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Servant leadership is a term that gets used a lot, but what does it mean in the software development world? Here to tell us is Aaron Longwell. Today Aaron is a consultant who recently wrote a blog post on why software development requires servant leadership. The article was so popular it made it to the top of Hacker News.
I have come across so many CTOs who have lost their executive decision-making power in the C-Suite. Or even worse, they never had it to begin with. This often happens as a result of CEOs not fully understanding the role of the CTO, but it could also happen because of repeated failures to deliver on promises made. Eventually, this leads to a lack of trust, diminished responsibilities, and overall job dissatisfaction.
If you find yourself in this situation, there is great news! You stand before a perfect opportunity to break through the stereotypes often associated with the role of CTO. The framework I’ll discuss with you not only helps with how you see yourself but also educates your C-Suite on the role of the CTO in your organization.
Having served as CTO for multiple organizations, I have fallen into the trap of taking a back seat when things didn’t go my way in the executive sync-ups and I can honestly say that the following framework had a radical impact on my results as CTO.
Those who know me know that I am a huge fan of Oren Klaff’s “Pitch Anything”. In the book, he talks about frame control. Frame control is giving someone else the lens to see what you see. The first step in the CTO Authority Ramp is to take control of the frame. If you don’t control the perspective, you’ll end up debating, contending and even arguing against a point of view that will leave you unfulfilled and feel unheard. Here are a few ways to take back control of the frame:
- Don’t react. If you’re starting sentences with “Yes, but..”, “It depends…”, you’re in reaction mode.
- Don’t commit. If you’re committing to anything as a reaction, you’re in trouble.
- Don’t agree. There’s nothing wrong with disagreeing even if you can’t articulate the exact reason why in the moment.
Instead, inform the alpha dog that you will carefully consider their comments and get back to them.
There is a reason “retrospectives” have their place at the end of a sprint in the agile software development processes. It is because they are not productive before, or during the sprint. In the same way, it is almost never a good idea to focus on the past, or on “what got us here” in your executive sync-ups. If you find yourself explaining and re-explaining how we got into a situation, you’re wasting your breath (and losing the frame). Keep your focus on the current reality and the steps needed to advance in order to achieve maximum results.
Always be forecasting. The absolute best way to ramp up your authority is to demonstrate that you are firmly rooted in the present, focussed on the future and pursuing attainable results. I highly recommend a 1/1/1 approach:
- 1 month. What should we focus on in the next month? This is a very important unit of measure because payroll is tied to it.
- 1 quarter. Most companies pick a strategy for the year. Breaking it down into quarters is a great way for people to understand progress against the overall strategy. It is also easier for people to tactically visualize 3 months out into the future.
- 1 year. As CTO you’re always aligning your technology with future goals. Constantly demonstrate that you have an eye for the future, securing your company’s technological viability.
Another tip for your forecasting exercise is to stay away from using many many words in a document with many many bullet points and sub-bullet points. Instead, use a presentation format with simple shapes like a circle, some squares, and many many colors.
And now for the most important step in establishing your authority in the executive suite: bet on yourself. Put your money where your mouth is. Be willing to suffer the consequences if you don’t hit your targets. If you’re blaming anything or anybody but yourself, you’re playing the victim card and perpetuating the back seat stereotype.
Are you ready?
You may say that you are too introverted to match your C-Suite using the CTO Authority Ramp, or that you do not have enough information to go build a forecast, not to mention backing it. But here is my encouragement to you, if you do this, you stand to gain a lot more leadership clout from your team. The potential for higher reward skyrockets. Don’t shy away from doing this and if you don’t have access to numbers, budgets or planning, go with your best guestimates.
Here’s how you’ll know that you’re ramping up your authority in the C-Suite: you’ll be consulted more frequently, if not incessantly in strategic decision making. You’ll be awesome. Enjoy 🙂
Please send me feedback on how this framework has helped you and as always, I would love to help you any way I can.