“A leader is best When people barely know he exists Of a good leader, who talks little, When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, They will say, ‘We did this ourselves.’”? Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
One of my most influential mentors has been my previous manager, John deVadoss.
John has an amazing way of simplifying complex ideas into memorable gems of insight.
He leads in a way that’s people before business, and business before technology.
John also sees ahead. And he has a profound gift for putting the puzzle of the future together that requires depth and breadth, that is nothing short of phenomenal.
25 Lessons Learned from John deVadoss
Here are some highlights of my lessons learned from John. To keep the lessons simple and easy to share, I’ve structured them as a set of 25 lessons.
Each lessons is a bit of insight or a way of thinking that you can apply at a micro or macro context.
Here are my 25 lessons from John:
1. Above the line or below the line.
Distinguish between what’s “above the line” and what’s “below the line.”
Below the line is just doing what’s expected.
If you get it right, nobody cares. If you get it wrong, or miss the boat, everybody gets upset.
Above the line is where people look for real value. When you’re doing your job, some things are just expected.
You need to ask, what’s above the line that really counts?
2. Demand side vs. supply side.
When it comes to delivering value, there’s a supply side and a demand side.
On the supply side, it’s what you’re “pushing” out the door.
On the demand side, it’s what people are “pulling” for.
To be relevant, know the demand side. If you can tap into demand, you can streamline your supply to be relevant and valuable in the eye of the beholder.
To know the demand side requires customer empathy. It also means knowing where the growth is.
3. Change the business or run the business.
Some people are change agents at heart. They have an eye to the future and they like to change and evolve the business.
Others are more focused on running the business. This means they focus on improving the systems and processes to improve execution and results around the current business.
They are complimentary.
One isn’t better than the other, but sometimes the business needs more influence from one than the other.
Another way of viewing this is a metaphor: CEO (Chief Executive Officer) vs. COO (Chief Operating Officer.)
4. Surprise and pop.
The key to an evocative or sticky idea is to have an element of surprise and “pop” right from the start.
If you just have an intellectually sound idea, it might be missing the emotional element that can take it to the next level.
Surprise and pop are a way to give an idea legs right from the start.
5. Everybody has flaws.
There are no great people. There are people that do great things. Heroes fall. It’s the “feet of clay” scenario.
People aren’t heroes, they do heroic things.
The point is, don’t miss the good because of the bad, and don’t get caught up in putting people on pedestals.
6. The customer, the problem, the competition, and success.
This is a line of questioning for evaluating a project proposal or when figuring out business strategy or what to do.
To get clarity and focus, you can ask the questions, “what is the customer problem they are trying to solve?” … “who is the competition?” … “what is success?”
They are questions that cut right to the chase.
7. If you’re explaining, you’re losing.
If you have to explain it, you’re losing. Idea or arguments should resonate. They should make sense to the audience, simply, without the need for exhaustive elaboration.
If you find yourself explaining, you’re probably losing, and it’s worth either changing your position, or finding a simpler way to make your point.
8. Slippery Slope.
This is a metaphor where a small first step can lead to a chain of events that amplify a negative impact.
For example, if you fall over the edge of a slope, you can slide all the way to the bottom, gaining momentum and force along the way.
You basically slide out of control. The idea here is to watch out for ideas or solutions or decisions that might seem like little impact up front, but that can lead to a downward spiral out of control.
9. The “How” Trap.
Don’t get stuck in the “How” trap, arguing over how something should get done. Get the “what” right, first.
Stay focused on the goals, and stay flexible in your approach.
Give smart people the room to creatively solve challenges, rather than dictate their approach. Agree to the goals and get out of the way.
10. Periodically surprise people.
To avoid being taken for granted, periodically surprise people.
11. Simple is always better.
The simplest explanation is the best. When you have an option between simple and complex, always go for the simpler one.
It’s the one that will succeed in the long run.
12. 3 year Bets / Business Strategy / Roadmap.
When thinking about the business, make a map. Use a time frame of 3 years to paint a future. Where do you want to be? What will the customer look like? What will demand be? What will the competition be doing? How will you scale the business?
Use the 3 year time box to help shape the strategy and to paint a roadmap.
Keep in mind, it’s a straw man that you can evolve, but it helps build a shared picture.
13. You put yourself in your own box.
It’s easy to box ourselves in, either by our thinking or our actions. Own the box you put yourself in.
Don’t limit yourself.
Don’t let others box you in. Expand the box.
14. Fundamentally flawed.
Some ideas never make sense right from the start. They’re based on an idea or concept that just won’t hold up.
Find the fundamental flaws so you don’t waste time going down a path that will never work.
Don’t fool yourself or ignore the fundamental flaws. Find them fast, acknowledge them, and move on.
15. The space between the products.
This is often a sweet spot when it comes to adding value for customers.
If you think in terms of a Venn diagram, you can imagine the map of customer demand and you can imagine the map of product or service supply.
The intersection is what’s addressed.
All the open gap where customer demand is unfulfilled becomes opportunity. You can then evaluate the value of the opportunity. The space between the products is the domain of opportunity.
16. Watch out for science projects.
When a project is purely academic and has no business case, you can think of it as a science project.
While science projects have value, in the context of business, you need to know the value – both to the business and for the customers.
It’s tough to justify science projects in the context of a business.
17. Metrics, people, and process.
A simple frame for thinking about the business is metrics, people, and process. Take care of the people so you can run the business.
Set the metrics so people buy in and achieve business results.
Improve the processes to support the people and achieve the right results, based on the metrics.
18. Bridging process and people.
Processes should support people, not the other way around. Bridge the gap between people and process so that people don’t have to work around processes to get things done.
Get rid of processes that don’t work or get in the way. Provide enough process to go from chaotic results to more predictable impact.
19. It’s leadership failure.
When things fail at a grand scale, it’s leadership failure. To make progress as a person or a company, stand for something. Lead the change you want to see.
20. It’s about the people.
The heart of the business is the people. Focus on the people. If you take care of the people, they can take care of the business.
Don’t let a focus on the business, turn a blind eye to the people that make it happen.
21. Get clarity on the impact you want to make.
When you’re thinking through your career aspirations, get clarity on what you want to accomplish.
Is it level versus title versus responsibility versus actual customer/business impact versus perceived impact? … What is the end goal?
Is it the level or the title or the responsibility? Is it the actual customer/business impact or perceived impact?
22. Live your values.
Life’s short. Live your values. Live your values at work.
If the values don’t mesh, it’s not the right place for you.
23. People-centric vs. System-centric.
When you drive a team or organization, you can be people-centric or system-centric.
A people-centric leader focuses on the people and makes the most of the people at hand.
A system-centric leader drives through policy, processes, and procedures, focused more on the system, than the people at hand.
The ideal is a hybrid, blending the best of people-centric and system-centric to enable and support the people for the best impact, in a sustainable way (supported by enough process.)
24. It’s about business strategy.
Technology has to support the business and it can’t be for technology’s sake.
Whether it’s Enterprise Architecture or product XYZ, it’s about the business strategy.
The business is the heart and soul that exists in the long run, and technology is an enabler, not the end, and not the dominant, driving force.
25. Connection and conviction.
This is a helpful model to think about balancing connection with people, with a conviction to business results or some idea.
The sweet spot is in the middle where you stay connected with people, while having conviction and courage to bring an idea or change to fruition.
Have you surprised anyone lately?