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The evolution of my leadership ideas

My friend Desi wrote a Solitaire game for the Amiga 1000.

It was 15,041 lines of ANSI C… all in the main() function.

He didn’t create any other functions but had a crap-ton of GOTOs.

He’d applied many of the important concepts of C – variables, constants, conditionals, loops, comparison, arrays, pointers, and of course gotos.

But when he started learning about functions, he didn’t understand why you’d use them. He didn’t really grok functions, so he found other ways of working.

The compiler didn’t care – his code worked fine.

Eventually, he learned why functions were important as the fundamental structure of C. They didn’t replace what he’d learned, they allowed him to organize his work differently. Some might even say… better.

Desi’s 15,041 lines of C remind me of my early leadership work.

Through the early years I built up some “manager” skills – delegation, 1:1 meetings, giving feedback, planning work, hiring, working with customers, managing expectations, etc. s

But there wasn’t any structure to my work.

I couldn’t see how anything fit together. I didn’t even realize there were structural elements to leading.

Looking back, I needed a structure for the same reasons Desi did – to make sense of his work in helpful ways. To help me see new ways of working, and work through difficult problems.

My evolution


I began where we all begin – modeling and mimicking parents and managers who were over us.

Servant Leadership

Next, I found was Servant leadership, which taught me that providing support was more powerful than demanding compliance.

Leader-Member Exchange

The next framework I found was the Leader-Member Exchange Theory, which taught me that relationships matter more than authority.

System Thinking Leadership

This framework taught me that the system people work in can produce results that no one wants, even though everyone is doing their very best.

Human Systems Dynamics / Complexity Science

This framework taught me the fundamental elements that create conditions for how people work together, across all scales. It’s also taught me that in any complex adaptive system, it’s impossible to predict the outcome of a change.

Mental models, wholeness, and fragmentation

This framework has taught me that we always see reality indirectly through our mental models and that everything is connected at some scale. In this, we see that every part of the system impacts all other parts, no matter how much formal power it has.

Organic / Ecological Leadership

I’m still exploring this framework, but it’s teaching me that all organizations are living organisms, not mechanical creations. Though we talk about our departments using Industrial Design terms, that mental model does more harm than good.

Where I’m at now

Through the years I’ve had a few marketing coaches, and each gave me the same advice: create (or choose) a simple, 5-point leadership framework to teach, and never deviate from it. (Why they all have 5-points, I’ll never know!)

Except that wouldn’t be ‘true and useful.’

It might be “useful” (to sell training), but saying there’s a right way to lead wouldn’t be “true.”

All the tools I learned as a young manager mean different things now, and they each fit into frameworks a bit differently.

That’s okay, because these differences open up new doors for me, rather than restricting my movement.

And as I help clients these ideas blur together into a unique whole that I find quite satisfying.

So, I’ll continue exploring new ways of leading, changing, growing, and collaborating.

There’s no one right way – there are many paths up the mountain.

Keep climbing – the view’s good from here. 🙂

Stay curious,


P.S. What are you curious about these days?  Write me back and tell me, so I can learn too!

About Marcus Blankenship

Where other technical coaches focus on process or tools, I focus on the human aspects of your Programmer to Manager transition. I help you hire the right people, create the right culture, and setup the right process which achieves your goals. Managing your team isn't something you learned in college. In fact, my clients often tell me "I never prepared for this role, I always focused on doing the work". If you're ready to improve your leadership, process and team, find out how I can help you.

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