19. Leadership reduces resistance
A team that runs successfully with minimal resistance is one that is free to focus fully on the things that motivate it: to be of service, to have fun, to do excellent work, and to be part of something bigger than itself. The leader of the team is responsible not only for providing vision, direction, and resources but also for protecting the team. Protection takes the form of commitment to reducing resistance. Reducing resistance means keeping things out of the way of the team so they can stay focused on achieving their goals. Resistance can take many forms and come from anywhere - a client, a third party, a vendor, a team member, tools, or even the project itself. Whatever form it takes, good leadership stays vigilant and keeps the path clear for the team.
Good leaders also know that keeping the path clear also means keeping themselves out of the way. And this means staying squarely in the service mindset. A leader truly focused on removing resistance must flip the usual way of doing business, so that instead of having the team serve the leader, the leader is completely focused on serving the team. When we marry the idea of service to leadership, with an understanding that the leader’s job is to remove resistance for the team, there is a clear vision and consistent support so the team can stay focused on success.
In my experience, teams built with a traditional hierarchy - where the most visible, noticeable, placed-on-a-pedestal individual is the leader – tend to end up mired in annoyance and irritation. There are few things more disruptive to a good team’s progress than a leader seeking power and attention.
In the context of Web Reliability, team leaders are usually managers. But there are also members of the team not explicitly charged with management who establish themselves as leaders by their example, their wisdom, and their accomplishments. But in either case, whether we’re talking about appointed managers as well as de facto leaders, effectiveness by the standards of Web Reliability relates directly to how well a leader can remove friction. This is an unambiguously subjective opinion on the part of the author, but it is based on years of experience and observation.
Traditional American culture would typically put strong leadership squarely in the motivation column in a Web Reliability Framework. And “strong leadership” would be represented by a sergeant urging her troops over a barrier in battle by standing atop something tall and calling out for valor. Or perhaps the image of a tech titan standing under bright lights in front of a crowded conference room declaring what the future will be. In reality, my experience is that neither of the above really amounts to true leadership. Because that sergeant and that tech titan are holding themselves apart from and above the rest of the team. The whole team must always be greater in importance than any one unit of the team, and everything the leader does must support and sustain that.
If the team’s reason for being is to function with reliable excellence as a unit, then the goal of the team’s leaders must be to stay out of their way while consistently reducing friction for them at every opportunity. The sergeant could step down from the pedestal and into the battle to lead the charge and clear the way. And rather than stand in the spotlight the tech titan could showcase and elevate the successes of the teams that work under her, and allow them to illuminate how they are building the future.
Identifying and eliminating the things that prevent individuals from authentically connecting and forming a successful team, and then keeping that entity functioning reliably as an efficient and excellent whole without any need for personal glory - this is the role of a truly strong leader in my experience.