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Can you Lead the Army of One?

greggomatic profile image Greg Thomas ・3 min read

Whenever I'm stuck on a piece of code I can't get past or take a look at that one user story no one wants to work on or look at the daunting amount of email I have in my inbox I always ask myself that same question...

Can you Lead the Army of One?

This question takes on greater meaning when working with new developers that want to take on leadership roles (whether with people, projects, or code) and I always start off with this - Can you lead yourself?

The knee-jerk reaction always is - "Well I got here today didn't I, so yeah I can lead myself" (this when we used to travel to offices) or "I ordered lunch for the team, so yeah I got this."

But those are decisions to get things done and they are routine, you've done them before, you know the ups and downs, you know what happens if you screw it up (you're a bit late, so text or lunch is bad, don't go there again). But when it's something new, something you haven't done before, that's when you see if you can really Lead that Army of One.

Can you motivate yourself to do the learning required to figure out that problem?

Can you inspire yourself to keep going when you don't know what the outcome will be?

Will you do more than dip your foot in the water or will you jump right in?

I've worked with Managers who delegate the world and all they are left with is looking at is receiving updates on these tasks that they have doled out. In those moments, I know they can't Lead the Army of One, I know it's too hard for them to do and the easiest route is to assign the work to someone else to do and then critique it on the back-end.

Over the last few months, I've been working with a Project Dev Manager where this has been one of their huge stumbling blocks, taking on the tangible work that is filled with unknowns. They've become paralyzed by how it might look if they screw up or get it wrong. The optics of what people might think if they make a wrong call or do the wrong work or come up with a different answer than what someone else would have done.

And in general, that's the stumbling block to leading the Army of One - Getting Started - because once you're in it, you're moving, you're on the path forward and you realize how deep you've gone on the problem that you then understand it's not about what the outcome will be - it's about what you need to get out of it to get there and how it will help your team in the long run.

Sure, there are some bad moments, where you'll need to dig deep, take everything and motivate yourself - but those are the moments we are looking for to see if you can lead a team, lead a project or whatever else you are looking to lead that is going to be an even greater step than leading that Army of One.

The steps that go into leading an Army of One, are here, there, and everywhere, we all start with our own list of what we need to do to get started - what I do, differs from what you do, maybe it goes something like this...

  • What are we trying to solve?
  • Who needs to see this?
  • Who am I building this for?
  • What am I going to need?
  • How do we break it down?

These aren't going to get your rover to Mars (maybe, who knows) but they will get you started and they will show that you are capable of leading more than the Army of One.

To this day on a new project, team, or initiative, I always ask myself this question - Can I do this? Can I lead the Army of One? - it isn't always a yes, sometimes it's not for me, but if I want what lies beyond it, then yeah, I'm going to take a shot at it.

I wrote a book about being a Developer and Leading Software Teams - Code Your Way Up - available as an eBook or Paperback on Amazon (CAN and US).

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