Servant Leadership in Action by Ken Blanchard


I finished Servant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results by Ken Blanchard and Renee Broadwell yesterday. This is a collection of 42 essays from different leaders and coaches organized in 6 parts. 

  1. Fundamentals of Servant Leadership
  2. Elements of Servant Leadership
  3. Lessons in Servant Leadership
  4. Exemplars of Servant Leadership
  5. Putting Servant Leadership to Work
  6. Servant Leadership Turnarounds

Some of those articles were very helpful. Some well known authors got place in this collection as I expected – Ken Blanchard, Patrick Lencioni, Simon Sinek, Mark Miller. Blanchard provides a short introduction to each of the essays. There are several articles coming directly from how servant leadership got practiced by pastors and hence you will find frequent biblical references. Compared to that, not too many from engineering leaders of software companies which my primary area of interest. Overall its a modest book to get diverse perspectives on Servant Leadership.

The Art of Leadership by Michael Lopp


Last week I finished The Art of Leadership: Small Things, Done Well by Michael Lopp. I read his Managing Humans recently and joined his leadership channel in slack that has more than 15 thousand members. In 30 articles borrowed from his long running blog Rands in Response and divided equality for line managers, directors and executives in topics, he tells us that Leadership practices are small things done repetitively over time. He touches on several ideas – reading the room, using spidey-sense to render decisions, delegating until it hurts, getting feedback, giving compliments, understanding the culture, being kind. I liked this book as well although I would rank his other book Managing Humans a bit higher.

The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive by Patrick Lencioni


Last week I finished another of Patrick Lencioni‘s book – The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive: A Leadership Fable. In this early book (written even before Five Dysfunctions of a Team) the author emphasizes on why organizational health is the ultimate differentiator between a successful and failed business as well as how to achieve that.

Organizational health can be measured by knowing whether employees are confused about their goals and priorities, how much politics is around, is the employee morale low, what is is the employee turnover rate, how productive the teams are. The author suggests that healthy organizations can smarter, but smart organizations do not get healthy without proper leadership from the head of the organization. It also feels soft; easily dismissed by hard-nosed leaders; requires discipline and courage. So the author proposed four disciplines via this business fable. 

Below is a summary of these four disciplines to easily remember. My favorite is over-communication – repetition of the key messages, simplicity of the messages and channeling through multiple mediums (for example – email, slack or other messaging tools, during team meetings, over written documents etc).

The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do by Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller


This week I finished The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do by Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller. I was interested to read this book as I recently read Mark Miller’s The Heat of Leadership and The Secret of Teams. I am also a big fan of Ken Blanchard’s One Minute Manager

This a fantastic business fable involving a struggling leader Debbie Brewster discovering some timeless leadership principles through the mentorship from Company President Jeff Brown.

The book starts with the Iceberg Analogy for Leadership. Leadership needs both skills and characters. Skills are like the top of the iceberg that we can see. It’s above the water, its the doing part. But a larger portion of leadership remains under the water, that we don’t see. It’s the being part that embodies values, character, beliefs, trusted relationships. To remember it clearly I drew the below picture some items of which are not directly from the book but rather my own understanding.

The book then dives deep into the SERVE Model for Leading. It describes that regardless of their formal title or position, people who want to be great leaders must embrace an attitude of service to others. The acronym is broken down into the following –

  • S – See the Future. Create a compelling vision. 
    • A quote from the book – “Leadership is about taking people from one place to another. One of a leader’s top priorities must be to assure that the team knows where you are headed“.
  • E – Engage and Develop Others. Build the right team, engage and empower them to do their best work.
    • A quote from the book – “You want to do more than enlist their hands – you want to engage their heads and hearts also“. 
  • R – Reinvent Continuously. Look for constant improvements, new ways of doing work.
    • A quote from the book – “Great leaders…are always interested in ways to enhance their own knowledge and skills. The very best leaders are learners“.
  • V – Value Results and Relationships. Find the proper balance between driving results and building working relationships.
    • A quote from the book – “The way to maximize your results as a leader is to have high expectations for both results and relationships“.
  • E – Embody the Values. Leaders must walk the talk, show integrity.
    • A quote from the book – “The best teachers are always those who know they haven’t got it figured out“.

Managing Humans by Michael Lopp


Last week I finished Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager by Michael Lopp. This was a very relevant book for me as it focused on engineering management, particularly the type of job I do in Silicon Valley software companies. The author is a highly experienced engineering leader, currently an executive in Apple and has been VP of Slack in the past with his vast experience expanding to Pinterest, Palantir, Icarian, Netscape, Borland. With humor and straight talks he unleashes some of the inner thoughts of engineers and leaders through three major parts of the book. Many of those may sound opinionated, but I could connect to those easily.

While reading the book, I found that I have never been victim of a layoff although I survived a layoff when I was working for Philips. Looks like there is a lot to learn from that. Whether you are an engineer or a manager, this book has lot to offer to you. I highly recommend reading this.

The Secret of Teams by Mark Miller


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A few days ago I finished another leadership business fable The Secret of Teams: What Great Teams Know and Do by Mark Miller. Through the character Debbie Brewster and her mentor Jeff Brown, the author reveals to us the secrets of high performing teams

In this book what we find is that there are three pillars of high performing teams –  talent, skills and community. And the author emphasizes that all three of these need to be there for a team to succeed.

Talent is acquired in a team through selecting the right team members. Without right talent, the team won’t be able to perform well. So a lot of emphasis on the selection process. I remember Patrick Lencioni refers it as getting the right people on the bus. Of course this selection process includes not only just hiring but also firing to make sure the team consists of right talents.

Skills are increased and improved through continuous training of the team members. Winning is hard work which wont come without constant practice.

Community is the ultimate gelling factor amongst that turns some individual performers into a group of coherent team members. The group spirit will develop and thrive when team members genuinely care about each other. This is the secret sauce that makes the sum greater than the whole.

Bu then the goal for leaders is not to build a high performing team but rather achieve results. High performing team is the strategy to achieve those results. Once leaders build a good team they should take less decisions and empower the team to come up with solutions.

Marqeta Successfully Executed IPO at June 9th


Marqeta began a new journey as a public company this June 9th by listing in Nasdaq. This is a major milestone in my career. I have missed it a few times in the past, but now I feel good that I have been part of taking a small startup to a mid-size public company. I went to meet with many of my co-workers near our Oakland Headquarter very early in the morning to celebrate the Nasdaq bell ring together! You may read the full details here – https://www.marqeta.com/blog/2021/06/09/public-company

The Heart of Leadership by Mark Miller


I finished another good business fable last week, The Heart of Leadership: Becoming a Leader People Want to Follow by Mark Miller. This is an amazing leadership book that I strongly recommend. It was very fitting that Patrick Lencioni wrote the forward of this book.

In this business fable the author talks about foundational leadership characters. Characters, which is 90% of leadership, remains unseen, like the bulk of an iceberg. The author came up with the below acronym HEART to explain how leaders are different –

  • H – Hunger for wisdom
  • E – Expect the best
  • A – Accept responsibility
  • R – Respond with courage
  • T – Think others first

Here are some quotes from the book that I would like to remember –

  • You can lead, with or without, a title. If you wait until you get a title, you could wait forever.
  • Title doesn’t make someone a leader — and the absence of a title shouldn’t keep someone from leading.
  • When leaders lead well, not everyone is going to be happy.
  • If you feel the need to make everyone happy, you should be a wedding planner not a leader.
  • Leaders don’t try to make people unhappy. However, leaders just know, progress is always preceded by change. And some people don’t like change.
  • Don’t confuse opportunity with leadership. Others control many of our opportunities, so that shouldn’t be our concern. We control our readiness.
  • Get ready to lead and opportunities to lead will not be your problem.
  • The lack of skills is not what derails most leaders — skills are too easy to learn. It is ultimately leadership character that determines our opportunity for influence and impact.
  • When faced with a challenging or difficult situation, the best leaders most often respond with courage; less mature leaders, or non-leaders often choose another path-a path with less risk, less conflict, and less personal discomfort.
  • If your heart is not right, no one cares about your leadership skills.
  • The heart is a muscle, and you strengthen muscles by using them. The more I lead with my heart, the stronger it gets.
  • When you expect the best from people, you will often see more in them than they see in themselves. The good news is that people generally rise to the level of expectations placed on them.
  • Expecting the best is not about always being right. It is about a belief in yourself and in your team.
  • The glass is always completely full-half air and half liquid.
  • Believe in your ability to create the future. That’s what leaders do-that is our job. Understand reality but never be imprisoned by it. Reality is a moment in time. The future has not yet been written-it is written by leaders.
  • If you don’t demonstrate leadership character, your skills and your results will be discounted, if not dismissed.
  • Napolean said Leaders are dealers in hope. Hope of a better tomorrow.
  • When you expect the best, one of the risks is that you will not be grounded in reality. However, optimism is not about ignoring the facts. You still need the facts. You also need people around you to tell you the truth. However, there is greater risk in expecting the worst. Pessimists will have trouble attracting followers. They will be timid and avoid risks. And the opportunity and rewards that go with that risks will forever illude the leader.
  • The best leaders want to leverage all the capabilities of the people in their organization.
  • You need to think of your quest for wisdom as a hunger that will never be satiated. The mere thought that you’ve arrived will spawn pride and arrogance.
  • The best leaders don’t blame others. They own their actions and their outcomes.
  • See the Future Engage and Develop Others Reinvent Continuously Value Results and Relationships Embody the Values
  • First, believe in your ability to create the future. That’s what leaders do—that is our job. Understand reality but never be imprisoned by it. Reality is a moment in time. The future has not yet been written—it is written by leaders.
  • Servant leadership….contrary to conventional leadership in which the leader’s focus is on himself and what he can accomplish and achieve. Rather, the focus is on those being served. Servant leaders do many of the same things other leaders do—cast vision, build teams, allocate resources, and so on. The big difference is their orientation and their motivation; these make all the difference in the world. They possess an others-first mindset. The servant leader constantly works to help others win.
  • Decision-making is a skill. Wisdom is a leadership trait.
  • Ninety percent of our success as leaders will be determined by what’s below the waterline. It’s our leadership character that ultimately drives what we do, and why. It is a true reflection of who we really are as human beings.
  • When leaders fail to thrive, the culprit is often their leadership character, not their lack of skills.
  • Many people in the world see events as they are; leaders are different in that they see things that could be. And the future they see is always a better version of the present. We believe we can make a difference; we think we can make the world, or at least our part of it, better. Leaders are generally more optimistic than non-leaders.

A Platform to Verify Ownership of Content


I have been thinking about using blockchain for content ownership verification for some time. I came up with this idea that may be a useful service or a platform if implemented. Let’s visit a use case that this platform or service will be able to serve.

A user or author decides to create a useful diagram or an image to use in an article that he will be publish in his favorite social platform, in this case LinkedIn. If LinkedIn participates in the content ownership verification service, then when the author is uploading the diagram the first time, it will detect it as a content type that needs to be verified. Then LinkedIn will check with the decentralized content ownership blockchain. Because this diagram is being built from scratch by the author for the first time, the blockchain will respond that this is not a pre-existing content and hence will allow it to register the content permanently for future verifications with this user as the owner of this content. Then LinkedIn will ultimately publish the article along with the diagram.

Now the author wants to use his other favorite participating platform Twitter to broadcast this article. When the author is int he process of generating the tweet, Twitter platform will again check the blockchain to see if the diagram or image in this article is pre-existing or not. This time the blockchain will reply its pre-existing along with the ownership details and permissions / authorization rules for the usage of this content. Now Twitter will verify if the author of this tweet and the author of the diagram points to the same author or someone who is licensed to use the content digitally. If yes, twitter will allow to publish the tweet, otherwise will reject it.

So the advantage is that any participating service or site or entity that registers with this content ownership platform / blockchain will be able to deliver only authorized and legal content without ever breaking copyright of any sort. I envision that in future this will be true not only for social platforms or web sites but be true for any kind of services we use everyday. Here are some examples –

  • you won’t be able to upload a video in youtube with an image that you are not licensed to use in your video
  • you won’t be able to run an MP3 audio song in your car’s player if the song has not been purchased from a participating service
  • you won’t be able to use a video in your blog that you didn’t ask for permission from the original author
  • you won’t be able to share an article or tag a photo of a friend in your own facebook wall without prior approval from the original author
  • …. many more

Good Leadership and Management Books


I am very keen in deepening my understanding about engineering leadership for fast growing tech companies. This is very relevant to my current company where I am working as a Sr Engineering Manager. I often share my thoughts, new learnings, leadership puzzles that is confusing me currently in my social media networks. As a result I have developed a diversified group of peers who often bring new ideas to me, ask intelligent questions. One common question from those are what are some good books on leadership and management. My today’s post is an attempt to address that. I will keep updating the list as I read more books, so please check out this post time-to-time. If you are looking for a longer list, please check my Goodreads listopia – Ashik’s Leadership Books.

  1. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable 
    • Author: Patrick Lencioni
    • Category: Business Fable, Leadership
    • Suitable For: New and Experienced Managers
    • Length: Short
  2. The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues
    • Author: Patrick Lencioni
    • Category: Business Fable, Leadership
    • Suitable For: Managers and Individual Contributors
    • Length: Short
  3. An Elegant Puzzle: Systems of Engineering Management 
    • Author: Will Larson
    • Category: Management Theory
    • Suitable For: New and Experienced Managers
    • Length: Large
  4. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when the Stakes are High
    • Authors: Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Swizler
    • Category: Management Theory
    • Suitable For: New and Experienced Managers
    • Length: Short

  5. The Hard Thing About Hard Things
    • Author: Ben Horowitz
    • Category: Biography, Leadership
    • Suitable For: Experienced Managers
    • Length: Medium
  6. Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future
    • Author: Peter Thiel and Blake Masters
    • Category: Leadership
    • Suitable For: Experienced Managers
    • Length: Short
  7. The 48 Laws of Power
    • Author: Robert Greene
    • Category: Politics, Leadership
    • Suitable For: Experienced Managers
    • Length: Medium
  8. Steve Jobs
    • Author: Walter Isaacson
    • Category: Biography, Leadership
    • Suitable For: Experienced Managers
    • Length: Large
  9. No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention
    • Authors: Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer
    • Category: Management Theory
    • Suitable For: New and Experienced Managers
    • Length: Medium

  10. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
    • Author: Eric Ries
    • Category: Management Theory
    • Suitable For: Experienced Managers
    • Length: Medium

  11. The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You
    • Author: Julie Zhou
    • Category: Management Theory
    • Suitable For: New Managers
    • Length: Medium

  12. The Manager’s Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change
    • Author: Camille Fournier
    • Category: Management Theory
    • Suitable For: New Managers
    • Length: Short
  13. Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell
    • Authors: Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg and Alan Eagle
    • Category: Biography, Leadership
    • Suitable For: Experienced Managers
    • Length: Medium

  14. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
    • Author: Daniel Pink 
    • Category: Management Theory
    • Suitable For: Experienced Managers
    • Length: Medium

  15. The New One Minute Manager
    • Author: Ken Blanchard 
    • Category: Management Theory
    • Suitable For: New Managers
    • Length: Small
  16. First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently
    • Authors: Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman from Gallup Organization
    • Category: Management Theory
    • Suitable For: New and Experienced Managers
    • Length: Medium