Baby's First Leadership Principles

February 15, 2021

At the beginning of October last year, I had the privilege of joining the Microsoft Edge PM leadership team as a Program Manager Manager (😊) or PM Manager for short. I'd always known that being a lead was something that I wanted to pursue because while I enjoyed focusing on growing my own career, the thought of growing others' careers appealed to an even greater extent. Looking back, I attribute this largely to the fact that I have so many people to thank for ending up where I am today. From my parents to my old Boy Scout leaders, to teachers/professors/co-op advisors and colleagues/friends, so many people have invested their own precious hours in me to help me achieve my goals that it only feels right to do my part and pay that effort forwards by investing in the growth of others.

Ramping up as a new lead has been a whirlwind of learning not only a slew of new technology spaces, but also how to be an effective leader. There are loads of posts that I would like to write on this experience, but today, I wanted to focus on the specific topic of leadership principles. Leadership principles are something I knew were important to articulate early on, but I started to realize that despite reading several books on leadership, in the frenzy of ramping up, I'd never taken the time to sit down, internalize my learnings, and write out a first draft of my (what I'm sure will be ever-evolving) leadership principles.

This reflection was further crystallized in my mind while I was conducting interviews recently and a candidate asked the (extremely) valid question of "What are your principles as a lead?" I was able to provide an answer, but it wasn't as crisp or all-encompassing as I would have liked—clearly, I needed to take the time to sit down and reflect. I also strongly believe that writing is thinking, so I knew this post would be beneficial for me to formulate my own thoughts as well.

The final motivator came a week later, when a leadership course offered by Microsoft required us to share our leadership principles with our team as part of a weekly homework assignment. I knew that this would be a perfect time to not only write these out and discuss them with my team, but to publish them somewhere so that folks on the team could reflect back on my principles and hold me accountable if their day-to-day experience of working with me did not match the values I committed to uphold.

With that background in mind, I spent some time reflecting on my leadership principles and landed on the acronym ABCLEAD1 to remember them by. Given that they're a first draft, this seemed appropriate; plus, it fit well with the whole "Baby's First Leadership Principles" theme and all. Expanded out, this (only slightly convoluted) acronym stands for the following:

  • foster Authenticity
  • Build CLarity
  • Lead with Empathy and Accountability
  • encourage continuous Development

To help with both clarity and accountability (see what I did there?), I'd like to briefly elaborate on each statement and explain it means to me:

Foster Authenticity

Fostering authenticity to me means being transparent, sharing information and feedback openly with my team while expecting the same in return. It also means committing to building a safe working environment where everyone feels empowered to bring their authentic selves to work. Part of this also involves creating a culture that embraces/normalizes talking about individual (and in turn, collective) weaknesses and encourages folks to come together to leverage each other's strengths to achieve far more together than they ever could apart. Finally, mistakes and failures happen; they're valuable learning opportunities rather than something to shy away from or sweep under the rug. Part of fostering authenticity in my mind also involves creating a culture that celebrates failures just as vibrantly as successes.

Build Clarity

To me, building clarity is about defining the motivating "why" behind the work we do, and helping folks prioritize accordingly so that we are all working towards a common, shared vision while maximizing our collective impact. It involves helping everyone on the team understand what success looks like both through the setting of ambitious and SMART2 goals and through continuous coaching. It also includes creating the guardrails that give everyone on the team the freedom to run with their own ideas.

Lead with Empathy and Accountability

I knew I wanted to work both empathy and accountability into my leadership principles after reading on this wonderful piece that covers how the two concepts need not be mutually exclusive. On the topic of leading with empathy, I see this involving treating others as I would want to be treated: with respect, honesty, trust, care, and humility. I also see this including a commitment to being cognizant of individual needs, learning styles, strengths, weaknesses, and familiarity/commitment levels with specific tasks in every interaction I have, resulting in me tailoring my leadership style to suit the individual as well as the situation at hand. On the topic of leading with accountability, I see this dovetailing with building clarity in the sense that it involves holding myself and others accountable to the commitments we've made against our goals and to have candid conversations when we could be doing better.

Encourage Continuous Development

I see encouraging continuous development broadly comprised of two main points. The first involves being a mentor and a coach—as well as a manager—to everyone on my team. A key part to making this happen is to create a team culture that normalizes continuous feedback loops.

As a quick aside, one of the best analogies for the effectiveness of feedback that I've heard recently compared it to self-driving cars. Self-driving cars aren't actually driving themselves; they're simply reacting to a near-real-time feedback loop with their surroundings. If that near-real-time feedback loop didn't exist, the car would drive itself off the road in a heartbeat. The same goes for feedback: keeping it as close to real time as possible helps teams course correct before they veer off too far in one direction to easily recover. Keeping this analogy in mind, continuous feedback loops (flowing both from me to my directs as well as in the reverse direction) are critical if I am to foster a culture of continuous development on the teams I lead.

The second main point on the continuous development front ties into the first leadership principle I introduced in the sense of normalizing failure. As Ray Dalio said in Principles, "If you’re not failing, you’re not pushing your limits, and if you’re not pushing your limits, you’re not maximizing your potential." To ensure that everyone on the team is maximizing their potential, I see it as my responsibility to create an environment where everyone has the psychological safety to learn, experiment, and fail fast.

Wrapping Up

While I'm sure I'll revisit these principles even sooner than I expect, I'm thankful for all the events (the motivators I covered earlier and the long weekend we had recently) that led me to writing this post. In the spirit of continuous development, I'd like to conclude with a few questions:

  • What are your leadership principles?
  • How could these principles and the reflections within them be refined further to be more effective?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on Twitter!3

  1. I'm not proud of how long it took me to come up with this. I have no idea how the Chrome privacy team and the folks in the W3C Web Advertising Business Group create such great backronyms—especially given that they're further limited by the fact that all their backronyms need to be bird names!

  2. I prefer this twist on the SMART acrynom, where the "M" stands for "Motivating", rather than "Measurable".

  3. I'll add comments to this blog one day, I swear.