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A New Leadership Model with Jason Wong

Episode 26

​In this episode of Programming Leadership, Marcus and his guest Jason Wong discuss how one size does not fit all in leadership. They dive into how the traditional leadership model isn’t working well and how it could be changed to become more effective. The two also enlighten listeners on a new followership model, and why followership can be just as important as leadership.



Show Notes

  • The traditional leadership model isn’t working well
  • Great Man Leadership
  • New model should be less confrontational and more collaborative
  • Corporations aren’t just money and investors, we need to incorporate values
  • The Chef Incident
  • We all seek leadership thus everyone is always following someone
  • Chaleff Model of Followership
  • Being a leader or a follower isn’t a choice, sometimes you could be good at both
  • Leadership model in which you pass the baton and take turns in the leadership role
  • Soldier vs. Scout mentality



Announcer:  Welcome to the Programming Leadership podcast, where we help great coders become skilled leaders and build happy, high performing software teams.

Marcus:  Welcome to this episode of Programming Leadership. I am so excited to have Jason Wong with me today. Jason is just the most amazing person and frankly, we’ve just had like 10 minutes of conversation that I’m so excited about sharing with you. So we’re going to dive right back in there. Jason, welcome to the show.

Jason:  Thanks for having me. Super, super excited to be here.

Marcus:  Jason, we were in the midst of a conversation and I want to just rewind. So, let’s talk about this idea of are our models of leadership working in tech now and maybe what other options, what other…how do we need to think about the models we have? What’s working in your mind? Or what’s not?

Jason:  Yeah. I feel like a lot of it is not working, right? I feel like you know I think when I come into organizations or even actually if we just think about who our models are like the Steve Jobs, the Steve Ballmer’s, the Jeff Bezos. And like what are those folks known for, right? And what do people sort of try to emulate? and I think there’s like a lot of the behaviors are just deeply counterproductive, right? It is, like Steve Ballmer throwing chairs across a room, right. it is Steve Jobs, if you ride the elevator with him like you might get fired….

Marcus:  Right.

Jason:  It is you know Elon Musk I think with his you know 100-hour workweek is like your, is optimal. and my perspective is you know maybe these folks were successful in spite of their deficiencies rather than because of them. and so what does leadership look like that is you know more inclusive, more collaborative, less confrontational?

Marcus:  I did notice that you mentioned, all the role models you mentioned were men.

Jason:  Yeah.

Marcus:  White men actually, to be honest.

Jason:  Yeah.

Marcus:  I’ve noticed it, I’ve heard of this idea called the great man leadership sometimes. This idea that, and maybe I’m adding too much to it but the idea that some people are just born leaders. And that those of us, if you’re like me who isn’t, the best we can do is to try and like you said, emulate them.

Jason:  Right. And you know I would say that is the narrative and I would love to change it. I would love to find a way to sort of take the masculinity out of leadership and turn it into a less confrontational leadership model, into a more collaborative leadership model.

Marcus:  Do you see, do you see companies that are actively striving or doing a good job in this way?

Jason:  Oh that’s a good question. None actually come to mind right now. I think a lot of it is because management and leadership is a highly under invested in skill and practice in companies.

Marcus:  It might also be because, like I was just thinking about the question I asked and I really asked it from our perspective, you and I. Two guys on the internet.

Jason:  Right.

Marcus:  We may not see behind the curtain at most companies.

Jason:  True. I feel like in some of the work I’m doing these days I do get to see behind many of those curtains….

Marcus:  Hmm.

Jason:  And it’s, there is, I mean, I don’t want to be just hating on folks. There are reasons for this. Like the systems that are in place make it really difficult to focus on good leadership and management when the desired outcomes are 10X growth and all these sort of I guess important, urgent things that take over your day to day versus like some of the important, not urgent things that you know in the long run pay off.

Marcus:  Yeah I like that, I like that you kind of frame it as a system and the idea that it seeks that goal, whatever the goal is, it’s like 10X growth, right.

Jason:  Right.

Marcus:  It’s going to strive for that goal probably at the expense of a lot of the other things that we’re talking about.

Jason:  Right.

Marcus:  What… I don’t know, what goals, maybe are there some different goals our management and leadership system should strive for?

Jason:  So, I’m still collecting data is what I’ve seen from successful companies is that successful companies often succeed in spite of themselves rather than because of themselves. That is, you hit that business model, you hit that product-market fit and the company just takes off. And it doesn’t matter, it kind of in some ways you know in that stage it doesn’t matter how good you are or how bad you are at managing. The company ends up succeeding, they’re making money, right? And so then this becomes a question of, well we’re on this trajectory like we need to do some soul searching of how do we want to behave at this moment, right? How do we want to hold ourselves at this moment? And what are our values and focuses? So there’s that bit of it. I think there’s also a coming trend of moving away from this idea of corporations pretending shareholder value as the sole definition of a company.  Especially in this moment where you know the Chef incident just happened where they got a lot of push back for who their clients are and who they’re taking money from. So there’s a lot, there’s beginning to be a stronger call for how do we incorporate our values into our corporations rather than just thinking of them as money, investors, money-making machines.

Marcus:  In case listeners don’t know about the Chef incident, can you talk a little bit about that?

Jason:  Yeah. So, Chef recently signed a new contract with the Department of Homeland Security and ICE. And Chef’s software depends on some open source pieces.  One of the owners of the open-source project, for a vital piece of the Chef open-source stack wasn’t agreeable with his software being used in the way that DHS and ICE intended to use it. And so he pulled his software off the public repo which caused Chef to go down.

Marcus:  Wow.

Jason:  Yeah. Yeah.

Marcus:  Yeah.

Jason:  They did this as a form of protest. And then what you saw was sort of an interesting tack of crisis management. One, there’s the technical side of how do we get our business back up and running but B, this larger question of you know how do we view taking money from an organization that may or may not be values aligned with its employees.

Marcus:  Very, I think I saw on Twitter, there was some talk, mostly hate, but some talk, the CEO I think came out and made some statement and then other people didn’t like that. I suppose it’s a very difficult situation to be in. Had the entire Chef stack been closed source, proprietary it would have probably been a different kind of conversation but now they really are dependent on the open-source community or at least they have been. I don’t know if that’s going to change.

Jason:  Right.

Marcus:  And those people, they get a vote too, it sounds like.

Jason:  Yeah. For sure. So you see that stuff going on. And you see, so the Google walkout, things going on. and you’re starting to see just a lot more of, like wait, how do we hold each other, like how do we hold each other accountable to not just making money but also working towards social good.

Marcus:  It’s funny, it seems like, and I haven’t thought this through very much, so I’m just thinking of it now, I suppose the one good thing about “just making money” is at least everybody wants money generally. I mean,

Jason:  Yeah.

Marcus:  Most people say more money is better. it’s when we have some money and then we say, what else should we be doing? What should, kind of like you mentioned, the poorly managed startup that that hits their product market fit and takes off. At that point they start to say, “Oh, what should we do in this moment?” A very important conversation that wasn’t happening in the prior months before they took off because they were all about just finding the fit.

Jason:  Right, right.

Marcus:  It seems to me that the difficulty comes, I don’t know if I’m right or wrong here but unless we have very clear shared values, it will be very hard to know what else should be the goal of our business.

Jason:  Yeah, I think that’s true. I think about some of the more like treasured experiences I’ve had as an engineer, right? And what I tell folks is, you know I’ve been in this industry for 20 years, I’ve been a part of global roll outs, I’ve been a part of $100 million product launch, I’ve been a part of 10X-ing a company and going public. And I don’t remember any of the lines of code that I’ve written. But I do remember the people who I’ve spent the time with and the connections that I’ve made and how I’ve taken those connections with me throughout my life. like, the best man at my wedding was someone I worked with at my first job. The person who officiated my wedding was a manager of mine at Yahoo!. And so there’s something about how we come together as a group of humans that to me has been more special than how much money we make or the code that I’ve written or the products I’ve put out.

Marcus:  What a nice sentiment. Let’s turn on that. Let’s go towards that a little bit more, maybe with the idea of leadership models,

Jason:  Yeah.

Marcus:  How we work together and how we, the value of each contributor. How does that change kind of the traditional leadership model that many of us grew up in?

Jason:  Yeah. So, I think what is super interesting is I think we almost always see ourselves as pursuing some sort of leadership. When I was, I think I must have been you know younger than 10 years old but my mom was interviewing for a job promotion and I asked my mom like, “So what happens if you get the job?” And then she said, “I become a boss.” And I’m like, “Well, then, who do you take orders from?” She’s like, “Well, I have a boss.” “Well, who does your boss take orders from?” It’s like, “Well, the boss has a boss.” And then I kept going and going in my you know toddler self. And it’s like, “What happens when you become your boss’ boss’ boss’ boss’ boss?” And then she told me, “Jason then everyone else becomes your boss.” Which was like so true as I’ve grown up and learned, right? Everyone is following someone. and we don’t, we aren’t always cognizant of how we’re showing up as followers because we’re so focused on being leaders. and so like you know as a manager, I have a director who is my boss. As a director, you have a VP or a CTO as your boss. As a CTO you have a CEO as your boss. As a CEO you have a board of directors as your boss. And if you’re on the board of directors who is your boss? All your investors. So…

Marcus:  And then if you’re publicly traded, it’s… boy then it gets really big.

Jason:  Yeah. Exactly. And so we are always following someone. And so, the question is like, how do we understand the ways in which we’re following and be intentional about you know what kind of follower we are….

Marcus:  Ooh. I like that. Sorry.

Jason:  Yeah.

Marcus: , okay, so we talk a lot about leadership skills.

Jason:  Right.

Marcus:  Is there such a thing, you think, as followership skills and is that an area we need to invest in?

Jason:  I think so, yes. And I’ve seen this come in a couple of different flavors, right? As someone who is in a leadership position, I’ve seen folks get marginalized by you know being what we call like a pain in the ass. someone who is just like constantly bringing up problems and/or a general dissatisfaction and it’s a question of like how do we hold this sort of constant pressure that we’re getting from people who are following us. And sometimes it’s welcome and sometimes it’s not welcome and how do we decide which is which, right? And so, one of the things that has been really enlightening for me is actually followership has been studied and there’s like different models of followership. The one that I’ve been using recently is called the Chaleff model of followership which as all things in management it’s a two by two….

Marcus:  And we’ll try and put a link to this in the show notes. Yeah, keep going.

Jason:  Yeah. Where one access is the amount of support you show your leader and the other is the amount of challenge, right? And so, if you are a low support, low challenge individual, you’re just showing up and doing the things you’re being told to do right , which can be fine, there’s a place for that. If the next sort of stage is someone who is high support, low challenge. Which in that world those are like your high functioning execution engines, right? You just give them something to do and they throw their full weight behind it, their enthusiastic about it. Like this is the type of person that I think as leaders we really can fall in love with super easily. Right. We give them the worst, gnarliest, most unpleasant things to do and they’re just like, “Absolutely, no problem. Done.” That’s great to have but you also have to know they’re not going to challenge you. They’re not going to question whether or not this is actually worthwhile or this is values aligned.

Marcus:  Right.

Jason:  Or this is what we need for the long run. They’ll just do it.

Jason:  To go to the other side of people who are high challenge and low support, those are people who are individualists is what they’re called. Individualists, the way they’re described is like your typical grumpy senior engineer who is just contrarian to the Nth degree. We’ve all worked with them, we’ve all experienced what that’s like, not always pleasant and I think that what’s great about having this model is we have language that we can use to describe this type of person. And I think individualists, while the challenge is good, we have to understand what the dangers are in putting someone like that in a position of leadership, right, where we ultimately as a goal as a company, we want to move in the same direction, we need to actually help one another affect change. And if we have individualists in leadership positions, what we end up with is just a very unfocused, sort of difficult to navigate team.

Marcus:  Yeah, I feel like I’ve worked in organizations where the heads of divisions

Jason:  Yeah.

Marcus:  That are very siloed are those kind of people.

Jason:  Yeah, absolutely. And then you get into, well we’ll talk about that later. But the fourth model is a partner model. And the partner model is someone who provides high support but also high challenge, right. And this is sort of the disagree and commit is kind of the shorthand for this type of person. Someone who will challenge you and ask you, “Is this the right thing to do?” And , but at the end, once decisions have been made, they’re on board in helping you affect that change.

Marcus:  Really interesting. I’m thinking about my own style of followership.

Jason:  Yeah.

Marcus:  I’m not sure where I fall. I’ll have to do some thinking but as always, whenever we think deeply about something we start to see what it’s composed of. And you’ve nicely given us a model for thinking about some of the items that compose followership. It also hearkens back to a story I heard when my dad, when I was very young. My dad said, “You can either be a leader or a follower.” And in that moment I was given a binary choice, as though it were two ends of a spectrum, a single spectrum. Or like a true or false, leader, follower. Like, which flag are you going to check on your personality. but I’m wondering if great leaders can also be great followers and if great followers should be great leaders and if they’re not actually two spectrums, kind of like Herzberg talks about motivation

Jason:  Yeah. Mmhmm.

Marcus:  And demotivation being two different things rather than along one spectrum.

Jason:  Yeah, totally. I think those two things can be true at the same time. You can be a leader and a follower, right? And I think leadership is, for social reasons and you know how how we are rewarded, the dominant mode and mindset that we’re in. the interesting thing about followership is I think you’re not just one thing all the time, right? And depending on the context, it switches.

Marcus:  Right.

Jason:  And so like when I’m at home, my wife knows all about, she’s in film and TV, she knows all about construction and building things. And so in that context, when she’s telling me to do something, I’m just the doer or the executor. Like I am not, my job is not to challenge, I am out of my depth here. My job is to rely on her expertise and get the job done, right. when I show up at work, it’s a bit different story.

Marcus:  Yeah and there’s expectations I bet in both contexts.

Jason:  Yeah.

Marcus:  Expectations of you, expectations you have of others. Have you ever seen leadership get sort of passed around like a baton? Like groups where sometimes you’ll lead and then sometimes I’ll lead and we take turns?

Jason:  Yes, absolutely. I love those models. they’re great in terms of learning, they’re great in terms of building a shared context, they’re great in terms of building new experiences. I think you know an overloaded term is like sort of this tech lead position, which is not really well defined across companies but in the way that I’ve used a tech lead it is basically the person who does the tie-breaking, right.

Marcus:  I like that.

Jason:  Like if ever there’s [inaudible] you can give that baton to someone on a per project basis. And sometimes it is you give this person that baton because they, this is a super important project and you trust their judgment and sometimes you give them the baton because this is a great learning opportunity for this person and the project is appropriately sized for them to acquire a new set of skills and get comfortable with the role.

Marcus:  Yeah I’m thinking about, I think, oh this is hard to admit, I think when I got promoted to be a team lead,

Jason:  Yeah.

Marcus:  That was the role in the software engineering group, I was a team lead. And I had to still code a lot and then I was supposed to manage a lot. I got handed the baton and I gripped it very tightly. I thought, “This was really hard to get and if I give it away, I may not get it back.” So the first year I spent sort of hoarding the baton. I wonder if that’s common.

Jason:  I’m sure it is. I was listening to your most recent episode about sort of your induction into the management discipline.

Marcus:  Oh yeah.

Jason:  And I was thinking-

Marcus:  And using your first team words, which I’ve really appreciated.

Jason:  Yeah, oh thank you. and I was just thinking, “Wow, like what a gift of like having a one year program and a cohort to go through this experience with.” I think it is uncommon in the industry and it’s something I think we should try and make more common.

Marcus:  I’ve been thinking the same thing. In fact I guess it was about six months ago I kind of got this idea of trying to bring it back. And I, I have a little mailing list and I asked them, and like in a day 100 people clicked a link that said, “Yeah I’m interested in talking about this.”

Jason:  Yeah.

Marcus:  And I was like, “Wow. One email got 100 people around the company who are interested in not in saying I want to be trained as much as saying I want my organization to have this.” and I think all that means is it’s maybe the time is right

Jason:  Yeah.

Marcus:  To start talking about some sort, like let’s bring this back.

Jason:  So getting back to like the leadership models, I think what’s, something that’s interesting is again, what we understand to be leadership is like having all the answers and making all the decisions and being the sole individual like on the hook for those things. And as folks step into these leadership and management positions for the first time, there’s a high degree of uncertainty. And in those moments, like I remember problems were coming at me so quickly, like I was making decisions with like the barest essence of my soul. Like,

Marcus:  Yeah.

Jason:  And I knew that A, there are probably a ton of biases that I wasn’t fully aware of, going into this decisions being made and B, like this feels terrible. And how do I get out of this hole? and it turns out this is like a common experience for all of us. And so…

Marcus:  It is.

Jason:  If we, instead, like instead of internalizing all of that, find a way to externalize that with a cohort and a group of folks, like your first team, you find that A, it’s a lot more sustainable but B, you also get a lot better outcomes in the long run.

Marcus:  Yeah. I remember that feeling. In fact, I remember my boss at some point had a sign that said, like “Decisions in five minutes or they’re free.” You know kind of a funny little, and I thought, “Oh, it’s important to make decisions fast.”

Jason:  Yeah.

Marcus:  And I remember, because exactly as you say, everyday people are looking to you to make all these decisions. Your boss, your customers, your team. And every time you make a decision of course, you rob someone else of the opportunity to give input, to think about the decision. To, you don’t pass that baton.

Jason:  Right.

Marcus:  And not only is it really tiring but I think your decision, my decision quality wasn’t great and I knew it.

Jason:  Right, yeah.

Marcus:  I didn’t want to talk about it but somehow I knew it I think.

Jason:  Yeah, for sure. and you know I just tried to figure out, like why is it that we just hold onto these things and what has led to us feeling like we need to be these islands, right? Versus working together. There’s this model that I sort of happened upon that I was thinking about one day as I was working with like my peer directors. And you know we think of ourselves, like if I think of myself as a tree, right? Like you know we might think of ourselves as an Oak or maybe like a Douglas Fir or you know some wonderful tree in an orchard somewhere. But the thing about those trees is that they exist in pretty nice climates. And the environment of a fast growing startup is not that. The environment of a fast growing startup is brutal. And like this Oak tree that I may envision myself as, I’m actually probably more like those twisted, gnarled up trees in the desert like that are just wind whipped

Marcus:  Yeah.

Jason:  And bent in certain ways and I just don’t realize it. And like what does that mean for the rest of my peers? Like they’re probably also in that same bandwagon. And so how do we get our trees to grow together versus like spreading apart, right? Like how do we, how do we survive?

Marcus:  I want to take just a moment and thank my sponsor, GitPrime. GitPrime has sponsored the show not just because they’re fantastic people but because they really believe that leadership in engineering is about people. It’s about conversations. And GitPrime is a platform that allows you to have better conversations with people. Yes, it has lots of other benefits, you can probably plan better, you can see metrics about individual performance but let’s just take that one idea about individual performance. Whenever I talk with a GitPrime user and by the way, lots of my clients are GitPrime users, they always tell me how surprised they were at what was really happening on the team. See, it’s really easy for you as a manager to observe generally how people are working. You can look at PRs, you can look at who is assigned what tickets. You as the CLM, the software engineering manager, you get a notion for what people are doing but there’s always these beautiful surprises about who is really performing well and who is secretly struggling. About who is the person that’s saving everybody’s bacon through fixing a lot of stuff behind the scenes and who is absolutely doing all the PRs.

Marcus:  This kind of data lets you move from looking at people as just, “Well, they’re all engineers and they’re all kind of doing engineering work” to seeing exactly where each one of them is strong and has opportunities to grow. That’s why I love this tool so much. I believe that new and surprising conversations come out of data. That when you can sit down with somebody and start to understand and intuit why things are happening, you’re going to create even better quality of exchanges and by the way, you know here on this show we talk about the fact that leadership is what keeps people connected to their work and prevents turnover and keeps them motivated. It’s about the relationship. I like to say that GitPrime not only lets you build better software, it lets you build a better relationship with your team members. Start a free trial today at

Marcus:  I love that metaphor. and some environments are very conducive and the trees are not that strong. It just happens to be a great climate. It’s great soil.

Jason:  Right, right.

Marcus:  And other places, like I’ve seen trees growing on rocks on the beach.

Jason:  Yeah.

Marcus:  A little bit of sand accumulated and a tree grew, and you’re like, “Where’s the soil?” That tree really had to fight to be there.

Jason:  Yeah.

Marcus:  But you can tell.

Jason:  Right.

Marcus:  Right? I think that’s what you say about a startup is brutal. Sometimes I wonder if startup looks like weeds coming out of the concrete. Like nothing should grow there but it’s thriving and surviving in, despite of all the conditions.

Jason:  Right, right.

Marcus:  But when we don’t know what we look like, and I guess that’s the part I want to come back to. If we imagine we’re one thing and we’re another, I think that’s where things get kind of precarious.

Jason:  Yeah, those self-awareness pieces, right, is super difficult to come to sort of cost and inflection point. I feel like we all try to be the hero of our own story. And you know what are the moments that, as we go through our leadership management journey, that provide us that reflection? And I think that’s really where like coaching helps and journaling helps and like having a team to talk things out with helps because as you become a manager and the power dynamic grows, the feedback that you’re getting is always filtered in some way, even in the most healthy organizations like there’s some degree of impression management going on. So, how do you, like you really do have to do your own self work and self-education to work through those things.

Marcus:  So if our traditional leadership models aren’t serving us very well today, and we’re talking about I feel like attributes of a new type of leadership model, do you have a name you like to use for it or kind of a theme that you found?

Jason:  Yeah. I just I think my theme for it is like de-masculinizing leadership….

Marcus:  Which does that mean inherently increasing femininity is in leadership or again, two scales possibly?

Jason:  I think it’s, it might be two scales. I haven’t quite figured it out yet but I do want to broaden the spectrum of what we understand to be effective leadership. It is not just a set of masculine, what we traditionally associate with masculinity but it is this range of ways of getting things done that don’t necessarily conform to what we’ve previously understood to be effective leadership.

Marcus:  I think it’s really an area that is evolving.

Jason:  Right.

Marcus:  I hear people talking about, you know servant leadership has been popular for a long time. And I feel like that is a response to command and control,

Jason:  Mmhmm.

Marcus:  Where we say, “Oh the leader should serve instead of telling what to do, they should be a helpful support.” And I think there’s an aspect of that that’s true. But it, sometimes I also think it I guess maybe goes too far, it doesn’t talk about visioning, it doesn’t talk about some of the other things that leaders should do

Jason:  Yeah.

Marcus:  And collaborating. It’s sort of like, I’m embarrassed to be on the top so I’ll pretend I’m at the bottom of the hierarchy. And I think sometimes that can be a form of pretending as well.

Jason:  Yeah. I think the way that… That’s interesting. Something that comes to mind that that reminds me of is soldier versus scout mentality. Have you heard about this?

Marcus:  Tell me more.

Jason:  I guess the way this usually shows up is there is this default model to the way that product engineering works where people call it a healthy friction, right. There needs to be this, this butting of heads that happens.

Marcus:  To find the best of whatever, right?

Jason:  Right.

Marcus:  Oftentimes. Yeah.

Jason:  Even outside of engineering context, the five dysfunctions, where I first got the first team concept, they talk about that first layer is an absence of trust. And that lack of trust leads to an inability to, a fear of conflict, right? It’s already framed as we’re going to fight about this. And what I’ve found is, it’s not actually conflict that we’re afraid of. It’s exploration. It’s exploring the idea of what if we’re wrong, right, or what if I don’t have the full story. And so I talked about this in terms of soldier and scout mindset. I got this from a woman by the name of Julia Galef, who is at the Center of Applied Rationality I think. Anyways, it’s this idea that as humans there’s this soldier mentality and I think once we’ve made up our minds about something, it’s really hard for us to change our minds, right? This idea that we dig in and when we get into soldier mentality, it is attack and defend. It is, I’m right, you’re wrong. No, no, I’m right, you’re wrong. Vice versa, back and forth. When that happens, progress becomes incredibly hard, difficult. And like we get into this mode where it is, you have to assert dominance over another person. It leads to us not being able to engage our prefrontal cortex and the logical centers of our brain, we’re just in like I need to assert who I am and survive in this mode.

Jason:  So, instead of soldier mentality, there’s this thing called scout mentality where instead of fighting back and forth about who is right or wrong, the model is it’s two people or multiple people surveying a landscape, and exploring a landscape and trying to reconcile the differences between what they’re seeing, right? And in that space is where we find the collaboration and cooperation and an ability to change our minds without feeling like we have been diminished in some way, shape or form.

Marcus:  Because… I Really like that Jason. Because it seems like the self, in the soldier mentality, the self and the self-identity and the self worth –

Jason:  Right.

Marcus:  … is what’s at risk.

Jason:  Totally.

Marcus:  That’s what we’re oftentimes defending or we have to prove that we’re going to win and that it makes us worthy and valuable and all those other things.

Jason:  Right. Yeah, yeah.

Marcus:  I haven’t heard that model before. I’m going to look that up. Thank you. We’ll include a link to the show notes to the person who you talked about there as introducing it.

Jason:  yeah. So I try to, so I think about that especially in coaching conversations in terms of like how do you manage up, how do you manage out, how do you have these difficult conversations with folks who might not quite be on, seeing things the same way that you see things and how do you go from soldier mentality to scout mentality. Like how do you de-escalate that situation so we can actually engage the logical centers of our brains and make progress?

Marcus:  Yeah, I’m midway through a certification program for human systems dynamics.

Jason:  Mm.

Marcus:  And I think they might call that the practice of learning to stand and inquiry.

Jason:  Mm, yeah.

Marcus:  That’s the phrasing they use but yeah it’s about becoming comfortable with not knowing and with asking questions and with asking,

Jason:  Yeah.

Marcus:  “What do you see from here? Well, this is what I see from here.” and they have a really, a cute little phrase I’m starting to use more, that there’s just no naughty or nice is the way they say it.

Jason:  Yes.

Marcus:  And I like that because it reminds me that your perspective and my perspective aren’t good or bad. In fact, they’re especially not the only perspectives. But they can be true and useful tools for us to use.

Jason:  Yeah. Absolutely. and then as you apply that to groups of people, then you can see your job as facilitating that actuation, right? And getting folks to say, like I need to hear your opinions or like how do I draw out this information from everyone so that we can get an accurate assessment of the landscape ahead of us and make good decisions?

Marcus:  Mm okay. Now I’m going to turn the conversation here, if I’m allowed to do that. I guess- [crosstalk 00:33:49]

Jason:  It’s your show.

Marcus:  well, and you are my guest and I appreciate that. Let’s talk about this in our last moments here. So, imagine somebody’s listening and they sure like these ideas but they’ve got a team and every time they ask their team together, “Okay who knows what we should do” or “What should we do next?” They just get blank silences.

Jason:  Right.

Marcus:  You know blank stares. how can they open up a new kind of conversation where they are finding out what people see and think and they start to set aside maybe their own assumptions,

Jason:  huh.

Marcus:  That they have to make that decisions and they, maybe they put the baton in the middle of the table, making it available to others.

Jason:  Yeah. Oh, that’s so interesting. I think of a lot of tactics, the first one is obviously like how do you set the context for a meeting? I think another skill that I find that is often forgotten is context setting. like how do we get to here and how do we want to conduct ourselves for the next hour, right? So, especially when we’re doing something new. So, like here’s the context. Like we have this problem that we need to figure out. we, there’s a lot that we don’t know. There’s a lot that we may know. This meeting is for us to get all that stuff out on the table, right? Say, in that context, so just articulating what’s going on, which is a super valuable thing.

Marcus:  And often forgotten about.

Jason:  Yeah, as leaders, again we are so often having conversations with ourselves that we’ve forgotten that we haven’t had, and we haven’t put a voice to it in the real world.

Marcus:  Right.

Jason:  So, just repeating that. there is another concept that I love, which is partnering with people, right? Sort of seeding, seeding that content. It’s like, “Hey,” so you might go to someone before the meeting, “Hey, you know I really liked your ideas about this X, Y and Z. we’re going to have a meeting next week, I would love it if like you put those ideas out. Those are the types of things I would love to see.” so there’s that bit of it. there’s also you know how do you establish or how do you encourage people to say things that contradict what other people say, right? Like in terms of it’s okay to disagree. And in that world I find the best way to do that A, is to have someone disagree with you who is leading the meeting and model proper reception of that disagreement. To say it’s okay. and to invite it.

Jason:  So, I was in a, I was helping a team the other day and we’re doing sprint planning and trying to figure out like what to work on. and we threw up on the board sort of three areas that we wanted to focus on. I said, “These are the three areas we want to work on. And, what I can tell you is, here’s our hypothesis on why we should work on these things. And, you can definitely punch me in the face right now by saying, ‘Where’s the data to back this up?’ and I will definitely say I don’t have any data, these are just my instincts.” Right? That is okay. Just to let people know where I’m at.

Marcus:  Yeah.

Jason:  You know?

Marcus:  Yeah, I like that. You, I mean I hope no one did punch you in the face, first of all.

Jason:  Right. The metaphorical.

Marcus:  but metaphorical punch in the face, you can oppose me.

Jason:  Right.

Marcus:  You’re kind of, since we’re using this martial art,

Jason:  Yeah.

Marcus:  Military kind of metaphor of a punch, in some ways you took the armor off. You exposed, you took the breastplate off,

Jason:  Yeah.

Marcus:  If it were like you know Knights of the Round Table. And you’re like, “Just this is what I think. And I have no reason besides a hunch to think that.”

Jason:  Right. Yeah, yeah. And so even then like I like defaulted to that like violent mode as I’m like-

Marcus:  I was going to say.

Jason:   …trying to make forays into being more peaceful in my leadership style.

Marcus:  It’s very hard.

Jason:  It is.

Marcus:  I hear military metaphors. I’m I work with a team and it’s funny because it’s a distributed team. And there are certain people that everybody kind of like jokingly trolls.

Jason:  Yeah.

Marcus:  And you know but as a new person, I didn’t understand it. And I went to the person who was getting this and I said, “What’s happening right now? I don’t understand. And if it were me, I might have a feeling about it.”

Jason:  Right.

Marcus:  And they gave me all this context but it dawned on me that some other people in the company that were new may not have that context,

Jason:  Yeah.

Marcus:  May not have asked. And so some of that kind of behavior I think it’s, it’s so cultural that it’s hard to explain but that doesn’t make it a good part of it. it just makes it what is. And sometimes we forget that it could be something else.

Jason:  Totally. Totally.

Marcus:  Jason, what, last question here. What books, resources, videos, what should we go, what are you interested in that you want people here to know about, that we should follow up with if we like these topics?

Jason:   Yeah, that’s a good question. So, you can find my blog these days at, yeah…

Marcus:  Oh okay.

Jason:    Trying to get legitimate with my business.

Marcus:  Nice. I think I found you at Attack Gecko. Is that right?

Jason:    Yeah, huh. that’s my personal site and then I, well, running a business is, and marketing is an adventure. Yes it is.

Marcus:  That’s a whole other show, right?

Jason:    so there’s content there. you know there are folks I follow on internet, Laura Hogan is always wonderful and the content that she puts out, she also put out a book recently called Resilient Management, which I think is great. I think I also have to recommend Camille Fournier’s book, On the Manager’s Path which is just sort of a wonderful explanation and survey of what senior, developing into senior leadership looks like. one of the books that’s been, that I’ve gotten a lot of value out of is Give and Take by Adam Grant. There’s also some interesting research in terms of just having the value of having a framework to make decisions by and/or to help you analyze problems. So Give and Take is this book about humans and our different types of default behaviors, the idea is that there are givers, people who intrinsically do things for others without thinking of themselves. There’s also the opposite of that, of takers which is people who do things for themselves exclusively and then there are folks in the middle who are matchers, if they give, they take, if they take, they give. They have an even sense of of both. But I don’t want to spoil it for you all.

Marcus:  That sounds quite lovely, I’ll have to buy a copy of that. Jason, thank you for coming on this show. and I think is there an email address where people can get in touch with you if they have comments.

Jason:  You can find me @AttackGecko on the Twitters and my DMs are open.

Marcus:  Great, thank you for being on the show.

Jason:    Thank you so much.

Announcer:  Thank you for listening to Programming Leadership. You can keep up with the latest on the podcast at and on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, or wherever fine podcasts are distributed. Thanks again for listening and we’ll see you next time.


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