My leadership style

The following is a brief essay I wrote for a seminary class, based on personal life experience. The assignment was to discuss one's own leadership style.

I believe that my personal leadership style has a lot to do with my personality type: Extraverted iNtuitive Thinking Judging. As an ENTJ, I initially struggled with my sense of calling. To clarify, I felt compelled to apply for and attend seminary, in fact only pursuing acceptance to Asbury based on the notion that if it was God's will then I should not need to send paperwork to more than one school. However, the plan for what I was to do next, the greater end-goal towards which I should be heading, was not clear to me. To be honest, I felt like a bit of a freak for being one of the only guys in my dorm that did not have his heart set on being a pastor and/or climbing the ranks of any particular denominational ladder. Not to diminish such aspirations, as they are certainly necessary, holy, and noble. However, I felt that perhaps my path would lead me on a different journey. It was not until taking a personality profile test for a seminary class, that said of ENTJs: "You are drawn to non-parish ministry" that I realized people such as myself — those with formal ministry training yet seemingly no aspiration to use said MDiv in a liturgical setting — not only exist, we actually have a category.

According to the site TypeLogic, "ENTJs have a natural tendency to marshall and direct." This personality type has been referred to as the executive. The list of notable ENTJ leaders include such people as: Al Gore, Franklin Roosevelt, Norman Schwarzkopf, and Steve Jobs. Those who fit into this personality type are said to categorically enjoy interacting with others — deriving energy and sense of self-worth by how well they get along with people. The mixture of a confidently outgoing personality, coupled with an inherent ability to act on a hunch, makes them ideal organizational pioneers.

While I have noticed some of these tendencies in myself, I cannot say it was always this way. In fact, I was quite a shy kid growing up. Moving so frequently for my father's rising military career caused me to be somewhat closed off, initially tentative and reserved as I continually readjusted to new environments. In total, I attended two elementary schools, one middle school, five high schools, two colleges, and one seminary. Gradually, each relocation forced me to adapt and (to some extent) re-invent myself. I eventually realized that if I was to make friends and learn to acclimate to my surroundings, it was going to require intentional effort on my part. There is a stark difference between being a military kid living on an Air Force base, and living amongst the general civilian population.

On-base — as it is called, each family knows the hardship of being uprooted by the government and plopped-down at the behest of Uncle Sam. As such, when you first move in to your new house on-base, fellow military families will often bring casseroles and other meals as a way of welcoming you to the neighborhood. Off-base, this is not the norm. It is not that civilian families have anything against military families, per se. They are simply not used to the continual churn that service-men / women endure. They are (understandably) wrapped up living their own lives, with their own friends.

Depending on the availability and quality level of housing within reasonable driving distance of our stationed Air Force base, we would sometimes live on-base, yet in others locations choose to live off-base. It was this flip-flop between the two cultures, particularly during high school in which the pace was one year (or less) per city, that I learned the importance of resilience. We had a wooden wreath, which still hangs proudly in my parents' kitchen, bearing: "Home is where the Air Force sends us." My mom was fond of telling her children: "You need to bloom where you are planted." In that way, we became quite a tenacious group of siblings, friendly enough — but always willing to fight to carve out a niche for ourselves. It is this scrappy attitude with which I have approached things my entire life.

For better or worse, I am an optimist. I want to believe the best in people, which sometimes sets me up for greater disappointment. In that regard, I suppose I am akin to a realist who likes to give others the benefit of the doubt. Occasionally, I will just know (via a gut feeling) that something is awry but I will reason with myself that I ought not to jump to conclusions. I believe this to be the "E" and "T" aspects kicking in — a desire to be social and think things through rationally. Yet time and again my first inclination will prove to be correct.

For instance, I was once considering a job where the interviewer wore sunglasses the entire time (we were outdoors). For some reason, this did not feel right to me, and I had reservations about whether or not I should take the offer, that perhaps this individual was not being entirely transparent. That is not to say this person seemed altogether untrustworthy, but I did find the lack of opportunity to make direct eye contact a bit disconcerting. I took the job despite feeling slightly hesitant, but I later regretted this decision. In the new environment I felt micro-managed by superiors who did not understand their impact on our (lack of) code development process. When I think back on my time there, I am reminded of George Whitefield's famous quote:

"My brother [John] Wesley acted wisely. The souls that were awakened under his ministry he joined in class, and thus preserved the fruits of his labor. This I neglected, and my people are a rope of sand."

Without a formalized process, we floundered in our efforts to build a consistent product, and were easily distracted by whatever happened to be the passing fad. That is why I think it is of utmost importance that a company choose an approach and stick to it, whatever the particular methodology may be. Personally, over the past nine months I have found the agile Scrum process to work best, and try to evangelize it whenever project management comes up as a topic of conversation.

To hear me tell it, you might think that I never had any good bosses. Quite the contrary. I have had the privilege of working for several well-qualified mentor / colleagues. Two in particular had a big impact on me: Mark Kraemer and Stephen Anderson. Both had very similar approaches to their work habits and management styles — coworkers themselves, before I met them in their respective roles at different companies. Mark would always tell his team to "embrace constraints" and work within an established set of design patterns and software best practices — not necessarily coloring outside the lines, so to speak — but filling every inch of the available "canvas" with as much beauty and innovation as possible. Stephen took things a step further, by critiquing the limitations of the available palette. While Mark would drive us to do the best we could, Stephen would often challenge the notion of things being "good enough," questioning if we could remove constraints or redefine the parameters.

I gleaned quite a bit working for these two, learning from their example of co-laboring alongside their subordinates. It is this collective approach to leadership that I attempt to employ with my colleagues, temporarily stepping up if I perceive a leadership vacuum, but for the most part taking a more collaborative stance — respecting each individual's unique perspective and expertise. In dealing with coworkers or making recommendations to people who attend my talks at various conferences, I try to encourage people to stretch themselves beyond what they currently consider their areas of core competency. To use an analogy: In the industry (if there is such a thing) of web development — designers who can code will always have an advantage over those who only do one or the other. Often we hear about the tension between "Form vs. Function" but I caution against buying into that mentality because one who holds this to be true is usually compensating for lack of skill or interest in the other end of the spectrum. Therefore, when talking with both left / right-brained people, I emphasize the importance of not being complacent. I say: So what if you are amazing at one particular skill? Someone who is a master of two is even more impressive, especially if without pretense.

Yet, not everyone shares my vantage point. There are some who would prefer to be seen as a specialist, and strive for nothing outside of a narrowly defined set of parameters. Perhaps it is my upbringing that influences my perception of job skill-sets, but to use a military analogy: It seems to me that a soldier who is versatile and motivated enough to study beyond only what is taught in boot-camp is not only better poised to get the next big promotion, but also more likely to live through an ambush on the battlefield. This same principle applies to leadership. One can attempt to do everything by the book, but the downfall of a leader usually comes in the form of unexpected circumstances. While there is no way to adequately prepare for the unknown, generalists stand a better chance of survival.

This is why, though only myself and two others bear the title UX Developer at Fellowship Technologies, I really see the entire development team as having a direct impact on UX. Everything from visual design, to the file-size of images and code, to the speed at which a database query executes, to the up-time of our underlying infrastructure — it all affects the perception that someone has of our product. To compete in the realm of SAAS — software as a service — our web applications must rival the performance of desktop applications. An example of such a success would be Gmail, which has cut into the email market share of Microsoft Outlook, as well as Google Docs which is a viable alternative to MS Word / Excel. To counter this encroachment, Microsoft is currently building an online version of Office that will be free of charge, due out sometime next year. Additionally, Google recently announced that it is developing its own operating system. Despite their core business being search, these tangential products keep would-be contenders on their heels.

It is this type of thinking that produces what is referred to as "disruptive technology" — a product that seemingly comes out of nowhere and challenges the dominance of the status quo. Leaders must not only hone the necessary foresight to anticipate such moves by competitors, but need to themselves be fostering an environment in which out-of-the-box thinking is encouraged. If ever I find myself in a managerial or leadership position, though I dread that inevitable possibility because it would remove me from the creative process, I will attempt to hire people who realize the value of constant learning. I have met some people who have formal degrees in their respective fields, and lord that over others who do not. In my opinion, this creates a blind spot — assuming that the degree one obtained however many years ago is still the single litmus indicator of competency today. I tend to get along better with people who are good at what they do, regardless of how they obtained their skills. That is the style of leader I aspire to be — valuating individuals beyond what is on their résumé.