the ability to reach a new audience with their work.

As you think about the work you do, how could you re-package or re-position it to reach a new audience? Is there a way to add a new form of media to the mix? A different distribution channel?

I found this conversation with Dave to be both inspiring and a lot of fun. It sparked some great ideas for how to take my business to a new place. As we deal with the current health and economic crisis, this is a great time to begin dreaming again about what might be possible for you on the other side.

This episode is sponsored by Literati. For a limited time, go to Literati.com/creative and get 25% off your first two orders.

The intro music for the AC podcast is by Joshua Seurkamp. End remix is by DJ Z-Trip.

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A good onboarding experience for new hires requires two key things

My latest in Quartz…

In my time as a manger, I’ve encountered quite a few people who were badly onboarded. As a rule it takes as long a time or longer to fix it as it took to poorly onboard them. Sometimes we’re able to re-onboard people and make them successful… and sometimes it’s too late.

It’s always baffling to me when companies do all the work to hire someone and then don’t set them up to be successful. Hiring is so time consuming. Managing people who are not delivering in their role is time consuming, too, not to mention emotionally draining. Onboarding people and helping them to be effective is—by far—the easiest option.

So what does a good onboarding experience look like?

Continue reading…

Mastering New Leadership Styles

Credit: Wikimedia

“The best leaders master multiple leadership styles”, blithely comments some post on leadership. OK, including one written by me. But how? Many leaders are overly reliant on a style and this can hold them back. Generally leadership styles are a function of emotional intelligence, and working on emotional intelligence, such as working on becoming more coachable may help, but how to work on this aspect specifically?

That depends on the style you want to build out. In 2000, Daniel Goleman published research in the Harvard Business Review identifying six main styles of leadership, each originating from different aspects of emotional intelligence—Pacesetting, Authoritative, Affiliative, Coaching, Coercive and Democratic. Even though our expectations of the workplace and of our managers have changed in that time, these styles are still a useful place to start in considering what situations call for and the styles we tend to default to ourselves.

Pacesetting

Pacesetting leaders expect excellence and self-direction. A leader who sets high performance standards and exemplifies them himself has a very positive impact on employees who are self-motivated and highly competent. But other employees tend to feel overwhelmed by such a leader’s demands for excellence—and to resent his tendency to take over a situation.

When is it useful?

Pacesetting is for those times where there’s just a lot to be done. Maybe you’re digging out a backlog, or surviving an intense period. Direction should be very clear, with minimal need for collaboration or experimentation.

What do you need?

Stamina and focus. The pacesetting leader is rarely known for their work life balance. You need to be ruthless in saying no to the things that are not core to your effectiveness.

Situations to seek out?

Look for the numerically measurable problem, where everything is fixable by just Doing The Work. Just make sure it’s not indefinite, and that you have what you need to be successful.

Shift your mindset

High expectations of other people are key to the pacesetting leadership style, and what distinguishes the pacesetter from the general hard working leader. Most of the hardest working leaders know they cannot expect the same level of dedication from their teammates – their commitment and work ethic are often what has propelled them up the ladder. However to be a pacesetting leader, you need to demand excellence from your teammates, which means you need to have a clear idea of what excellence is, and be prepared to set expectations accordingly. Some people may match the style without you saying anything; others may have to be told.

I suspect one of the reasons why pacesetting has a negative affect on teams is that pacesetters over rely on working harder and miss the point where they need to work smarter instead. Make sure that you deploy this style when working harder will make the difference – and switch to another style when it won’t.

Authoritative

Authoritative leaders mobilize people towards a vision. An authoritative leader takes a “Come with me” approach: she states the overall goal but gives people the freedom to choose their own means of achieving it. This style works especially well when a business is adrift. It is less effective when the leader is working with a team of experts who are more experienced than he is.

When is it useful?

Authoritative is helpful when you have a new, or lost team, that needs a way forward.

What do you need?

Well-founded confidence in the domain and your own expertise, the ability to tell a compelling story about what the team is doing and why.

Situations to seek out?

Seek out a problem where you have a strong reputation and deep expertise. Potentially a slight adjustment or repeat of something you have done before. This might seem a little dull – who wants to do the same thing again? – but will allow you to be more definitive and work more quickly.

Shift your mindset

The differentiator of the authoritative leaders is confidence. They believe they know the way, and they will lay out the path to get there. To take on this style, you need to believe that you know how to address the situation. This doesn’t mean not listening to other people, but it does mean fitting that information into your model and pushing things forward. This style is best adopted when it comes based on a reputation earned elsewhere, ideally nearby, so you need to be able to take pride and believe in your past accomplishments, too.

Affiliative

Affiliative leaders create emotional bonds and harmony. The hallmark of the affiliative leader is a “People come first” attitude. This style is particularly useful for building team harmony or increasing morale. But its exclusive focus on praise can allow poor performance to go uncorrected. Also, affiliative leaders rarely offer advice, which often leaves employees in a quandary.

When is it useful?

This style is incredibly useful when healing a broken team, or bringing together a team exhausted (perhaps by the pacesetting style…).

What do you need?

Patience and empathy. You need to be willing to hear people out, give people space, and let some amount of chaos happen as the team evolves.

Situations to seek out?

Look for the team you believe in, that you can see has had a hard time as a result of outside forces. Maybe you take over from a bad leader, or at the end of a difficult time (e.g. a team that has been scaling).

Shift your mindset

Affiliative leaders believe that the responsibility for team health and culture lies with leadership. It means taking a deep and personal responsibility for the culture of the team, and working to create an environment where everyone can be successful. You will need to rank team goals after team health (and have the space to do so).

Coaching

Coaching leaders develop people for the future. This style focuses more on personal development than on immediate work-related tasks. It works well when employees are already aware of their weaknesses and want to improve, but not when they are resistant to changing their ways.

When is it useful?

This style is useful when there’s been a lack of personal development, for example people haven’t been getting feedback, or when stretch assignments come without support. It can unlock a huge amount of capacity in your team or organization.

What do you need?

Patience and optimism.

Situations to seek out?

Look for situations where people haven’t been set up to succeed, but who have done okay under the circumstances. For instance, people who were reporting to someone who didn’t make time for them. Pay attention to how coachable they are, and how they view team responsibilities.

Shift your mindset

Coaching leaders believe in each individual. Shifting to this style means shifting your mindset and evaluating each individual on the team not against your expectations, but against their best selves. Coaching leaders are a buffer who believe more in people who don’t believe in themselves; this creates a balance against those who tend to over-confidence (and failing upwards).

Coercive

Coercive leaders demand immediate compliance. This “Do what I say” approach can be very effective in a turnaround situation, a natural disaster, or when working with problem employees. But in most situations, coercive leadership inhibits the organization’s flexibility and dampens employees’ motivation.

When is it useful?

As much as we don’t like to admit it, at times, as leaders, our job is to tell people what to do. People who embrace this style do it too much, but we all need to be willing to use it at times.

What do you need?

Conviction.

Situations to seek out?

Moments where you know you are right and someone else is wrong, and it’s your job to tell them so.

Shift your mindset

Dig into that righteous anger and channel it, even if you don’t express it fully. Personally, I am never more icily British than when I am consumed with rage; the last time I deployed this style the conversation started, “A note on etiquette…”

Democratic

Democratic leaders build consensus through participation. This style’s impact on organizational climate is not as high as you might imagine. By giving workers a voice in decisions, democratic leaders build organizational flexibility and responsibility and help generate fresh ideas. But sometimes the price is endless meetings and confused employees who feel leaderless.

When is it useful?

There’s a reason why most new leaders start with around 90 days of listening; this style is incredibly useful for a new leader building credibility in a new organization, as it ensures that everyone feels heard and maximizes buy in. This style can be useful even when you are confident you have a good idea of what’s going on, as you can diffuse resentment by showing you are listening and making people feel heard.

What do you need?

Patience. The leeway to invest time up front in exchange for increased buy in later.

Situations to seek out?

Seek out situations where you know what you don’t know, and where building the knowledge to be effective is part of your remit so you’ll be given the time to do so.

Shift your mindset

The mindset of the democratic leader is we will make better decisions together. They would sooner have the “best” 100% result of the collective than the 80% the individual might create alone. They are willing to prioritize that buy in, consistently, even when there are pressures that might make a more expedient solution more appealing.

Where to Begin?

It helps to start with the end in mind. The goal is some level of comfort with all of these styles, even if you tend to use some of them very sparingly.

The easiest way may be to build around, starting with what you’re comfortable with. If you default to affiliative (as many new managers do), start adding the democratic style and making sure that decisions are made. Work on getting better at coaching people. These three styles are incredibly compatible with each other, and mastering them alone will take you a long way. Eventually, though, you will need to branch out.

If you need to make a more extreme change, either because you are reaching the limits of your effectiveness or in response to feedback, it may be harder.

If you fall on the “softer” side – affiliative, democratic, coaching – seek out or embrace a situation where combining the authoritative and pacesetting styles is warranted. It should be relatively timeboxed, so know that once you’re out the other side your other leadership strengths will allow you to deepen and continue your impact. Make sure that you have (well-founded) confidence, and the support you need to be effective, like a coach and supportive friends to get real with, because you’ll need to continually project that confidence to the team, even if you don’t always feel it yourself.

If you fall on the “harder” side – coercive, pacesetting – try embracing the democratic or coaching styles more actively (they are less emotional than the affiliative style). Find some people whose potential you believe in and work on developing them, seek out situations where you have influence rather than authority and lean into it, for example working across the org. You’ll have to take a deep breath and accept that progress won’t happen on the timeframe you think it should, but then… did it ever, anyway?

2019 in Photos

In 2019, continuing on from 2017 and 2018, I continued to post a photo every day mirrored between photo.cate.blog and instagram (364 in total apparently, I must have missed one day).

This year I experimented with more abstract things, text and positioning, and made heavy use of some new film style filters. I also posted a lot of photos of my house, and particularly the fresh flowers that I’ve been getting more and more creative with.

Some days posting a picture feels like a chore, but mostly it is a nice way to share some snippet of my world. The tagline of my photo blog is 1000 words a day, and when writing has felt impossible, it’s nice to keep up some form of expression consistently. The entire project – three years of daily photographs – feels now like a particular, heavily curated, time-agnostic, angle on my life. Personal, and yet abstract, because I never post pictures of myself. It is purely about how I see the world, and never about how I am seen.

As a rule, I give myself space at the end of each year to contemplate killing every project. However Jan 1, I carefully arranged this photo without thinking about the possibility not to. Perhaps after three years it’s no longer a project, but rather a habit – and one to continue in 2020.

2019 in Writing

Credit: Pxfuel

I sent 44 WTHIC letters from 14 countries on four continents, and had ten articles in Quartz. I was also interviewed in the BBC.

This blog was seen by a smidgen over 40K visitors for just under 60K views, and I published 22 posts (many of which just linked out to the proper post elsewhere). This is down from last year’s 45K visitors, just under 73K views and 42 posts published. 2019 was not a great year for writing for me, I mainly focused on writing for Qz, and had multiple multi-month periods of crushing writer’s block.

Most Popular Posts 2019

  1. The Cost of Fixing Things. I wrote about burnout, again.
  2. Addressing Hiring Gaps Through User Research. A post talking about a research project we were running to understand how technical women navigate their careers, the writeup was shared on the Automattic developer blog.
  3. Mastering New Leadership Styles. I am fascinated by the different leadership styles, the need to switch between them, and people’s flexibility or lack thereof. An attempt to distill the ~15 page original article in a more actionable way.
  4. Phase 1 of Hiring: Getting from 0-30. I shared how we overhauled the mobile hiring process at Automattic, and some of the data that showed the progress we’d made in terms of diversifying the team.
  5. Where do you start when a team is broken? Links out to this post in Qz.

Most Popular Posts Pre-2018

* indicates that this was also on the pre-2018 list last year.

  1. Testing Intents on Android: Like Stabbing Yourself in the Eye with a Blunt Implement*. Intent testing was not particularly straight-forward, or well documented, and I shared what I found in a weekend of fighting with it. I think this is one of my best technical posts, and it’s nice to see it still getting the attention it deserves! I want to believe this is because more people are writing tests now.
  2. Testing Code that Depends on Remote APIs*. A technical post from 2010 outlining the difficulties of testing code depending on external services and how to work around them.
  3. Creating Test Images and Comparing UI Images*. Technical work from Show & Hide on iOS (2015) In which I nerd out about UIImages, creating test images, and comparing them pixel by pixel.
  4. Creating and Comparing Images on Android*. More technical work from Show & Hide (2015) – I replicated my work on iOS to create test images, and compare images against each other in tests.
  5. iOS: Getting a Thumbnail for a Video*. Another technical post from 2015!
  6. Extracting the Dominant Color from an Image in Processing*. An early technical post (2013!) in what went on to become Show & Hide. It’s about determining the dominant color in an image.
  7. The Day I Leave the Tech Industry*. From 2014, and still going. I wrote about feeling like my time in tech was running out – it resonated with a lot of women, and continues to.
  8. Honey, I Left the Tech Industry*. Some reflections a year after I left The Conglomerate – what I expected and what I found.
  9. The Disillusionment of the Early Career Engineer*. From 2013, some thoughts on common themes I heard in talking to early career engineers.
  10. Rest Day – Buffer Day – Focus Day. A post from 2015 about having different kinds of days and themes to make progress. A nice reminder! I should try this again.

Book: Living by the Code

I’m in this book Living By the Code, talking about engineering management. Ray helpfully pulled out some of his highlights from my interview:

1) Keeping a team productive
I loved the section where you talked about orienting the entire team toward continuously delivering use value. It sounds so simple when you say it, but it’s so easy to lose sight of this in the day-to-day!

2) On building trust
The section where you talked about being a decent person and showing up to build trust also resonated with me. God knows how many mistakes I’ve made over the years, but I think generally trying to treat people right is what gets me through it. :] It also reminded me of something I read recently in Dare to Lead by Brene Brown, about how building trust is like filling a jar with marbles, one marble at a time.

3) Weekly notes
I also really like how you write up weekly notes so your team is aware of what you’re focusing on, and using that as an opportunity to reflect and plan for most impact. I want to try this myself sometime.

I have a couple of books for friends and family, but Ray also kindly gave some extras for people from under-indexed groups. If you fall under either of these categories, I’d love to send you a copy! Either DM me on Twitter or email me and I’ll send you a copy.

The “Care” in “Self Care”

Sad, Longing, Love, Danbo, Danboard, Figure, Cute
Credit: Pixabay / Alexas_Fotos

On my weekly todo list, there is an item “do something nice for a friend”. Last week, I assembled a care package. I asked myself, “what does a useless man need but won’t buy for himself?” – the answer, incidentally, was an exceptionally fluffy blanket, some really nice chocolate, vitamins, and assorted skincare.

As I impatiently waited for it to be delivered, I thought about care, how easy it is for me to do things like that, and the journey I’ve been on to have that care for myself. That perhaps the clearest outcome of the year I spent in therapy (I finished at the start of December, a move that felt both completely right and completely time and absolutely terrifying), is the shift in my attitude and approach and how I relate to the idea of “self care”.

Self care as I’ve keeled over and am doing nothing.
Self care as suffering.
Self care as preparing for a future Cate.
Self care as care for present Cate.

“The harder, duller work of self-care is about the everyday, impossible effort of getting up and getting through your life in a world that would prefer you cowed and compliant. A world whose abusive logic wants you to see no structural problems, but only problems with yourself, or with those more marginalized and vulnerable than you are. Real love, the kind that soothes and lasts, is not a feeling, but a verb, an action. It’s about what you do for another person over the course of days and weeks and years, the work put in to care and cathexis. That’s the kind of love we’re terribly bad at giving ourselves, especially on the left.”

Laurie Penny, Life-Hacks of the Poor and Aimless

I am fascinated by love languages, the ways in which we show up for each other. But the point is, for the people we love… we show up. The love languages help us understand what showing up is, that sometimes, even if someone shows up not in the way that we want, they’re still showing up; they’re still there. Love languages tell us how to translate “I love you” from the love languages we don’t speak natively, and perhaps still more importantly, “love me?”

The different iterations of self care are manifestations of how my view of myself shifted and changed. As a defective utility that periodically stopped working, as a utility, as a utility with long term value, as a human being of inherent value, whose needs are important too. The move from keeping everything in runtime memory, to a Trello board named “life failures”, and eventually renaming it to “life admin”.

“How can you practice self-care if you don’t believe you are worth caring for?”

Sarah Baba in Shayla Love’s, The Dark Truths Behind Our Obsession With Self-Care

The thing about love languages and other people, though, is for the most part we can use the languages we feel comfortable with. It’s easy for me to assemble a thoughtful gift, get on a plane, plan an adventure, or listen to someone pour their heart out and love them as much as I did before. There is no-one on this earth I love enough to file a tax return for, but both the UK and Irish governments now insist I find a way to do that for Cate.

My weekly Trello list is, in fact, a list of all the love languages that I have identified I need to show to myself. After I wrote the item “do something nice for a friend” – because being a good friend and having good friends is important to me. I completed the pair with the item, “do something nice for myself”. A secondary thought, but still, a thought. Last week I checked the box for the piece of jewellery I bought at a museum, and this week I will check it because I actually took a sick day when I was sick (a low bar maybe, but at least it exists now).

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Audre Lorde

The more I delve into the idea of self care as care, the more profoundly this quote resonates. It is radical to care about yourself in a society that tells you, incessantly, all the reasons why you are not enough. This understanding started reading Burnout (a book that affected me so profoundly I have lost track of the number of women I have bought it for). Burnout is a symptom of the patriarchy, and the way through is, I get it now, to value ourselves. The operative word in “self care” is care.