I lead a team of 20 software/web developers and managers. When I ask my team to do something collectively or as individuals, the answer I expect from them is “no”. It is because of this expectation that when I am delegating a task to any of my staff, I make sure that there’s a good reason behind my requests and that I am ready to offer the reasoning if asked. It’s not like my team does not do what I ask them to do, as they are all amazing people to work with and they are very cooperative and they actually do what I ask them do with no resistance. Most of the time, while it’s not necessary for me to offer any explanations since they willingly accept the task, I make the conscious effort to take the time to provide them with the explanation behind my request.
I think this mentality of expecting “no” as the default answer to my requests developed from my early professional career when I was a younger manager, challenged from time to time from the more experienced software developers set in their ways of accomplishing things as well as very smart students/new graduates who seemed to know everything in the world. Maybe this mentality is a product of my upbringing as a Filipino-American and the value of respecting everyone, especially my elders, at all times.
As I gained more credibility and experience, I found the resistance dwindling but the mentality is something that I’ve kept with me as it has provided some benefits when it comes to leading a very productive and collaborative team whose individual values and importance is not measured by job titles. While the org chart displays my position as higher than my employees, I have never felt comfortable in using my title to dictate what my staff does. I value the contributions of a student as equally as my most senior staff as I feel every single person brings something different to the team.
As a leader of my team, I realize the power of modeling as a means of influencing my team towards positive behaviors and towards a culture of respect and equal values. It is for this reason that I work hard in making sure that every single individual in my team knows I respect their opinions regardless of their titles and I expect them to offer their respect to their teammates like I do. There are occasions that arise when certain team members (managers, developers) and I disagree on what approach to take even when I have taken the time to explain my perspective on the matter. In most cases, I am coming from a business requirements perspective including deadlines and priorities while developers would be looking at the project from a technical implementation’s point of view. My approach and reasons are not always followed and so all I could do is allow them to try their approach even knowing full well that it would not be the best decision. There have been more than a couple of occasions when after a few months within into the project, after users and those involved in the project have had more experience, the approach I had suggested may or may not the proper one after all. In those cases where my approach was the proper one, I have never said “I told you so” to my team, rather, I find these situations learning experience and trust-building opportunities. I always find my self pleasantly surprised when at times, one of my team members would say something like “I found this approach better and I learned it from Joe from a previous project”.
My main reason why I don’t force my orders on my staff is because I want a relationship that is based on collaboration and mutual respect, not one based on boss/employee hierarchy where orders are top-down and based on titles. In my few years of management experience, I have found this approach to be successful.