A philosophy for effective leadership

On my continuous journey to being an effective leader I’ve made many mistakes and continually learn from them and the people I meet along the way. I’ve worked with amazing people as well as what Steve Jobs called ‘bozos’. In my current role at Microsoft I’ve given plenty of focus on preventing a ‘bozo explosion’ within my team, Guy Kawasaki wrote a good blog post on this https://guykawasaki.com/how_to_prevent_/ 

Keeping and only hiring the best people is key to success, make sure the people who surround you are better than you and people you can learn from. If you have one mediocre person, that person attracts other mediocre people and before you know it you have a bozo explosion, a depressingly common occurrence in large teams and organizations…This is top of my list in being an effective leader.

1st. Hire and retain amazing and talented people

While on a sabbatical in the late nineties, I read Stephen R Coveys Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He emphasizes that you manage ‘things’ and ‘lead’ people. This has resonated with me ever since and is key to my own personal leadership philosophy.

“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”

Stephen R. Covey

He has a great article posted here and I recommend reading it: https://leadershipforlife.wordpress.com/2011/08/23/hi/ this thinking is 2nd on my list in being an effective leader

2nd. Leadership is not management

This segues nicely into clarity and vision, often understated and undervalued in teams and organizations. As a leader I’ve realized first-hand how important working with my team to set the direction is. In order to succeed, clarity of this direction has been super important, not just for the team to understand but for the wider org and senior leaders also.

Don’t underestimate the waste and damage that comes from not having a clear vision and direction for your team, I’ve experienced this first hand. Don’t have direction and vision that’s clear from your leadership? Don’t let that stop you from creating your own, just make sure it aligns with what you believe your organization is trying to achieve.

3rd. Clarity of vision and direction is essential

Lastly, have relationships with the people around you. Understand what it’s like to be them and live their lives, put yourself in their shoes. When someone lets you down (we all let others down), don’t assume it’s intentional. When someone lets me down I assume something has gone wrong and they are / have done their best to correct it. In the past I’ve assumed the worst, that people have not turned up to meetings in order to waste my time, taken credit for my work to further themselves or bad mouthed me behind my back to rally others against me for their own gain.

Nowadays I simply assume a person has come up against a road block and so I ask what I can do to help as it must have been serious for them to let me down. This defuses the situation if they were being malicious and if they weren’t I get to learn what it was and help if I can.

4th. Grow and embrace your emotional intelligence (EQ) (watch these TED talks)

I work at the above every day, not just at work but where I can at home with family and friends too. I fail often, picking myself up and moving forward. I no longer beat myself up when I fail – I pause, think about the situation and apologize if I’ve done wrong, then I move on with emphasis on acting differently next time (using the above principles).

Embracing leadership could solve many of your problems (ones you aren’t yet aware of) and you don’t need to have the authority given to you to act like a leader, just take it and people will follow.

Farewell Microsoft, it’s been a blast

As a new season in the year begins and the leaves on the trees are changing colour, so too is the Microsoft chapter in my life.

Together with video games’ most talented problem solvers and quality professionals, I have been part of building and leading a new chapter in the focus of testing games at Microsoft, one that puts customers (our players) first and recognises quality as player value, not bug count. This change also drives quality to be built in during creation and not tested in as is conventional. The journey has begun and the most difficult part (starting) was accomplished. To all the team members, studios and believers I have served alongside: I will forever be grateful and cherish our experiences together and I thank you from the very bottom of my heart.

Also, while choosing to leave Microsoft was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done (especially as Satya Nadella, Microsofts inspiring CEO is focused on all of the areas I too believe in and am passionate about – from customers first to great leadership principles) the incredible positivity that has come from my team, my friends and my family has been amazing. Many opportunities at Xbox are yet to be seized and with the recent promotion of Phil Spencer to EVP I know the quality and experience of products and services at Xbox will continue to amaze and inspire.

I look forward to sharing more soon, until then, I’ll be taking a (quick) break with my family, spending some time in a yurt with my head down on what’s next, pausing and playing in the countryside with my children and amazing wife Mandie.

Why I’m happy being an average of others

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn
This is the quote that started my journey to being an average. Before I discovered Jim Rohn I was a teenager in a single parent family, without realising it at the time I was the average of Batman, Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino, Blackadder & Fry & Laurie. I was a person who defaulted to being a loner, wanted justice for all and had a sarcastic sense of humour, an eclectic mix!
Those five influences actually did me well until I began to realise that certain family members and friends were affecting my thoughts and outlook on life more negatively. These people were victims in the world, determined to take me on their journey to misery and depression. I didn’t know what to do, I knew I was being affected though they were family and friends. I was reading the 48 Laws of Power by this time and came across Law 10: INFECTION: AVOID THE UNHAPPY AND UNLUCKY
I didn’t want to have to avoid my family and the friends who were unhappy and unlucky were not actually my close friends. So step one was to stop spending time with friends that were not my close friends, this part was easy. On the family side it was more tricky, I went back to the 7 Habits of highly effective people and started work on programming my brain to consciously not be like family members that were unhappy and miserable. I tried to help them and be there, while at the same time not get infected by their misery, I still do this today as some people refuse to change.
Recognize the fortunate so that you may choose their company and the unfortunate so that you may avoid them. Misfortune is usually the crime of folly, and among those who suffer from it there is no malady more contagious: Never open your door to the least of misfortunes, for, if you do, many others will follow in its train… Do not die of another’s misery. (Baltasar Gracian, 1601-1658)
I started to lean towards spending time with more fortunate people, I moved to a different part of the country and started working at Electronic arts where I was surrounded by passionate, talented people, some of whom I’m still close friends with today.
The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it – Marcus Aurelius
Nowadays depending on what I’m swaying towards learning and mastering, I want to be able to spend time with great writers, motivational speakers, great thinkers, food experts, health guru’s and more. My career exposes me to many great people, though not across all of these fields, so what do I do?
I spend lots of time in books and listening to podcasts. Serious time, I average 20% of my waking day spent with others virtually through books and podcasts. Doing this continually rewires my brain and I continue to be a healthier, more grateful and open minded person than I would be without this. I’m also mastering new skills, some conscious and some unconscious, it’s a wonderful thing.
I carefully pick my 5 each year, for the last 12 months the 5 people I spend regular time with are:
  1. Tim Ferriss
  2. Malcolm Gladwell
  3. Debbie Millman
  4. Stephen J Dubnar
  5. Marcus Aurelius
I’m a better writer, thinker and more positive person than I’ve ever been before. These people are incredible and outside of Marcus Aurelius who passed away many years ago, I hope one day to meet them all and thank them personally.
We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think – Buddha
If you don’t have in person access to people who could shape your thoughts and life positively, if you want to take greater control of outcomes and start a positive ripple in the world…then read more from inspirational authors, listen to great people via podcasts, reach out to real people who can change the average of your thinking. You’ll be amazed at the results, I have been and am grateful for my continuous journey.

Work/life separation, not work/life balance

Before meeting my wife and becoming a parent I worked long hours. There were times when I worked on multiple big game franchises, where I rarely got a weekend without working for months on end (either in the office or at home). I thought this was normal, as I was balancing things and didn’t realise what I was giving up in my non work life. The problem was, I hadn’t ever paused and worked out how many hours I was devoting to my work. Luckily after a few years I realised I was beginning to burn out and my non work relationships were beginning to suffer.
I decided to change jobs, so I started a new role at a different company where I also began several new practices, one of them being work/life separation over work/life balance.
Tim Ferris says “I like work/life separation, not work/life balance. What I mean by that is, if I’m on, I want to be on and maximally productive. If I’m off, I don’t want to think about work. When people strive for work/life balance, they end up blending them. That’s how you end up checking email all day Saturday”
By the time my son came along, I’d become very comfortable with complete separation of my work and personal life. Blending them together with all the balancing advice available had simply not worked for me.
Steve Biddulph says in his best selling book Raising Boys “If you routinely work a fifty-five or sixty-hour week, including travel times, you just won’t cut it as a dad.”
I want to cut it as a dad, and I had decided that if any company I work for doesn’t care about that then I’d work somewhere else.
In my current role I report to someone based in Seattle, as well as lead and support a team there. If I’d let it, this could have thrown my life into a work/life nightmare. Luckily I have a strong self managing team as well as an understanding manager. What’s key however, is how I manage myself.
To be clear, I don’t have a clock on/clock off job, yet working long hours is not the norm (it does happen). The thing is, when I’m not working, I’m not working. Before I changed jobs and companies, I hadn’t figured this out nor had I discovered how to be effective and put first things first.
One of the practices I put in place with my job change was increasing my effectiveness. This is the most critical component of being able to achieve work/life separation, (see my previous post: 5 ways great managers succeed for ideas on how to become more effective).
Along with increasing effectiveness, there are 3 things that enable my work/life separation:
  • I have two phones, one is personal and one is for work. When I’m not working my work phone is turned off. A few people I work with have my personal phone number in case they need to contact me. Nothing work related is on my personal phone (email, apps etc.)
  • I structure my day to start with my family and end with my family. Working for a company that has it’s headquarters 8 hours behind (I’m in the UK) has it’s advantages. I don’t begin my work day until 9:30am, allowing every morning to be spent with my wife and son, where we play together, eat breakfast and walk our dog. Scheduling and structuring off work time is key, and I stick to it.
  • I have different devices and products for my personal life and work life i.e. a Macbook air for personal, a Macbook Pro for business. These devices are setup differently and used differently. While at Microsoft I had a Windows device for work and my Mac device for personal.
What if you completely separated your work/life? Can you succeed at both? The answer is yes. By focusing 100% on each one separately, you’re ability to succeed is so much more. Since I made this change, my marriage, family time, friendships and career have all exceeded my expectations. I hope if you make the leap, yours do too.