Be a Multiplier

This post is a transcription of a session I led as part of a corporate mentorship program. The session discussed how to increase your impact by being a multiplier. 

Multipliers vs. Diminishers

Many of the ideas in this session come from the book Multipliers by Liz Wiseman, who explored why some leaders create genius all around them while other leaders drain intelligence and capability from an organization.

The research outlined the five key differentiators between Diminishers and Multipliers. A multiplier is someone who uses his or her intelligence to amplify and bring out the smarts and capabilities of those around them. A diminished is the multiplier’s evil counterpart who always needs to be the smartest guy in the room and shuts everyone else down.

There is a big difference in how each of these types sets the direction. Diminishers tend to be know-it-alls in how they set direction. They base strategy on their insight. They only see what they know and then never ask their company to do something other than that. In this way, they limit what’s possible in an organization because their business can only take on something they have an answer to or know how to do.

In contrast, multipliers play the role of challenger. They ask big strategic questions and contribute what they know about the markets and trends to frame the organization’s challenge. They ask questions that make the organization stretch and take on something that seems impossible but frame it in a way that makes it possible.

Take a second to reflect on your own experience with Multipliers – those leaders who made you feel smart – and with Diminishers – those leaders who drained your intelligence. How did their actions, assumptions, and results differ?

So what makes a multiplier?

  • Know How You Show Up
    Multipliers have a strong sense of self-awareness. They act in line with the organizational culture and values. They develop high levels of emotional intelligence, create psychologically safe environments, use tools like 360-degree feedback instruments, and recognize when they are falling into Accidental Diminisher traps.
  • Know Your Business
    Multipliers are strong business people in addition to strong leaders. They understand their markets, their customers (and their realities), the global stage in which they operate, and how we keep score (financial acumen).
  • Liberate Talent
    Talent liberators attract, engage, and inspire others while creating an intense environment that requires their team’s best thinking and work. They use systems and processes to set clear expectations, manage performance, and provide the proper resources for their team’s success.
  • Develop Talent
    Multipliers understand the native genius of each team member. They coach, influence, and provide feedback to maximize performance and growth. They also create opportunities that cause people to stretch.
  • Make Quality Decisions
    Multiplier leaders understand the situational nature of decisions and know the tools and traps that are inherent to a successful resolution. They align with the priorities of the organization and, when appropriate, empower others and encourage rigorous debate.
  • Navigate Complexity
    Multipliers see the “big picture,” and they can create a line of sight for their teams. They adeptly lead and manage others through organizational change. They foster and inspire others to innovate while staying agile.

So, I’m saying that technical acumen alone does not make you a multiplier. Take a critical look at your own actions and try to identify where you are on the Multiplier / Diminisher spectrum. How can you move more towards being a multiplier?

The next couple of sections are intended to be a bit of activity. I picked four areas (technical, collaboration, communication, flexibility/adaptability), and I want to hear from you – which of these do you think is most critical? What qualities are missing from each?


Important technical qualities include:

  • Writing good quality code
  • Writing reusable code
  • Giving meaningful code reviews
  • Having a strong understanding of the tech stack
  • Resolving bugs
  • Breaking down complex work
  • Using good architectural practices and patterns
  • Learning new technologies quickly
  • Writing clear documentation


Important collaboration qualities include:

  • Resolving conflicts within a team
  • Resolving conflicts across teams
  • Creating healthy feedback loops
  • Brainstorming and knowledge sharing
  • Sharing wins
  • Building trust
  • Asking for assistance
  • Efficient delegation


Important communication qualities include:

  • Clear documentation
  • Bringing up blockers early
  • Responding to customers
  • Asking why and understanding context
  • Informing stakeholders
  • Stating ideas clearly
  • Resolving conflicts peacefully
  • Sharing knowledge


Important flexibility qualities include:

  • Staying calm
  • Accomodating new requirements
  • Planning for interruptions
  • Solving challenging problems
  • Considering other options
  • Accepting feedback
  • Accepting change

How to be a multiplier

  • Be proactive:
    • Anticipate blockers – This can be challenging to figure out. It involves fleshing out the problem space quite a bit and being aware of the surroundings. Do a spike, dig into the code or the problem space.
    • Leave it better than you found it – Something annoying you? Are old feature flags hanging around? Some refactoring that needs to be done? How can you solve these issues now instead of continuing to kick the can down the road?
  • Know your team:
    • What are your team members’ skills? What do they “own”? Who wants to grow, and in what areas? What are they working on? What scares them, and what are they confident in? What motivates them?
    • Knowing this and keeping it in your mind can help unblock other team members and other teams. It lets you bridge gaps and can help you become recognized as a point of contact for your area of the organization. It can also help you to delegate tasks.
    • For example, I worked with someone at my last company who was scared of taking the initiative to make decisions. If you give them a clear directive, they can take action and knock it out of the park. But they don’t trust their own decision-making process. Helping them build their confidence in their thought process and ability to make decisions is key to helping them be as productive as they can be. Sometimes this is just giving them a thumbs up on a suggested approach; sometimes, it’s digging into why they’re concerned or scared to help them build or find contingency plans.
  • Improve processes in and around your team:
    • It’s easy to complain about things that aren’t useful or aren’t working – but you’re also allowed to change them!
    • Your team – is there something not working well in standup, planning, or the way you are working together?Your department – are you aware of what’s happening across the department? Are the department rituals working, eg demos? How could your team work better with other teams?
  • Get shit done (as a team):
    • Diminishers are the decision-maker. They are quick to determine what should happen and isolate themselves within an inner circle of trusted advisers. Their point of view is that the smart people in the know should make the decisions, and the rest of the company should execute them. The problem with this is that the diminisher thinks they are being effective and agile because they are making rapid decisions. But the rest of the company is struggling to understand why these decisions were made, so they are slow to execute.
    • Multipliers tend to be debate makers. They frame a decision with, “Here are the key questions,” and then assemble brainpower and key players to weigh in on the topic. It may take longer to make the decisions, but because everyone has had their voice heard and has insight into why something is being implemented, the decisions are executed more intelligently and rapidly.


Reflect on what it means to be a multiplier and complete the following exercise.

  1. Identify one thing that you can do in the next week or month to be a multiplier.
  2. Come up with a concrete next step.
  3. Share this with someone on your team and hold yourself accountable.

Setting the Technical Direction for a Team

The larger the organization or project, the more complex and involved the work. A small team of three might be able frequently enough to coordinate, but a group of 12, a stream of 100, or an organization of 1000 can scarcely achieve that. Instead, technical leaders define what to accomplish and how to achieve those goals and document it in a way everyone can easily use as a reference.

Two indicators of a productive and satisfied engineering team are when every team member understands the team’s technical direction and how the work they’re currently doing contributes to that direction. As senior technical leaders, it is part of our role to establish that direction and a plan for how to get there. 

A few words need to be defined to discuss these concepts in detail. Vision, strategy, goals, and mission are often used in overlapping ways. Here’s how the terms will be used:

  • Vision – a long-term view with high-level goals. It briefly describes the current state and projects the future state; it can be aspirational (i.e., what to accomplish).
  • Strategy – how teams, systems, and processes work individually and collectively to implement and achieve the vision (i.e., how to achieve it). 

These concepts take written form but should not be set in stone. It should not require continuous rewrites but a strategy must be adaptable to changes. A six-to-nine-month timescale is ideal for it to stay relevant. It should be reviewed and updated with key learnings discovered along the way.

Set the Vision

A core responsibility of the architect (or team lead) is to ensure a shared understanding of the team’s direction. A clear technical vision is essential to ensure that the entire team pulls in the same direction. It serves as the team’s “North Star” to motivate and guide the group as it grows. The vision zooms out to give perspective on why the team or organization exists. Rather than articulating the specifics of team operations, the vision describes how the team or organization seeks to impact and improve the world around it.

Think of the technical vision as a tool to analyze, align, and execute long-term technical goals in teams or organizations. Technical goals are aligned with stakeholders and then communicated across the organization. It’s a perpetual cycle: goals are brought into execution plans, the outcome is measured and evaluated, and then learnings are collected and used to improve current and future technical visions. 

Technical visions can change over time. This reflects changing business requirements, best practices, and the technology landscape. Changes may also reflect expressing the intention behind the vision more effectively. While technical visions need not be detailed or specific, the intent must be unambiguous. It is the architects’ responsibility to communicate the idea effectively.

Analysis and alignment

Each technical vision cycle begins with evaluating the current reality. Take time to understand the historical context behind the decisions that created this reality. These decisions were made based on the facts at that time; there’s a lot to learn from this. To position ourselves for the future, we should analyze past decisions and how those served the stakeholders and requirements. Once the future direction is decided, work to identify the current and future state gaps.

The technical vision should have the backing of stakeholders and the team (managers and engineers). Not everyone can be involved as the team scales – use discretion to determine who to include in this process. Key players should contribute; this will aid in the buy-in process because they have a personal investment in the undertaking and, therefore, a vested interest in its success. Invest in the art of persuasion. 

Gain credibility by involving stakeholders in the process (i.e., bring them on the journey with you) and incorporate their ideas into the vision (and, later, strategy). Don’t forget that non-business stakeholders (e.g., documentation writers) have valuable thoughts too. A wise architect may note all feedback but prioritize stakeholder requests that echo their thoughts while balancing the business context. Everyone should be aligned on how delivering on goals achieves the desired outcomes. 

Characteristics of a vision statement

There is no one-size-fits-all for crafting a technical vision – each is unique to the team or organization and the current business context. Despite no specific template, there are a few common characteristics of well-written visions:

  • Keep it brief – a vision statement should be easy to read and follow; cut out the fluff and keep just the essentials.
  • Keep it simple – stakeholders and teams should understand the vision. Avoid “industry-speak” where possible; plain language is always more powerful than jargon or buzzwords. 
  • Avoid ambiguity – focus on a clear objective; a vision does not need to be concrete in the manner that a mission does but should avoid possible misinterpretations. 
  • Be future-looking – think long-term (i.e., 3-5 years); a vision statement is set in the future when its objectives have been met. 
  • Be challenging – describe the most ambitious and aspirational objective to convey a sense of passion for the ideal future; it should be challenging enough to motivate the team to work towards achieving the goal. 
  • Be feasible – others have to buy into the vision for its goals to be achieved; the vision should resonate with the team or organization and inspire them to move forward. The goal shouldn’t be so far out of reach that it feels impossible. 

Remember that a picture is worth a thousand words. A visual image can add a lot of clarity to vision and strategy documents around key pillars/components and their relationship to one another.

Define a Strategy

If a vision tells you where you want to go, then a strategy is the path. The starting point for a good strategy is knowing where you are today. But it is also essential to understand how you got there; learning the culture and context will help shape the way forward. A strategy is an approach to a problem that recommends a specific course of action that address the problem’s constraints. The strategy’s what, how, and why must align with the technical vision. Writing a strategy leads the driver through a systematic analysis that can help work through challenges.

To do that, you need to define the current state, capabilities, an understanding of strengths and weaknesses, and what external factors could positively or negatively affect the strategy. Any consideration of a technical solution should be followed by a consideration of the people who can implement the solution (not just in terms of the amount of effort, but also what is needed in terms of roles, responsibilities, and skill sets). In addition to technical solutions, consider whether the necessary processes are in place.

Values and principles

Engineering values and architectural principles are the cultural cornerstones of an organization’s strategy. They are the foundation that feeds into and guides the process to ensure it’s shaped in a way that reflects the overall mission. Together, engineering values and architectural principles articulate the desired approach but allow teams to maintain autonomy in a coordinated and aligned manner. 

Engineering values cover the engineering organization’s culture, including what is valued and how to work together. Values are common beliefs defined that act as guardrails to align the value systems across teams. An example of this is “Move Quickly and Iterate.”

Architectural principles lay out a shared technical philosophy to guide decision-making. Principles are intended to empower engineers to make decisions and provide strong guidance for making those decisions in a way that is coherent with the overall strategy. The principles offer dimensions to weigh options when making a technical decision.

Forge the path forward

People are usually comfortable with difficult decisions in the abstract but may struggle to translate them into specific actions or implementation steps. A good strategy avoids choosing particular technologies. Instead, it focuses on defining components and key concepts and identifying functional and non-functional requirements. A strategy should define:

  • The current state as a narrative aided by high-level diagrams and quantitative and qualitative analysis. 
  • The future state with commentary about what we are trying to achieve, aided by high-level diagrams. 
  • transition plan to achieve the future state includes specific next steps or decisions.

Ensure the document walks through key business use cases and demonstrates how the components interact. It’s important to define the core systems and components of the architecture and their responsibilities. A great way to solidify an understanding of responsibilities is to focus on boundaries when walking through use cases by declaring for which each component is responsible (or not responsible). 

Execute the Plan

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory, tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” (Sun Tsu)

The execution phase of the technical strategy involves planning and prioritization, and delivery. At this point, the actions listed in the strategy are translated into a multi-quarter roadmap that maps to goals. 

The first steps are to size and sequence efforts. Where possible, use milestones to indicate some value delivered. Make sure the planning process is open and collaborative; roadmaps help a team navigate their role in delivering the outcomes described. Collaboration, by default, helps to ensure the team is aligned with the vision and strategy.

The delivery path can be long and arduous, sometimes successful, often oblique, and unfortunately riddled with FUD. Secure early wins to assuage fears and uncertainty. Focus on impact and return on investment when selecting which work to prioritize and identify possible partnerships with other teams that can help drive execution. 

Short-term, incremental milestones

Long-term visions outline a system(s) or project(s) that may take several years to complete. Over this period, we will learn new information that needs to be incorporated into the plan and help define the subsequent actions. Businesses shift quickly, and you need to be able to adapt to that change. This involves ensuring the delivery plan is incremental and collects rapid feedback. When coming up with short-term, incremental plans:

  • Don’t try to define every milestone through to the end delivery. The vision is directional and will likely evolve and shift as we learn more with each milestone. Instead,
  • Look for milestones achievable within a shorter window (e.g., 3-6 months, or shorter depending on the size and scope of the project). Each milestone should deliver value, such as a business or technical win. Know why it is a milestone. 
  • The long-term vision is a guidepost. Milestones should align with the end goal but allow room to veer slightly off-track if there is a good reason. Always be wary of scope creep.

Start with low-effort, high-value work to deliver quick wins, and build momentum and confidence. As a process is made, something built or learned in the previous milestone can sometimes make another milestone more achievable – compounding momentum.

Market the plan

Never present a strategy the team hasn’t heard before. Having the right people in the room at the conception stage is essential to get everyone on board. Think about who will provide core insights from both the business perspective and the technology side.

Craft the narrative to suit the audience. Highlight the reasoning behind the strategy and how it impacts them. You might need additional headcount or commitments from other parts of the organization, so you will need support from leadership or other teams. Be prepared to negotiate, and incorporate this back into the execution plan. 

Seek a sponsor to endorse and advocate for the vision and strategy. Ideally, this person is a leader who is in good standing, will go to bat when needed, and has a vested interest in the successful delivery. This type of endorsement can go a long way to substantiate the value of the work. 

Measure the Outcomes

“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” (Winston Churchill)

What does success look like for your team and its stakeholders? Were the principles adhered to? How do you know when the vision has become a reality and the mission is achieved? 

A technical vision and strategy outline goals to be achieved over a time boundary. These are expressed as objectives. The outcome translates into key results. OKRs and KPIs should be specific and outcome-focused, with clear and relevant markers to measure progress. 

Consider what data should be collected, why, and how. The action plan developed as part of the strategy should list the metrics to be tracked. When progress is small and incremental, data is critical in demonstrating whether the strategy is working or not. Metrics should be clearly tied back to the strategic objectives.

Be open to exploring options, and be intentional about tradeoffs. Use rapid prototyping and iteration to add incremental value and discover unknown unknowns at each stage. The goal is to gain enough data and insights to empower decision-making, (re)evaluate the following steps, and de-risk throughout the process. 

Useful Frameworks

This section provides a few frameworks you can adapt for writing vision and strategy documents.

Patil’s Project Principles

DJ Patil was the first US Chief Data Scientist and part of the Obama administration. During this time, he created a simple checklist emphasizing the need to iterate fast, plan big, experiment, and then engineer to scale, focus on the highest value, and cut waste. 

Patil’s checklist has much in common with Lean Thinking and the Pareto Principle and can act as a high-level guide for developing a vision and strategy. 


BAMCIS is probably the most ubiquitous acronym in the US Marine Corps. It is a tool to assist leaders in making tactically sound decisions, formulating plans, communicating them, and turning those plans into action. The six steps are:

  • Begin the planning – determine what needs to get done and what information is required. During this time, you may develop questions about the vision or project for which you do not have the answer. This creates the plan for the plan. 
  • Arrange for reconnaissance – develop a list of research objectives and methods for gathering the information needed.
  • Make reconnaissance – execute the research and validate hypotheses. Compile the information gathered to finalize the plan. 
  • Complete the planning – revisit the initial plan, armed now with the answers to earlier questions. Build an operable plan to execute the vision.
  • Issues the order – effectively communicate the vision and align all contributors around the same objective.
  • Supervise – ensure that the right outcomes are achieved. 

There is a common saying in the Marine Corps that no plan survives first contact; BAMCIS is a highly adaptable framework that can aid decision-making and planning. 

Good Strategy / Bad Strategy

Good Strategy / Bad Strategy by Richard P. Rumelt takes a fuzzy concept and makes it clear. He explains what it takes to develop a strategy, the elements of a good strategy, and what makes some strategies bad. The book describes three aspects of a good strategy: 

  • Diagnosis – defines the challenge and describes what is holding you back from reaching your goals. 
  • Guiding policy – the approach chosen to overcome the obstacles identified in the diagnosis. 
  • Coherent action – describes how to carry out the policy.

Rumelt says that identifying and solving problems is the core of strategy. The book is worth the read, especially for architects (there is a lot of overlap between strategy and design work). 


Once the strategy is written, it should not go stale. Until the vision and strategy are actualized, the documents should be revisited about every six months and updated with any learnings or changes. An effective technical strategy provides the map that sets the course toward the north star vision. 

The Importance of Mentorship: Building the Mentoring Relationship (Part IV)

Previously discussed topics were the importance of mentoring and leadership, as well as the roles of a mentor and roles of a mentee. To view the entire series:

This post will dive into what is required to build the mentoring relationship. I’m going to take a different approach this time; instead of writing a bunch of paragraphs, I am going to summarize the phases of the mentoring relationship by using an outline. Let’s see how this goes!

At the beginning of the mentoring relationship, the mentor and mentee should discuss how the partnership should be structured. Regardless of whether the mentoring relationship takes a formal structure, there are typically a few phases that take place:


  • Building rapport
    • In this phase the mentor and mentee are exploring whether or not they can work together.
    • Simply get acquainted with one another (number of years in the industry, technical skillset, common skills, similar career paths, etc.)
    • Determine purpose of relationship and establish expectations.
    • Active listening, being respectful, being open and honest help build reciprocal trust in this stage.
  • Setting direction
    • This phase is all about setting goals. Once there is rapport and the relationship has established its sense of purpose, then determine what should be achieved.
    • Discuss the overall mentoring goals; for example, the following questions could be asked:
      • What are your visions and career aspirations?
      • Where is your career right now?
      • What are your strengths, weaknesses?
      • What is your behavioral style?
      • What is your leadership style?
      • What are your top three goals?
      • How can the mentoring relationship help to build new technical skills, explore new ideas, forge a new career path, expand your network, etc.?
    • If this is a formal mentoring process, a “Mentoring Partnership Agreement” could be established to determine clear goals, roles, and responsibilities, as well as setting a schedule.
  • Recap and progress
    • Recap the mentoring sessions at the end of each session. Also consider reviewing the progress between sessions at the beginning of the session.
    • The progression piece is typically the longest of all the phases. This phase can be perpetual depending on the length of the mentoring relationship.
    • Work together to accomplish the established goals.

Qualities of a successful mentoring relationship:

  • Articulation – the mentor should be able to help the mentee articulate their feelings, thoughts and ideas. The mentee may still be learning this skill.
  • Listening – both the mentee and the mentor should exhibit active listening skills.
  • Respect – without respect, the relationship will not achieve a level of openness required for successful mentoring.
  • Goal clarity – both the mentee and mentor need to have a clear understanding of the mentee’s objectives. It would also be good for the mentee to know the mentor’s goals in order for the relationship to be more reciprocal.
  • Challenging – the mentee and mentor should both be challenged during this relationship.
  • Self-awareness – the mentor should be proactive and insightful in order to appropriately guide the mentee using his or her own experience. The mentee should be self-aware in order to be able learn from the mentor’s example and advice.
  • Commitment to learning – both the mentor and the mentee should be learning and growing as a part of this relationship.
  • Reflection / preparation – a common reason why mentoring relationships fail is because one party or both fails to invest time preparing for or carrying through with the time investment.


The Importance of Mentoring: The Roles of the Mentee (Part III)

Previously discussed was the importance of mentoring and leadership, as well as the roles of a mentor. This post will cover the various responsibilities of the mentee. To view the entire series:

Studies have shown that mentors typically select their protégés based on performance and potential. Mentors will continue to invest in the relationship when mentees use their time well and are truly open to feedback.

Often when we think of a mentor/mentee relationship, it is associated with a senior/subordinate relationship. This does not need to be the case. I have learned as much from my peers as I have those in a higher position than me. Do not hesitate to reach out to a peer! It may be easier to establish a mutual mentorship relationship between peers than with a superior.


Last week’s post covered the roles of a mentor. There are also responsibilities relegated to the mentee as well. A few include:

  • Continuous Learner: take advantage of this opportunity to learn. Be inquisitive; ask questions! But also look for ways to give back to your mento It’s not impossible to think that a mentor may also learn from the mentee. Learning can be a mutual experience and the mentor/mentee relationship can and should be symbiotic.
  • Be Timely: very few mentors have time for excessive hand-holding. Most are dealing with their own high stress jobs and long hours. A mentee that is positive and uses their precious time wisely working to solve problems (rather than complain about work) can be a bright spot in the day. Do your research before reaching out to your mentor. Do not waste their time with something that could have been easily googled.
  • Be Open: mentees have a lot more than just career advice to gain in a mentorship relationship. Mentors can also speak about education, motivation, and work-life balance. Find out from your mentor what he/she sees as the key points to long-term success and happiness.
  • Be Serious: demonstrate that you are eager for counsel by implementing the advice your mentor gave, showing the result, and then going back for more. So, if your mentor suggests you get on project X, get yourself on that project, and do a good job. Then report back to your mentor that you are grateful for the advice because you were able to learn a lot. Your mentor will be much more willing to give you their time and energy after you have proven yourself to be a quick and eager study.
  • Synergizer: a benefit of mentorship, or really any great conversation, with a trusted colleague is that new ideas are forged. Capture those ideas and capitalize on them!
  • Initiator/Relationship Driver: in the military, many times you are officially assigned a mentor, however, this is typically not the case in a corporate work environment. If you feel like you need help, it is your responsibility to reach out and get assistance! Identify the skills, knowledge, and goals that you are seeking to achieve and discuss with your mentor. Walking up and asking a stranger to be your mentor will rarely work. However, approaching a stranger will a pointed, well thought out question can yield results. Initiate with a superior in your office or someone familiar in the community or even a peer.

As mentioned earlier, mentorship is typically more reciprocal than it may appear. The mentee may receive a more direct type of assistance but the mentor benefits as well. There is a stronger sense of purpose, a sense of pride, and useful information exchanged. When mentorship is done correctly, everybody flourishes.

The Importance of Mentoring: The Many Roles of the Mentor (Part II)

Previously discussed was the importance of mentoring, as well as how mentoring and leadership are intertwined. This post will cover the many roles of the mentor. To view the entire series:

I have been fortunate to be on the receiving end of more than one great mentor and have served as a formal and informal mentor to others. The long-term impact of mentoring can be career changing, perhaps even life changing.

My mentors never “coached” me, but instead challenged me, encouraged me, and acted as a source of wisdom when I needed it most. I carry their impact through my work today. When I’m faced with difficult questions or decisions, I think back on the lessons learned through the years and then take action.


There are several roles and/or responsibilities that a mentor can assume. The role(s) the mentor will assume depends on the needs of the mentee and the type of relationship established. These roles can be combined and potentially evolve as the association between mentor and mentee develops. Your mentor may not assume all of these roles. Some roles include:

  • Teacher – the mentor teaches skills and knowledge required to perform a job successfully.
  • Guide – the mentor helps the mentee to understand how to navigate and understand the inner workings of an organization. Sometimes this may include passing on information about any unwritten expectations or rules for success.
  • Counselor – this definitely requires establishment of trust in the mentoring relationship. The mentor listens to work situations and provides guidance to help the mentee find his/her own solutions and improve his/her own problem solving skills.
  • Motivator – a mentor shows support and encouragement to help a mentee through the tough times and keeps the mentee focused on developing job skills to improve performance, self-respect, and an improved sense of self-worth.
  • Advisor – a mentor helps the mentee to develop professional interests and set realistic career goals. Goals should be specific, have a time frame, and be results oriented, relevant, and reachable.
  • Referral Agent – once a career plan is developed, the mentor assists the mentee in approaching others who can provide training, information, and assistance. The mentor also points the mentee to relevant career-enhancing schools, courses, books, reading, professional organizations, and self-improvement activities.
  • Role Model – the mentor is a living example for the mentee to emulate. A mentor must lead and teach by example. To me, this is the most important role.
  • Door Opener – the mentor opens doors of opportunity by helping establish a network of professional contacts both within and outside an organization. The mentor also helps the mentee understand the importance of networking with seniors, peers, and juniors to exchange information, ideas, and concerns.

A mentor can be a difference maker in your life and career. It’s important to approach the relationship with an open mind and to set proper expectations.

The next post will cover the roles of a mentee.

The Importance of Mentorship: Interlacing Leadership and Mentoring (Part I)

Today’s young employees are tomorrow’s future leaders. As a leader, there is an obligation to help the future by training and mentoring tomorrow’s leader.

The benefits of mentorship are well known: those less experienced receive feedback, insight, and support from someone more experienced. The mentor acts as a guide who can offer impartial support and advice.


Leadership and mentoring go hand-in-hand. Effective leadership guides and provides an example for those subordinate. Additionally, a leader should be spending one-on-one time with subordinates to guide to the next level in their career…beyond just semi-yearly performance reviews.

Leadership skills develop over time; it is not something that people are born with. Leadership is action, not a billet or position. An effective leader knows his or her strengths and weaknesses, and is capable of maximizing all of them. A leader knows how to manage conflict and understands the political culture and how to navigate it for best results. Leaders and mentors share many of the same qualities; all the aforementioned qualities also apply to a mentor.

Mentoring is the link between a junior and someone more experienced for the purpose of career development and personal growth. This is accomplished through sharing knowledge and insights learned over the years. Mentoring is more personal and is relationship-based; the mentor shares his or her own experiences, insight, and knowledge with the mentee. Effective mentorship isn’t about focusing on a specific skill and how to improve it —it’s about the mentee’s overall growth.

Too often there is a difference between someone who holds a leadership position and that of an effective leader. Leadership is a topic about which I deeply care. My time in the military allowed me to experience different styles of leadership as I developed my own skills and styles. In my opinion, leadership is not about the leader, but rather it is about those being led. The success of a leader is reflected in the morale and welfare of the subordinates: whether or not those you lead are better off as a result of your leadership. If you assume a leadership role, you automatically inherit the responsibility for the care, well-being, career growth and supervision of those in your charge. This is not a burden of leadership– this is your privilege. To be blunt, if you cannot or will not become a good mentor then you do not have any business being a leader or in a leadership position.

With that being said, the onus of mentorship is just as much on the mentee as it is the mentor. The mentee can initiate the beginning of a mentorship relationship! Sometimes, you just have to reach out to someone and say something similar to:

  • “I listened to your presentation during the VMUG and I think that you are a good public speaker. I’d like to do that one day, what do I need to do to get there?”
  • “I want to transition my career into IT security, can you give me some advice?”

Though, truthfully, the strongest mentorship relationships spring out of a real and typically earned connection between a leader and a subordinate.

This is the first post of a series that I will be posting regarding mentorship. Be prepared! I’ll be posting once a week for four weeks (along with some regularly scheduled technical content) until the blog series is finished.

Lessons Learned From My Time in the Marine Corps

This month I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my time in the Marine Corps, and not just because of Veterans Day a few weeks ago. November 27 is 10 years since I stood on the yellow footprints at bootcamp in Parris Island, SC, and 5 years since I separated from the service. I’ve now been out of the military as long as I was in it. Sometimes it feels I just got out of the Marine Corps; but most of the time it feels like a weird dream that I woke up from…as if I was never really in the military.


Most days I’ll tell you that I was miserable (somewhat true) and couldn’t wait to get out of the military (true). I spent my youth, my formative years (18-23) in the military. These years have molded who I have become as a (mostly) fully formed adult. During my time in the Marine Corps, I learned a lot about leadership and even more about myself. I’d like to spend a little bit of time discussing some of the things I’ve learned and how they are applicable to the tech industry.

Be Self-Aware

Understanding yourself and your own limitations —what you’re good at, and, more importantly, what you’re not good at, is critical to ensure you surround yourself with the right people. There’s a Marine Corps leadership principle that states: “know yourself and seek self-improvement.” I’ve always felt that is one of the most important principles for a leader. Surround yourself with people who complement your skill sets and challenge you to improve. Personally, I tend to surround myself with those who I perceive to be far more intelligent than I am because it motivates me to do better —be better. Don’t be the smartest person in the room, learn your weaknesses, and find a way to make your weaknesses a strength. On consulting projects, I try to surround myself with others that have a skill set I don’t so I can try to learn from them.

Be Decisive

In the Marines, I was taught to make “sound and timely” decisions; there was always an extra emphasis placed on “timely”. My fellow non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and I were taught to methodically analyze decisions, to weigh the pros and cons, and to minimize risk as much as possible before making a decision. In one of my NCO courses, I was taught to use a 75% solution to make rapid decisions —this means to gather as much information and details until you have at least 75% of the data, at which point use experience, intuition, and expertise to fill out the other ~25%. Sometimes waiting for all the information to make the “perfect” decision results in action happening too late. Whether you’re weighing a job offer or trying to decide on the right hardware vendor, gather as much information as possible and make a decision. If you wait too long to decide, that opportunity may have disappeared.

Problem Solving / Strategic Thinking

Traditionally the Marine Corps has suffered from a systemic lack of resources because it is the smallest branch of the military and has to compete for funding with the Department of the Navy. This spartan lifestyle helped my team and I develop unique and ingenious ways to get what we needed…whether it was “acquiring” office supplies from mysterious places or finding a way to feed the troops during Thanksgiving, there was always a display of initiative and entrepreneurial spirit amongst my Marines. Being exposed to that kind of culture taught me to try new things and to challenge the status quo which has served me well in my entrepreneurial journey thus far. As a leader in tech, co-workers and customers alike will look to you to solve problems and help the business grow. In order to do that, you have to know about more than just the underlying technology. You also need to understand customer needs, the market, the competition, etc. Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone to solve the problem at hand.

Create a Collaborative Environment 

Strong collaboration skills allow you to work with others to exploit synergies and be able to deliver way more than you would be able to deliver if you were working solo. It’s easier to work with people when you have a warm, working relationship rather than just dropping in when it’s only in your interest. It’s not necessarily about being everyone’s friend. It’s about building trust and respect. If you’re in a leadership role, listen to the team…you’re not the only one with great ideas. As a leader, you’re a servant first. You exist for the good of the team, to ensure that the teams succeeds. Empower and give your collaborators the tools they need for success; it’s a two-way street.

Continue to Learn and Grow

I know, there’s always a fire to put out or a deadline to meet. Many of us don’t have an abundance or spare time. However, professional development and continued growth are the only surefire ways to ensure you’re not left behind in this ever evolving tech world. Whether it’s technical skills or business skills, you have to continue to seek self-improvement. I know someone who puts one hour for studying into his calendar each work day. Do what you need to do but find the time to improve yourself.

On that note, the worst is pretending to know something that you have no clue about. It will come back to bite you, or even worse, your entire team. Some may think it’s a sign of weakness to say ‘I don’t know,’ but I disagree. I think more people will respect you for your self-awareness and your desire to learn. No matter what your job is, there’s something you don’t know. Everyone needs a mentor, find one. Listening and asking questions are not signs of weakness.

It’s OK to Fail (But Never Give Up)

It doesn’t take much effort to find numerous example of Marines enduring seemingly impossible circumstances —from Iwo Jima to Fallujah —heroes like John Basilone or Chesty Puller, there is never a shortage of amazing acts of courage and tenacity. I remember running miles in full combat gear and thinking that I couldn’t make it each time my feet hit the ground…but somehow I always did.

I had never failed anything in my life until I took my first VCP. I had been up all night working and then went straight to the test center on no sleep and took the exam. I failed, barely, but I failed. That was the first time I’d experienced the feeling of failure —I was gutted. I questioned my entire life,  questioned whether I should even be in tech or not. I felt like an idiot. I had never failed in my life so I never had anyone tell me that it’s OK to fail. The important thing is what you do from that point thereafter. I had to figure that out on my own; it was a tough road. There have been many times when I’ve felt like quitting tech or some project or certification I’m chasing, but I have to stop and remind myself of how much harder things could be (even when the circumstances seem insurmountable) or how much worse they’ve been in the past. These little reality checks help me keep moving forward. Giving up is not an option.

Sense of Humor

Sometimes we all take life a little too seriously. It’s important to loosen up sometimes when circumstances seem to be dire. I often think of my five years in the Marine Corps as the best and worst time of my life. I remember being a part of Operation Tomodachi after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in mainland Japan. Some of us were working 18-19 hour days, 7 days a week, for two months straight. Despite being exhausted, we never stopped making jokes. It was as if my unit’s credo was to keep things lighthearted. We’d be slap happy, highly caffeinated, just laughing our asses off while working. It made time go faster and made the long hours not seem so bad. Sometimes things suck, we have crazy deadlines and we work long hours…that doesn’t mean that you can’t make the best out of a bad situation. Go ahead and send that funny meme to your co-worker.